Case # 4: Children’s Adventure Fiction in Canada

The Home Children would likely have known about the growing field of children’s literature about adventure in Canada, which would also have depicted Canada as an appealing space and future for the children. Adventure stories in Canada focus on the wilderness and the animals that both children and adults encounter, and the narratives do not shy away from the hard labour of the move for early settlers. Many texts also include problematic portrayals of Indigenous peoples through the way the texts depict conflicts and encounters with Indigenous peoples as part of the adventure narrative. Such narratives reflect the kind of entitlement that underwrote so much of nineteenth-century settler colonialism. Although all children in these texts need to learn to navigate the wilderness in this new country in some way or another, adventures are sometimes gendered with boys doing the bulk of the hunting and navigating and girls performing domestic labour. However, due to the migration project sending both boys and girls to Canada, some narratives stress the importance of girls learning to protect themselves to survive. Ultimately, by writing about the adventure of Canada, the British and Canadian authors included in this case construct Canada as a place of opportunity and possibility that these children would have lacked in the English city slums they had left.

The Canadian boy's annual

The Canadian Boy’s Annual. London, etc.: Cassell, 1919. [Child PZ5 no. 0440] 

One way that Canadian adventure stories proliferated was through children’s annuals, including those for boys and for girls. The stories in this edition of The Canadian Boy’s Annual primarily focus on boys’ adventures in war and battle globally as well as in the past and place the boys’ adventures in a broader context beyond Britain and Canada. This focus on war and battle skills is no doubt in part due to the annual’s publication in 1919 after WWI. Contributor Eric Wood’s story “The Vengeance of Red Cloud,” for example, follows a young boy named Harry Lawson who is adept at working in the wilderness in order to track his foe. Harry is “[a] son of the wilds, with the surprising emotions that the vastness breeds, Harry Lawson knew no fear; a man cannot win a livelihood from the red maw of Nature and be weak” (52).

The Canadian girl's annual

The Canadian Girl’s Annual. London, etc.: Cassell, 1911. [LP AP201 .C37t]

The Canadian Girl’s Annual focuses on girls’ adventures in the Canadian wilderness, in the schoolroom, and in society. Although the annual markets itself towards the Canadian girl as the title suggests, the stories take place in Europe as well, again placing Canada alongside other spaces of adventure more broadly. This particular edition includes stories of girls saving boys and proving themselves brave and “plucky” when boys do not believe in their abilities. In the displayed image from Bessie Marchant’s “Trixie’s Triumph,” Dave appears to be saving Trixie. However, she had originally saved him from a quag, but she hurt her ankle in the process. Earlier in the story, Trixie says that she hates that boys doubt her abilities as “only a city girl,” and she states, “I am just aching for a chance to show them that I am no more afraid of things than they are” (48). The Canadian Girl’s Annual demonstrates to Home Children that girls can find adventure in Canada too.

The Canadian girl's annual

Marchant, “Trixie’s Triumph,” The Canadian Girl’s Annual, [1911], p. 50.

The Canadian girl's annual

The Canadian Girl’s Annual, edited by Eric Wood. London: Cassell, 1923. [LP AP201 C37t]

Eric Wood, who wrote “The Vengeance of Red Cloud” from the displayed edition of The Canadian Boy’s Annual from this case, edited this later edition of The Canadian Girl’s Annual. Stories in the annual include the French Revolution, medieval tales of knights and ladies, adventure stories in the wilderness, and schoolroom stories. In May Wynne’s “Prairie Heroines," two girls prove their “pluck” by saving a man, Dandy Grey, who says about them, “Guess … if I’d two daughters I’d like ‘em built your way. It’s a queer stunt—to be saved from drowning by a shrimp of your size, but it’s fact!” (89). Once again, girls prove themselves to be adventurers and to be able to save others with their bravery.

With Wolfe in Canada

G. A. (George Alfred) Henty (1832-1902), With Wolfe in Canada: or, The Winning of a Continent. (1886) New York: Hurst, n.d. [LP PR4785 .H55 W6]

English author G. A. Henty's novel describes the adventure of "winning" Canada as a colony, as the subtitle suggests, and is set earlier than some of the other emigration stories in this case. With Wolfe in Canada, set during the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763) and taking place both in England and in Canada, follows the young James Walsham as he later becomes a soldier in Wolfe’s army in Canada, helping to “win” Canada for the British as they fight the French for the colony. While much of the beginning of the novel takes place in England and follows James’s relationship with the orphan Aggie who comes to inherit an estate from her wealthy grandfather, James does long for adventure during his time in England. The novel, then, demonstrates adventure in Canada’s early days as a colony and illustrates an orphan’s financial climb.

Snow shoes and canoes

William Henry Giles Kingston (1814-1880), Snow Shoes and Canoes; Or, The Early Days of a Fur-Trader in the Hudson’s Bay Territory. (1876) London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1890. [LP PR4845 .K54 S58]

Several emigration stories detail or refer to the early days of settling in Canada and describe the labour required for the move; this novel by English author W. H. G. Kingston similarly focuses on earlier settlers. Kingston’s novel follows David’s journey through the Canadian wilderness as he and his friends are all lost in a snowstorm and David, alone, needs to construct a shelter and to hunt for food. Throughout the novel, David must continually survive on the land and, with the help of his friends whom he later reunites with, must construct shelter, weapons, and hunting or fishing tools in order to survive. While the landscape offers many dangers for the men, the novel also includes problematic portrayals of Indigenous peoples. The novel ends with a final section on the promotion of Canada for settlers, taking into account the changes since David’s adventures and how the country “is still wild enough to satisfy the most romantic; but it now contains many of the elements of civilization, and affords every opportunity of success to hardy, industrious men desirous of forming a home for themselves and their families” (336).

Snow shoes and canoes

Kingston, Snowshoes and Canoes, [1876; 1890], "Catching Fish Through the Ice" (p. 281).

 Stories of the Canadian forest

Catherine Parr Strickland Traill (1802-1899), Stories of the Canadian Forest; or, Little Mary and Her Nurse. (1856) New York: C. S. Francis & Co., 1857. [LP PS8439 .R35 S76 1857]

Catherine Parr Strickland Traill, who moved from England to Canada, set many of her writings in the region that is now known as Ontario. Stories of the Canadian Forest follows Mary, a British girl who is “the daughter of a gentleman connected with the government of Canada” (9), as she seeks to understand her new home in Canada, which she does through asking questions of her nurse. Through these questions and answers, the novel ultimately portrays Canada as an appealing place. At times, Mary or the nurse compare the sights of Canada to what the girl already is familiar with from England. The novel examines topics such as emigration, poverty, and the promise of financial stability in Canada. When Mary points out that she “do[es] not see so many beggars here as in England,” her nurse responds, “People need not beg in Canada, if they are well and strong, and can work; a poor man can soon earn money enough to keep himself and his little ones” (13-14). Explaining the story associated with the displayed image of the lost girl who runs into bears in the forest, Mary’s nurse points out Mary’s class privilege in not being “exposed to the same trials and dangers as the children of poor emigrants” (205). Ultimately, Mary and her family return to Britain at the end of the novel.

 Stories of the Canadian forest

Traill, Stories of the Canadian Forest, [1856; 1857], "Lost Child and Bears" (p. 173).

The settlers in Canada

Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848), The Settlers in Canada: Written for Young People. (1844) London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854. [LP PR4977 .S4 1854]

While writers portrayed Canada as a place to rebuild or to gain wealth, they also depicted the country as a place of adventure and hard work. English writer Frederick Marryat’s novel follows an English family, along with their adopted orphan nieces, who relocates to Canada in the 1790s in order to rebuild their wealth. Alfred tells his father, “In this country, a large family becomes a heavy charge and expense; in another country, the more children you have, the richer man you are” because the children can work on the farm (20). Marryat’s novel combines an emigration story with adventure for both boys and girls, since girls must also learn to shoot for their protection and their enjoyment. In response to concerns about John’s youth, Martin points out that “you can’t be too young here” to learn to shoot, and Mary calls herself and the other female family members “the female rifle brigade” (95-96). The displayed image shows a woman using a gun for protection. Despite primarily focusing on the benefit of moving to Canada to gain wealth and to combat criminality and poverty in England, the novel also details the dangers of doing so and includes repeated concerns about whether or not it is the right decision.

The settlers in Canada

Marryat, The Settlers in Canada, [1844; 1854], frontispiece.

Canadian crusoes

Catherine Parr Strickland Traill (1802-1899), Canadian Crusoes : a Tale of the Rice Lake Plains, edited by Agnes Strickland. (1852) Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1923. [LP PS8439 .R35 C3 1923]

The adventure to be found in Canada was for both boys and girls. Catherine Parr Strickland Traill’s novel tells the story of siblings and friends who become lost after going out into the woods. These children learn wilderness skills in order to survive and must work together during their adventure. The displayed image shows the children’s excitement in watching the movement of Indigenous peoples and reflects the children's interest in adventure beyond simply the need to return home or to survive. The caption reads: “So exciting was the amusement of watching them that the two lads quite forgot all sense of danger” (192). This text is another example of the narratives that reflect the kind of entitlement that underwrote so much of nineteenth-century settler colonialism. Although the boys have a bigger role in navigating the Canadian landscape than Catherine does, her domestic skills prove useful, and the boys refer to her as their “wise little cook and housekeeper” (110). The novel draws on earlier survival stories, such as Robinson Crusoe (case #2), and demonstrates how domestic skills, such as sewing, are also useful for surviving in the wilderness.

Canadian crusoes

Traill, Canadian Crusoes, [1852; 1923], image from p.192.

A countess from Canada

Bessie Marchant (1862-1941), Countess from Canada: A Story of Life in the Backwoods. London: Blackie, 1911. [LP PR6025 .A62 C6 191-t]

Bessie Marchant was an English writer of over 150 novels, many of which were adventure stories featuring strong female protagonists. Several of Marchant’s novels are set in Canada, though the author herself never travelled beyond England. Countess from Canada takes place in Ontario, in the Keewatin District west of the Hudson Bay. The novel’s protagonist, Katherine Radford, initially seeks a “feminine” career as schoolteacher (one of the few professions open to respectable “ladies”), but circumstances necessitate that she put this career on hold after her father is injured in a sledding accident. As the new head of the family, Katherine embarks on several adventures travelling between trading posts, thwarting the criminal plots by local villains (Oily Dave), and even saving a man from drowning in a flood (Jarvis Ferras; chapter 9).

A countess from Canada

Marchant, Countess from Canada, [1911], frontispiece.

The western scout

Bessie Marchant (1862-1941), The Western Scout. Illustrations by W. S. Stacey. (1912) London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, W.C. ; 43, Queen Victoria Street E.C, 19--. [PR6025 .A62 W47 19uu]

Bessie Marchant’s The Western Scout follows the orphan Elgar after he and his aunt and uncle have moved from Britain to Vancouver, and the novel also draws on the Boy Scout movement, which began in England. The family opens a shop in Vancouver, and Elgar is quickly made a partner with his uncle and quickly gains manliness. While embroiled in a plot against himself and his newfound cousin Edith, he uses his Boy Scout skills to save her and to ultimately foil those characters who attempt to profit from the children’s rightful inheritance from a Scottish relative. While Elgar does not explore the Canadian wilderness, he does use his Scouting skills in order to thrive in the novel, escaping attempted murder and helping others. This novel shows an orphan boy using hard work and skills from his English Boy Scout patrol in order to gain success in Canada and remaining in Canada despite his later inheritance.

Tilda Jane

Marshall Saunders (1861-1947), ‘Tilda Jane, an Orphan in Search of a Home. Toronto: Briggs, 1901. [LP PS8537 .A86 T5] 

Marshall Saunders was a Canadian writer who also wrote the popular novel Beautiful Joe (1893). Her novel 'Tilda Jane takes place along the border between Canada and America and follows the orphan ‘Tilda Jane who begins the novel running away from an orphanage with her dog. When she meets a man on the road and he asks about her, she tells him that she is running away to Australia because “they know how to treat orphans there. They don't shut 'em up together like a lot o' sick pigs. They scatter 'em in families” (14). In the displayed image, she explains who she is and why she is alone when she accidentally takes the train into Canada on her way to Ciscasset in Maine to work as a housekeeper (80). In the end, ‘Tilda Jane finds a home with Hobart Dillson, the older man she works for as a housekeeper, and she hopes to bring another orphan into their family.

Tilda Jane

Saunders, ‘Tilda Jane, [1901], frontispiece.

The young emigrants

Catherine Parr Strickland Traill (1802-1899), The Young Emigrants, or, Pictures of Canada. (1826) Wakefield, Eng: S. R. Publishers, 1969. [LP PS8439 .R35 Y6 1969] 

Aside from depicting adventures in Canada, authors also illustrated the opportunities that Canada presented for familes and for children. Catherine Parr Strickland Traill’s novel is about a family who moves to Canada and briefly travels through Kingston, Ontario. Like other representations of earlier emigrants, Traill focuses on the hardships but also the benefits of leaving Britain. The father tells his family, “If we seek refuge from poverty in the wilds of Canada, we must prepare ourselves for many privations, some toil, and probably some disappointment and difficulty, on our first outset …. In America, the necessaries of life may be obtained with a little industry and prudence; and there are many comforts which we do not possess in England” (6-7). One of the sons, Richard, writes many letters about his travels and his experiences to his sister whose health does not allow her to join the family in Canada. The family does not initially demonstrate enthusiasm about the country or the people there; instead, the move is necessary because of the promise of wealth in Canada and due to their loss of position in England. Ultimately, Traill represents Canada as a place of opportunity and possibility. 

Snowflakes and sunbeams

R. M. Ballantyne (1825-1894), Snowflakes and Sunbeams, or, The Young Fur Traders. A Tale of the Far North. Edinburgh: T. Nelson and Sons., 1856. [LP PR4057 .B15 Y6 1856]

This children’s adventure story by Scottish author R.M. Ballantyne focuses on fur traders in the far north of Canada. For stories such as this, the author often drew upon his own personal experiences working for the Hudson Bay Trading Company between 1841-1846. In this novel, as in Ballantyne’s other fiction, Canada is represented as a place of future opportunity and personal growth. The text includes stories taken from Ballantyne’s own life of travelling by canoe or sleigh in order to trade with Indigenous peoples in what is now modern-day Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

Snowflakes and sunbeams

Ballantyne, Snowflakes and Sunbeams, [1856], frontispiece.