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Catharine Parr Traill: Pioneer Canadian Mother

By the Rev. Dr.  Ed Hird

Catharine Parr Traill was a pioneer Canadian mother who made a phenomenal impact on the life of our nation.

England in the early 1830s was caught in a Canada-mania.  In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, England was thrown into an economic depression.  Thomas Strickland, the father of Catherine Parr Traill, was caught in the economic downturn, resulting in near-bankruptcy and his premature death.  He left behind an impoverished widow and six unmarried daughters whose chances of marriage were seriously limited.

Both Catherine Parr Traill and her sister Susanna married economically-challenged Scottish soldiers who were offered land grants in the colonies.  Canada began to be seen as the land of milk and honey!  Altogether 655,747 people sailed away from British shores between 1831 and 1841 (almost three times as many as had moved abroad during the previous ten years).

The two key Canada-promoters William Cattermole and Captain Charles Stuart were being paid so much per head for every Brit that they could recruit for Canada.  In their glowing description of Canada, Cattermole and Stuart forgot to mention the backbreaking work required to clear the forests, the total absence of household comforts, the aching loneliness, and the grinding poverty of most early Canadian pioneers.  Catharine Parr Traill and her sister Susanna, being gifted writers, were able to record a vital part of our Canadian pioneering history.  In Catherine Parr Traill’s book ‘The Canadian Settler’s Guide’, she insightfully wrote:

“In cases of emergency, it is folly to fold up one’s hands and sit down to bewail in abject terror: it is better to be up and doing.”

Catharine’s book “The ‘Backwoods of Canada quickly sold its first printing of eleven thousand copies, being translated into German in 1838 and French in 1843.

Of the six Strickland daughters including Catherine, five of them became published authors!  Catharine’s older sister Agnes in England was the leading royal biographer of the 19th century.  Sister Agnes caustically commented: “Who in England thinks anything of Canada?” and “Nothing that is first published in Canada will sell well in England”.

 In Charlotte Grey’s book ‘Sisters in the Wilderness’, Catharine Parr Traill and her sister Susanna are described as laying “the foundation of a literary tradition that still endures in Canada: the pioneer woman who displays extraordinary courage, resourcefulness and humour.  This ‘Canadian character type’, as critic Elizabeth Thompson calls her, is a pragmatist who discovers her own strength as she overcomes adversity.”  Sir Sandford Fleming, inventor of one-hour time zones, and the engineering genius behind the Canadian Pacific Railway, said of Catharine: “She has rendered service of no ordinary kind in making known the advantages offered by Canada as a field for settlement, and by her very widely read writings she has been instrumental in inducing very many emigrants from the United Kingdom to find homes in the Dominion.”

Catharine Parr Trail had a remarkable ability to rise above adversity and make the best of every situation.  Charlotte Grey: writes in her book about ‘the stamina, talent and determination that allowed two English ladies to overcome the hardships of pioneer life and leave a powerful legacy to Canadian culture.’  It is hard for us almost two hundred years later to fully imagine the miseries of hunger, disease, cold, and disappointment faced by our early Canadian pioneers.  I was shocked to discover that both Catharine and her sister’s families came down with malaria, a widespread problem in Canada as pioneers were struggling to drain mosquito-infested swamps.

Catharine Parr Traill commented in the early days: “I have not seen a woman except those in our company for over five months….”  As Charlotte Grey put it, “Being wrenched from one’s homeland leaves deep scars in the psyche of every emigrant in any era:  Susanna and Catharine bore these scars for the rest of their lives.”

Catharine’s motto was ‘Hope! Resolution! And Perseverance!’.  She would assure her relatives back home that Canada is the ‘land of hope.’ Her sister Sarah spoke of Catherine/Kate: “Her blue eyes always sparkled with happiness and curiosity about the world.  She had a warm smile and an air of stolid contentment, and even as a baby, Catharine ‘never cried like other children –indeed we used to say that Katie never saw a sorrowful day – for if anything went wrong, she just shut her eyes and the tears fell from under the long lashes and rolled down her cheeks like pearls into her lap.  We all adored her.”

 Charlotte Grey commented how Catharine loved “the wild and picturesque rocks, trees, hill and valley, wild-flowers, ferns, shrubs and moss and the pure, sweet scent of pines over all, breathing health and strength.”  Nature, for Catharine, was saturated with divine meaning – its splendor and concord displayed the authority and goodness of its Creator.  That is why Catharine wrote many “books that reflected sheer love of nature’s bounty and admiration in God’s handiwork.”  The flowers of the field, for her, were good reminders of the teachings of Christ.  Catherine often illustrated her dried specimens with biblical quotes, particularly from the Psalms or the book of Revelation.

Charlotte Grey commented that in future years, Catharine would rely on her love of nature, the beauties of which she saw as the expression of God’s will, to carry her through one disaster after another:
“Strength was always given to me when it was needed.” As she dug and weeded in the kitchen garden, or lifted heavy cast-iron pans of porridge from the stove, she would pause briefly, straighten her aching back, close her eyes and utter silent prayers.  She noted at the end of her life: “In great troubles and losses, God is very Good.”

In the midst of her very busy writing and pioneering, Catharine never neglected her family.  As Charlotte Grey put it, “Motherhood came as naturally to Catharine as breathing.  It was the most meaningful activity in her life.  She was always prepared to give more love than she took, and she saw no conflict between her family and her impulse to write.”

My prayer is that every mother reading this article would receive that same strength as Catharine Parr Traill in the challenges of life.

 

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, #102-15168 19th Ave, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Ave, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


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Baden-Powell: School of the Outdoors

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Baden-powell3

Baden-Powell, the founder of the world-wide Scouting movement, preferred to learn his lessons from nature rather from a classroom.  B.P. was not an academic success. His school reports read:

1) Classics: Seems to me to take very little interest in his work

2) Mathematics: Has to all intent given up the study of mathematics

3) Science: Pays not the slightest attention, except in one week at the beginning of the quarter

4) French: Could do well, but has become very lazy; often sleeps in school.

 

Baden-Powell was a bit of a loner in school, somewhat reserved though never unpopular.  Given a choice, he preferred the solitary pursuits of exploring the woods round the Charterhouse school in Surrey, England. There he learnt  how to snare rabbits and cook them in secret with a smokeless fire, how to use an axe,  how to creep silently through the bush, how to hide his tracks, how to identify the different kinds of animals and plants, and how to climb a tree and hide from Scouting Emblemthe school authorities.  B.P. said that it was in those woods that he gained most of what helped him later in life to find the joy of living.

It is no wonder that years later Baden-Powell that the object in Scouting “was to wean (the boys) from indoors and to make the outdoors attractive to them.”  B.P. described Scouting as a school of the outdoors.  Scouting, said B.P., was not a science, nor a military code. Rather “it is a jolly game in the outdoors,  where boy-men can go adventuring together as older and younger brother, picking up health and happiness, handicraft and helpfulness.”

As Scouting was first developing, B.P said to his adult leaders: “… give your boys all you can of woodcraft and Nature study…The Nature study should be a real close touch WebMustardTreewith Nature, far beyond the academic dipping into the subject which passes under the name in school.  Collecting, whether of plants or bugs, and investigation, whether of beasts or birds, are all-absorbing studies for the boy and mighty good for him.”

Why was Baden-Powell so exciting about Nature study and Outdoor camping? Because B.P. saw it as a “golden chance to bring the boy to God through the direct appeal of Nature and her store of wonders.”  Nature study for B.P. was a character-building, and spiritual exercise.  Nature study, said B.P., “gives the best means of opening out the minds and thoughts of boys, and at the same time…gives them the power of appreciating beauty in Nature and consequently in art…”  Nature study  helped “the realization of God, the Creator, through His wonderous work, and the active performance of His will in service for others.”

I believe that Baden-Powell might have really enjoyed living on the North Shore with its unforgettable beauty of mountain, forests, and sea.  B.P. would have reminded us that “the mystery of the sea and the heavens, and the fascination of the colouring of the scene, and the modelling of the scene” all point to God’s handiwork.   Baden-Powell saw all of nature as gifts from God.  We all teach our children to say “thank you” for birthday and amber%20dawnChristmas presents.  How much more should we say “thank you” for God’s gifts of nature?  B.P. said “We teach the boy that a gift is not his till he has expressed his gratitude for it.  His attitude to God is, therefore, thankfulness for benefits received; and his method for expressing this is through service, in behalf of God, to his fellow-men.

To Baden-Powell, the question was not what can I get from life, but what can I give in life.  When dealing with conflicts in the Scouting movement, B.P. recommended that people “…ask themselves the simple question,   `What would Christ have done under the circumstances?’ and be guided accordingly”.

In a last message found among B.P.’s papers Durham Cathedral from Riverafter he had died, he said:  “Dear Scouts,…I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life.  Happiness doesn’t  come from being rich, not merely from being successful in your career, not by self-indulgence.  One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when you are a man.  Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy.  Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it…”

My prayer is that we too, like Baden-Powell, may be filled with gratitude to God our Creator for the wonderful gift of Nature.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca