This Week in History
Catharine Parr Traill's Life in the Backwoods of Canada
For the week of Monday August 27, 2007
On August 29, 1899, Catharine Parr Traill, author, naturalist and pioneer, died at age 97, leaving behind a legacy of literature.
Why move to the fledgling Canadian colony? The Traills left England, in part, to escape the economic depression that tore through Britain after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). The depression left the Traills with little hope of advancing their economic status in England. Thomas and his brother-in-law, John Moodie, had an added incentive. Being former military men, they were both guaranteed a free tract of land in Upper Canada as a reward for their services. Both heartily accepted. Luckily for Catharine, this meant that her sister, Susanna Moodie, would accompany her to Canada.
Despite their hopes, life in the Canadian hinterlands was hardly superior to their former lives in England. Lack of clothing and even, lack of food, made their lives difficult. Frequent illness plagued her children and during her lifetime, Catharine lost two children in infancy. These deaths devastated the Traills.
Although well reviewed, reprinted three times and translated into German and French during Catharine’s lifetime, The Backwoods of Canada failed to earn more than £125 for the author.
Far from dismayed, Catharine continued to write until her death. Her works ranged from practical guides like The Canadian Emigrant’s Guide (1854) to studies of Canadian flora and fauna, including Studies of Plant Life in Canada (1885) to children’s stories, like Happy Because Good (1855). All were laced with Catharine’s indefatigable optimism.
Catharine Parr Traill, a prolific and pioneering Canadian author, became a National Historic Person in 1974.
To learn more about Catharine’s sister, Susanna Moodie, please see "Susanna Moodie: Pioneer and Writer" in the This Week in History Archives.
To learn more about both Catharine and Susanna, please visit the Library and Archives Web site.
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