|Our Home and Native Land|
|The First Immigrants|
|The first immigrants to Canada were probably of Asian descent and resided all over North America, or Turtle Island, thousands of years before the rest of the world even knew of it's existance. Only the Vikings braved the hostile terrain, but their stay would be brief, driven off by the original inhabitants of the land they tried to claim as their own.|
|Painting by William Robert Herries Beaverbrook Art Gallery|
|There are many misconceptions about the first inhabitants of North America. Early written accounts depict them as right out of the Stone Age, with primitive tools and no system of government. After the Dominion of Canada was formed, it's almost as though they never existed at all. Canadian History books are filled with pages and pages of the great deeds of the European Immigrants, so that we almost get a picture of a Canada that only included them. The rest was just vacant land that stretched from sea to sea.
However, they couldn't be more wrong and not giving the First Nations their rightful place in the devolopment of Canada, is like making a dress with only the trimmings, forgetting the very fabric that is necessary to make it a dress in the first place.
Before the arrival of the European Immigrants, the continent now known as North America was made up of a variety of nations, just like the nations of Europe. Each of these nations had their own culture, economy, language, education, religion and government.
In the territory that would one day become known as Canada, there were about 250,000 inhabitants, with between 20,000 to 30,000 residing in semi-permanent towns and villages. They farmed, raised families, socialized, loved, hated, laughed and cried; and all belonged to the same human race as the later European Immigrants. They studied astronomy and astrology, using the stars to assist in plant rotation and migratory trends.
There was no separate Canada or United States, but many of the nations formed alliances or Confederations, that met whenever important issues arose; mainly the decision to go to war. Each of the tribal nations dealt with one another according to accepted codes, and when these codes were broken they would have to pay the price. It was up to the leaders of the Confederation to determine what that price would be, and it was usually paid in kind. If a particular nation refused to accept or live by the codes, justice could be swift and harsh, and the disputes would be settled on the battlefield.
|At the time of the European Arrival , there existed a strong Wapna'ki Confederacy which included the Micmac, Malecite (north west New Brunswick), the Passamaquoddy (Maine), the Penobscot (Maine), the Abenaki (Quebec) and the Wowenock (New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire). All belonged to the Algonquin family which occupied, for the most part, territories east of the St.Lawrence River, the Adirondacks and the Appalachians.|
|Just as in Europe, there were many different nationalities, some linked through spiritual beliefs, like the Roman Catholics in countries like Spain, France and Italy. What no doubt accounted for the greater diversity of the various Canadian cultures, was the great distances that separated them; and yet it's quite interesting to see how well they were connected in things like health sciences, law, philosophy and art.|
|Though the Greek alphabet had not reached North America before the Europeans, the Canadian people had an oral and visual language. As with other broad language groups, there were many different dialects, but through the use of things like wampum beads, drumming, drawings and yes, even smoke signals, they were able to spread news, muster armies and warn of impending danger.
A surveyor going through New Brunswick about 1845, writes of an early 'road sign' he found carved into a tree. It was a rather comedic depiction of two men crying and an upturned canoe; strategically placed at the opening of a waterfall. It's aim was to warn others but the comical way that it was drawn, shows that even then, Canadians had the best sense of humour.
|Another important aspect of early Canadian culture was trade, and life was dictated by the need to acquire the things they needed; in exchange for what was plentiful. When European ironware was brought into the mix, it became the hot commodity, but it wasn't until the late 1500's, when men's fashion began to dictate that every 'gentleman and aristocrat' must wear a broad-brimmed felt hat, that merchants were willing to sends ships laden with 'treasures', in search of the valuable beaver hide that could be matted into soft and luxuriant felt.|
|Before long, the Canadians were able to acquire iron and steel hatchets, knives and cutting tools, copper and iron pots and kettles, steel awls, (which were a favourite with the women); and even blankets, hats and clothing.|
|But from the beginning, the Canadian people recognized that they were far superior in intellect and physical strength than the men they encountered in trade, so assumed that the people who made these items must be the cream of the crop, and hold a very prominent place in European society. When one of Cartier's captives visited the Rue Aubry-bouche in Paris, where there were many coppersmiths, he apparently asked through his interpretor if these amazing artisans were relatives of the King, or at least the highest of nobility. The Huron called the French, Agnoulia, meaning "people with metal", but that was one of the few areas where they felt inferior.|
|Sadly, most of the Europeans who first made contact with the complex societies that existed here at the time, never gave them the respect they deserved. Both the English and French treated the native people as their children, and like parents, rewarded them for good deeds and punished them for bad. They dismissed their beliefs and customs, and tried to make them into models of good upstanding European peasants.
Naturally, the natives knowing that they were not of peasant stock and in fact were much further advanced in health sciences, including hygiene, and medicine; survival skills, agriculture, familial relations, hunting, trapping and athletics, fought back, often with dire consequences. They may have enjoyed the new financial gains brought on by the Fur Trade, but never doubted for a moment who was in control.
Since my body of work is mainly the impact of women in history, I have approached the subject of all immigrants from the point of view of the female gender. What was it like to be a woman living here at the various periods of our development, from a frozen wasteland to an industrialized nation? But first I will try to give a brief account of the evolution of Canadian society before the arrival of the Europeans.
|BACK: We Were All Immigrants|
|NEXT: Into the Great Divide|
|Uniquely Canadian in Victorian Times|
|Victorian Canada Home Page|