Canadian Travellers Abroad | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canadian Travellers Abroad

When Hugh Allan and Samuel Cunard's steamship lines began to cross the Atlantic regularly in the 1850s, Canadians - who also took advantage of Thomas Cook's organized tours and of reduced return fares - began to travel abroad in increasing numbers.
Kathleen Coleman, journalist
Kit Coleman was one of Canada's first women journalists (courtesy Globe and Mail).
Joseph Howe
The Nova Scotian patriot par excellence, Howe could use his oratorical powers to influence his compatriots as no other man has ever done (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-22002).

Canadian Travellers Abroad

When Hugh Allan and Samuel Cunard's steamship lines began to cross the Atlantic regularly in the 1850s, Canadians - who also took advantage of Thomas Cook's organized tours and of reduced return fares - began to travel abroad in increasing numbers. With few exceptions, travel abroad in the 19th century meant, above all, travel to Europe, following the traditional routes through Great Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Rhine Valley and the Lowlands, with some travellers venturing off the beaten track into Spain, eastern Europe or Scandinavia.

Mostly a prerogative of the elite, who mingled with the fashionable set in the new grand hotels, attended theatre and opera performances, consulted eminent physicians, or sent their offspring on a grand tour, travel was also accessible to those whose expenses were covered by their employers: clergymen frequented the sermons of the great London preachers to derive inspiration for their own work at home; educators visited schools and libraries, attended conferences and shopped for scientific apparatus, plaster casts and copied paintings; and journalists were dispatched to cover special events or simply report on the as-yet novel experience of transatlantic travel. Written travel records, both published and unpublished, survive in great numbers. They are important cultural documents which not only chart the intimate connections between Canadian and European culture but also chronicle a greater awareness of the world at large and a dawning sense of independent identity.

 From early writings onwards, such as Joseph HOWE's letters to the Novascotian on the occasion of his journey to Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838, to Caniff Haight's Here and There in the Homeland: England, Scotland and Ireland, as Seen by a Canadian (1895), republished in 1904 as A United Empire Loyalist in Great Britain, travel to Britain was frequently understood in the sense of both a family reunion and a religious pilgrimage. "I would have every colonist look to Old England as the Hindoo to his Ganges," Moses Harvey, famous expert on Newfoundland's history and resources, wrote in 1871 in one of his many travel essays for the periodical press, and he advocated travel as a means to nurture "that reverential attachment that most resembles the love of child for parent." In a similar vein, Sir Sandford FLEMING, in England and Canada: A Summer Tour Between Old and New Westminster (1884), celebrated developments in transport as equalling the discovery of America, the Gutenberg Bible and the Reformation in importance, a view shared in J.J. Miller's Vancouver to the Coronation: A Four Months' Holiday Trip (1912).

 Other tourists began to criticize such unconditional devotion. The Scottish-born Montréal schoolteacher Andrew Spedon lamented Canada's self-representation as that of "an affrighted child ... crouching behind the forest shadows of the savage age," when he described his country's exhibit at the 1867 Paris exposition in Sketches of a Tour from Canada to Paris, by Way of the British Isles, During the Summer of 1867 (1868). A dissenting voice also emerges from the highly popular writing of Kathleen "Kit"COLEMAN, a native of Ireland whose enthusiastic letters to the Mail and Empire on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee, and later collected in To London for the Jubilee (1897), gently criticized imperialist self-display in times of social duress. Shunning the conventional routes and sights, Grace E. Denison travelled through the Continent before she began her column as "Lady Gay" in Saturday Night, airing her feminist views before recalcitrant Europeans and recording her impressions in A Happy Holiday (1890).

Less concerned with social reform, their colleague Alice Jones of The Week and other contributors to that periodical wrote impressionist vignettes inspired by Ruskin, Pater, Browning and James, thus modifying literary pilgrimages such as the school principal James Elgin Wetherell's earnest visits to the "Land of Burns," Walter Scott country, Stratford-upon-Avon and "Tennyson Land" described in Over the Sea: A Summer Trip to England (1892). The Week documented Canadian responses to fin-de-siècle aestheticism which contrast strongly with the attitudes of clergymen such as William Withrow and Hugh Johnston who, in A Canadian in Europe (1881) and Toward the Sunrise: Being Sketches of Travel in Europe and the East (1881) respectively gave vent to their Methodist displeasure at the sensual statuary of the Roman Catholic Church, "the livid Christs stained with gore."

Views of the natives of the countries visited rarely transcended clichés and caricatures, and descriptions such as Thomas Stinson Jarvis's Letters from East Longitudes (1875), about his expedition to the Holy Land, or Chester Glass's The World: Round It and Over It (1881), anticipate some of the difficulties Canada was to face as a multicultural society. Canadians had to defend themselves against stereotyping as well when they were treated as colonial ingénus or mistaken for Americans, an experience that gave rise to Sara Jeannette DUNCAN's many semifictional parodies of contemporary travel reports such as A Social Departure: How Orthodocia and I Went Around the World By Ourselves (1890) and A Voyage of Consolation (1898).

After the 1890s travel literature began to deteriorate as photographic albums made detailed descriptions superfluous. More importantly, the 2 world wars brought significant changes: a mainstay of the periodical press so far, travel writing about Europe was now, for practical or patriotic reasons, largely replaced by essays about Canada's own tourist attractions, particularly the Prairies and BC. Writings about foreign places in the Canadian Magazine, Maclean's or Saturday Night now tended toward analysis of wartime effort and morale or hostile caricature, depending on the country covered, or else were nostalgic escapism. Postwar travel writings, such as Charles Lanphier's Our Trip to Rome (1953) and C.H. Blakeny's "Fragments": Impressions of Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Scotland and England (1956), inferior descendants of the Victorian travel book, often seem like ghoulish pilgrimages through the ruins of previously admired civilizations. However, a new generation of travel writers appears to have emerged, blending the observant impressionism and astute journalism of earlier writings and widening their scope to include the world: among them are Charles RITCHIE, George WOODCOCK, Bharati MUKHERJEE, Clark BLAISE, Gwendolyn MACEWEN and others.

Further Reading