About the Author

Adam Shoalts

Books by this Author
A History of Canada in Ten Maps

A History of Canada in Ten Maps

Epic Stories of Charting a Mysterious Land
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If I’ve learned anything about maps, it’s that each one tells a story. The maps reproduced in this book were made by First Nations, Scandinavian, French, English, Scottish, Canadian, and American car­tographers. Together they tell the story of the land that came to be called Canada. They remind us that there was nothing at all inevitable about the country’s borders or geography. The familiar image of Canada’s geographic outline—which today occupies such a conspicuous chunk of the world, nearly the whole northern half of an entire continent—might have looked very different. Indeed, it might not have existed at all. That such a vast and diverse land—or really, many lands—ever came to be united in a single state called Canada, with the shape that now seems so familiar, is only one of a whole range of possibilities.
In the beginning, on the earliest maps, “Canada” was not the immense extent of land and sea it comprises today. Originally, “Canada” referred merely to the land on either bank of the St. Lawrence River—territory that was to become the heart of the French Empire in the New World. As the French colonists spread, so too did the name Canada—and by the end of the seventeenth century, “Canada” was being used on maps to indicate everything from the upper Great Lakes to northern Acadia.
By the time of Confederation in 1867, Canada had come to signify the land between Lake Superior in the west and Nova Scotia in the east. Within a few more years the map of Canada had been redrawn to stretch all the way west—across the grasslands of the interior and the snowy peaks of the Rockies to the rainforests of the Pacific coast. By the dawn of the twentieth century the map of Canada had continued to expand northward to the desolate reaches of the High Arctic, beyond even where the Inuit lived. And by the mid-twentieth century Canada had expanded farther still to encompass Newfoundland as well as the mountainous wilderness of Labrador—giving the country its modern shape. Some 9,984,670 square kilometres in all, an immense area nearly larger than the whole of Europe combined, with borders on three of the world’s five oceans and more coastline than any other country. Accurately mapping such a vast part of the globe took centuries, per­sistent effort, and ingenuity—the final 1:50,000 scale topographic map of the last bit of Canada’s Arctic was completed only in 2012. As for the undersea bed of Canada’s maritime waters, there are parts that still remain uncharted.
Most of that mapping was accomplished peacefully, but national borders are more often than not forged in war—and Canada’s are no exception. Though few would probably guess it from how peaceful life now seems in Canada, there is hardly a place anywhere in the southern part of the country that hasn’t seen some battle or other—battles that sometimes resulted in the redrawing of maps. Canada was for centuries the battleground of empires. The Iroquois Wars, King William’s War, the War of Spanish Succession, the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, and the War of 1812 were all major conflicts that saw blood spilled in part over who was to rule Canada. During this turbulent era many hundreds of pitched battles were fought on Canadian soil and much of the country­side was laid waste.
Nearly every Canadian settlement, farm, and town from the Detroit River east to Lake Ontario was plundered or torched by marauding American armies and their turncoat Canadian collaborators between 1812 and 1814. Upper Canada’s colonial capital, York, was pillaged and burned in April 1813 by American troops under the command of the explorer Zebulon Pike, who was killed in the attack when he was crushed by falling debris from an explosion. The Americans torched the provincial legislative assembly, which included the colonial library. Niagara-on-the-Lake shared the same fate in 1813, in the midst of a December blizzard that left survivors destitute and later prompted bitter reprisals from Canadian colonial forces—who bayoneted much of the American garrison they took by surprise at Fort Niagara, and then, in revenge for their lost homes, burned towns on the American side of the Niagara River. The following year American troops retaliated, again invading Upper Canada and burning the town of St. Davids as the start of a final bloody campaign that saw thousands of casualties in hard-fought battles at Lundy’s Lane, Chippawa, Fort Erie, and Cook’s Mills. Two and a half years of war had transformed much of Upper Canada into a charred, smouldering wasteland. Hundreds of Canadians were killed or wounded in the fighting at a time when the colony’s population numbered only 75,000—a casualty rate comparable to what the country suffered in the World Wars. The memories left were bitter and deep.
This is not the PG-13 version of Canada’s past taught in schools. Canada’s history was nothing if not bloody. For the better part of a hundred years the French and their aboriginal allies, especially the Wendat, warred with the powerful Iroquois Confederacy of Five Nations—and that war had roots in conflicts that dated back even before the French settlements. Quebec City has been attacked and laid siege to numerous times—the bloodiest of which left much of the city
in ruins. Montreal was nearly wiped out by an Iroquois attack in 1660; the city was later fought over by British and French armies, and endured occupation by an American force in the Revolutionary War. Nearly every town in southern Quebec—the heart of Old Canada—was the scene of some violent raid or skirmish between English colonists and Canadien settlers or Iroquois warriors. Newfoundland’s English settlements were laid waste in a brutal campaign between 1696 and 1697 by the Canadien pirate and adventurer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and his Canadien troops, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick saw inter­minable wars involving colonial New Englanders, Acadians, British and French regulars, and Mi’kmaq and other First Nation warriors—to say nothing of piracy in the offshore waters. Rival fur empires clashed in the Northwest with wholesale slaughter at places like Seven Oaks; the French and British battled on the seas of Hudson and James Bays; the Inuit fought repeatedly with their Dene and Cree rivals, who were also at war with each other; and the Great Plains warfare between the Sioux, Blackfoot, Plains Cree and other First Nations raged for centuries. In a single day in 1870, a Blackfoot war party killed three to four hundred Cree on the banks of the Belly River near Lethbridge, Alberta—the final battle in a conflict that had lasted off and on for centuries. The Métis were locked in a long-running feud with the Assiniboine, and on the Pacific coast, large-scale raiding and warfare was the norm among the Haida, Tlingit, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuxalk, Nuu-chah-nulth, Coast Salish, and other First Nations, which persisted right up until the late nineteenth century. In southern Ontario, the largest aboriginal nation, the Neutral or “Chonnonton,” as they called themselves, were annihilated in warfare with the Iroquois Confederacy, as were other First Nations. Rebellion erupted in Upper and Lower Canada in 1837, with fighting on the streets of Montreal and Toronto and forgotten skirmishes in little out-of-the-way places like Saint-Denis and the Short Hills. In Lower Canada, the fighting was more bitter and protracted—culminating in the bloody battle at Saint-Eustache and the burning of a Catholic church with rebels trapped inside it. The following year, 1838, saw violent border clashes with American marauders on the St. Lawrence, Niagara, and Detroit rivers as well as on Pelee Island; many feared these violent episodes would spark renewed war with the United States. Further war scares occurred when tensions flared between loggers in the forests of New Brunswick and Maine—the so-called Aroostook War—and on the Pacific coast in 1859 in a dispute over the St. Juan Islands. On the very eve of Confederation were the Fenian raids at Ridgeway and elsewhere; shortly afterward came violent clashes between Métis and Canadian settlers as the new Dominion sought to expand westward, as hap­pened again on a larger scale in 1885. Many of these border wars and conflicts were fought for land, and for much of the time it seemed probable that the map of Canada would be completely redrawn—if not altogether erased. It is the faded, sometimes torn or water-stained maps featured in this book that reveal much of the cut-and-thrust of this violent history.
Out of this chaos and disorder emerged in 1867 a new polity, the Dominion of Canada, which was much smaller than the country we know today. It included just four provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and two new creations, Ontario and Quebec, which were carved out of the original colony that had been called Canada since the days of the French Empire. Gradually, the map of Canada grew larger—through diplomacy, political union, land acquisition, and military force, and by dispatching explorers on official expeditions to seek unknown lands in the uninhabited wastes of the High Arctic. It was for a long while a rather uncertain thing—Canada could easily have shared the fate of Mexico, losing much of its territory to American territorial expansion.
That Canada escaped American conquest was not through lack of interest on the United States’ part—the Americans launched full-scale military invasions in 1775–76 and again in 1812–14. For nearly the whole of the nineteenth century the Canadian–American border remained militarized; dozens of border fortifications like Fort Lennox, Fort Ingall, Fort Henry, and Fort Mississauga testify to this era of occasional violent clashes and other tense incidents that threatened war. Even as late as 1901, American president Theodore Roosevelt was prepared to use force to redraw the border to his liking. Roosevelt planned to dispatch troops to Alaska to settle a simmering border dis­pute over the Alaskan panhandle if an international committee didn’t rule in the United States’ favour—which it did, though Canada refused to accept the decision. In the 1920s the Canadian military, led by veterans of the grim battlefields of the Western Front, still had secret plans and classified tactical maps to fight the United States in the event of another invasion. Canada’s borders, in other words, were for over a century contested spaces—forged in war and conflict, sub­ject to change, and with an unfriendly and much larger nation on the opposite side.
Empires have come and gone in Canada. Cultures have flourished and vanished. Communities have bustled then turned into ghost towns. Maps have been drawn and redrawn. It is the nature of human creations that nothing lasts forever; culture and politics are always in a state of flux. But in political terms, 150 years is a surprisingly long time—few political settlements endure that long. Indeed, though we are accus­tomed to think of Canada as a “young country,” the reality is that as a constitutional nation-state, which is what Confederation at its core was about, Canada easily ranks as one of the world’s oldest.14 Few people in 1867 predicted that Canada would last as long as it has—many believed the union would fall apart amid infighting and that annexation by the United States was inevitable. But this book is not about celebrating the past 150 years. It is about taking a look at what led up to 1867 through the maps that have come down to us and the stories they tell.

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Beyond the Trees

Beyond the Trees

A Journey Alone Across Canada's Arctic
also available: Paperback
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My passion was paddling wild rivers and lakes, and wandering silently through quiet forests, indulging my curiosity about plants, trees, and the mystery and enchantment of the natural world. Adventures I’d had and would continue to do so, because it came with the terrain of wandering alone through wild places. But I didn’t anticipate making any particularly long journeys in the Arctic.

Then, in the spring of 2010, I happened to visit a local nature club in the Short Hills—a region of wooded, rolling hills, tumbling streams, and waterfalls south of Lake Ontario—which put in motion a chain of events that led to my becoming windbound alone on an arctic lake. No doubt that’s a common occurrence stemming from nature club meetings, and a prudent reason to avoid them. As far as nature clubs went, this one had a youngish membership, the average age being barely more than mid-seventies.

It was there at the nature club’s meeting hall, after my presentation on canoe tripping had wrapped up, that I first heard the word “sesquicentennial” used in a sentence. I’d been chatting with a white-haired man, a retired professor of chemistry.

“Well, you know,” he said, “2017 is going to be Canada’s sesquicentennial.”

“Oh,” I said, nodding. In fact I hadn’t known this.

He kept looking at me, apparently awaiting a further response.

I wasn’t sure what “sesquicentennial” even meant.

“The 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation,” he elaborated.

“That’s right,” I replied.

“It’s sure to be a big deal. Huge celebrations,” he said with emphasis. “I remember the Centennial celebrations back in 1967. We went to Expo 67 in Montreal for that. ’Course, that would’ve been well before your time.”

The connection between my canoe trips and a 150th anniversary, which was still seven years away, wasn’t immediately obvious to me.

“It’ll be a very big occasion,” the old man resumed. “Have you given any thought to doing something special for it?”

“Er, no, I haven’t.”

He shook his head, evidently dismayed at the lamentable failure of my education. “Back in ’67 I remember there were people who canoed across Canada. Maybe you should think of doing something similar in 2017? There’s bound to be lots of funding opportunities and groups interested in that kind of thing.”

“Well, anything’s possible,” I said.

Still, 2017 seemed a long way off, and I thought it unlikely that something as obscure as a sesquicentennial would attract much notice beyond the ordinary July 1 fireworks. I soon put it out of my mind and returned to paddling wild rivers, observing plants and animals, wandering the woods, and, for a while, pursuing a passion I’d developed for the study of rare mosses found on certain rocks, especially the species ptychomitrium incurvum.

But a few years later, the old professor’s supposition proved correct. As 2017 neared, “Canada 150” seemed to crop up more and more in conversations and news stories.

A great many plans were underway. There would be public infrastructure projects. Free access to national parks. A ship travelling around Canada with a hundred and fifty passengers chosen from across the country. Trees planted in every province and territory. Tulips bedded in Ottawa’s public gardens (300,000 of them, a unique species) that resembled the country’s flag. An actual flag (a massive one) raised to the top of a pole (fourteen storeys high). Eventually, the federal government would fund nearly six thousand of these Canada 150 initiatives.

Meanwhile, over three years had passed since my encounter with the old professor at the nature club. I recalled what he’d said about the Centennial canoe trip. Maybe, I thought to myself, another cross-Canada canoe journey might, in some small way, inspire people to care more about the fate of the country’s ever-diminishing wild places. I decided to look up what exactly had been done in 1967. It was fortuitous perhaps, that I did so at a time when I was under one of those spells of wanderlust and adventure that had a habit of stealing over me whenever I was shut up inside for too long.

It turned out that ten teams of canoeists had paddled from central Alberta to Montreal. Dubbed “The Centennial Voyageur Canoe Pageant,” the journey involved ten people per team; six at a time would paddle on alternating days while the other four rested. The route included stops in cities and towns along the way, where parties and fanfare greeted the paddlers’ arrival. By starting east of the Rockies and ending in Montreal, the hardest portages and upstream travel were avoided. When it was all over it took 104 days to complete and covered 5,283 kilometres, ending in celebration at Expo 67.

Now that’s a remarkable journey, I thought to myself as I sat in my cluttered study on the ground floor of a rundown Victorian house I rented. And to recreate it fifty years later would be quite a thing. But nowadays, given that Canada’s a lot less wild than it was in 1967, I figured somebody could probably retrace that canoe route and stop in at a Tim Hortons every third day. What could I do in 2017 that hadn’t already been done?

I stared at the map of Canada on the wall above my desk (a dangerous thing—staring at maps, that is). What if, I wondered, I shifted the canoe route north? Roughly, say, two thousand kilometres north, beyond the trees to the tundra?

Unlike the 1967 route, a canoe journey that far north wouldn’t have a line of cities or towns to break up the journey and allow for resupply, not to mention hot showers and human encouragement. Instead of travelling through farmland and cottage country, it’d mean travelling across arctic terrain. The elements would be much harsher, with sub-zero temperatures, snow, bitterly cold winds, shifting ice floes, and probably no Tim Hortons. If something went wrong, help would be far away and a long time coming. To further complicate matters, there was no easy or obvious water route across the mainland Canadian Arctic. Four major watersheds would have to be crossed, meaning a lot of overland and arduous upstream travel would be required.

I suppose it was a mad idea. On the other hand, it was exactly the kind of undertaking that appealed to me, or at least appealed to me in my more adventurous moods. After all, as I often remarked to myself, you only live once.

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