Canada. Its Defences, Condition, and Resources - 1865.


Cat No.:   CA0372:

This fascinating and instructive book’s author, W. Howard Russell LL.D., has a number of books of a similar type to his credit but, arguably, he is best know for his two volume, My Diary, North and South, which reported his observations and experiences as he traveled the (relatively) newly independent American States during their civil war. This 2 volume work forms the pre-cursor to this book, which is (almost) all about Canada and which the author refers to as a third volume although there is really no material connection with the previous 2 volumes except for a relationship in time and few references to previous stories.

The author’s tour took place in the interesting period following the emergence of “The Canadas” as a viable, and self sustaining, colony of Britain and the realization (by the inhabitants) that they were able to defend themselves from invasion from the south. And indeed that they must be able to form such a defence when Britain was too pre-occupied, with matters closer to home, to provide the forces for the preservation of the remaining colonies here.

It is no wonder then that, as well as observations on the lifestyle, commerce, geography, climate, etc., there is a singular concentration on the military, and pseudo-military condition in respect of establishment of borders, defensive positions and logistics. There is emphasis on the strength and “condition” of the military human resources in the form of full time, dedicated units a well as part time, and volunteer militia. Much of this discussion of the military takes place with reference back to the history established during the War of 1812 when Canada’s defences were most recently “tried.”

In keeping with the diary format, the author recounts his impressions, observations, encounters and commentary as he journeys from New York city to Niagara (late in January) to start a trek across, and around, the (now) province of Ontario before heading east through (now) Quebec and New Brunswick into Nova Scotia and Halifax. There is no escaping the British perspective of the authors comments and conclusions and the modern reader may find the expression of some of the bigotry and “blunt” opinions something of a shock. On the other hand, judging by the authors own account, the open expression of such opinions was not unusual in those days. In fact it is this “straight forward” style of writing which makes this book such an interesting and insightful read.

Although I could not find any direct reference to them within the author’s text, the book’s publisher appears to have added two excellent fold out maps of the whole of Canada to assist a reader unfamiliar with the country. One is for areas to the West of Lake Superior while the other is for the areas to the East. Major geographical features are marked, e.g., lakes, rivers, and mountains, in addition to locating many of the centers of trade or settlement - including the trading companies “houses” or “forts.” Both maps are overdrawn to show the contemporary border between the US and Canada and the Eastern map is further overdrawn to show the (approximate) route of the author’s journey (including its side trips.) There are no “keys” or dates on these maps so the use of the overdrawing to indicate the border and route details is an assumption. The date of the maps has to be before the books publication in 1865 but, again, it is an assumption that they can be considered to be contemporary.

One gets the impression that the primary intention of this book is to “educate” the British as to the value of their remaining North American holdings and to awaken them to a perceived threat of these holdings being annexed by the territory hungry (newly independent, although still warring internally) Southern States. As such, it provides us, today, with an excellent summary of status of the (to be) Canadian colonies in all their important aspects, both civil and military. Further it does this from the perspective of a Great Britain which is still the centre of one of the Worlds Empires which - at times - varies quite startlingly from other views expressed by citizens of the independent American states and those of the Canadian colonies themselves. This is a book which should be in the library of anyone who wants to form their own, unbiased, knowledge of the condition of the eastern (and so most populous) block of the British North American holdings in the lead up to the radical period in Canadian history when it moved towards confederation, self government, and finally, independence.

We would like to add a thanks to John Holyer of Ottawa Valley Antiques Shop, Douglas, Ontario for offering us the opportunity to make this digital recording of his valuable and rare old book so that the information it contains can be available to those without the ability to own the original.

A high quality reproduction of every page in the original 1865 book with the advantage of a hand corrected computer readable text transcription providing computer search-ability which is further enhanced, in search speed, by our FastFind technology.

No. of CDs is:  1 ;   Format is:  PDF ;   Searchable?:  YES;

FastFind:  yes;  ISBN No.:   978-1-897405-84-0 ;