I decided to publish my write-ups from my comprehensive exam reading fields. I am publishing them *as is.* Thus they represent my thoughts as a new PhD student. They were written between September 2011 and July 2012. The full collection is accessible here.

“Frontierism, Metropolitanism, and Canadian History”

J.M. Careless

Published one year before Earl Pomeroy’s “Toward a Reorientation of Western History: Continuity and Environment,” J.M. Careless’ “Frontierism, Metropolitanism, and Canadian History” also declares the defunctness of Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier philosophy. However, in Careless’ case, this obsoleteness is considered in regards to Canadian history. There are three main schools of historic thought in Canada, Careless writes: those who emphasize Canadian connections to Britain, those who acknowledge this relationship, but emphasize its unfavorable nature, and those that downplay this connection and instead focus on North American, environmental ties, into which the frontier thesis fits.  However, because the frontier thesis relies upon an agricultural view of settlement, it is not suitable for analysis of Canadian history.

Relying on the frontier thesis to explain Canadian history has created, arguably incorrect, dualities and a rigid set of characterizations. For instance, farmers, like in American history, are always virtuous and represent true Canada, while Western industry is not truly part of Canada; Old World decrepitude and corruptness battling with New World democracy and freshness. Instead of the frontier making Canada’s national character, Careless supports the Laurentian or Metropolitan Thesis. The Metropolitan Thesis is based, not on these dualisms, but on the assertion that geography and commerce were the major forces at play in the development of the country. Instead of the forests and prairies being the center of the country’s character, the Eastern city was the focal point, from which economic, intellectual, and cultural institutions disseminated. The frontier, as Earl Pomeroy also suggests, was not independent, but rather the product and imitator of Eastern ideals. The inapplicability of the Frontier Thesis to Canadian history does not discredit its usefulness in assessing American history though, he notes. The two countries have simply developed differently. The centralized nature of metropolitan areas in Canada is more pronounced than in the United States.

Like Pomeroy, Careless seems to be depressed by the unprofessional status of Canadian history, lamenting the Hollywood nature of historical accounts of Canadian settlement. He also acknowledges, like Pomeroy, that the “new” way of looking at Canadian history is in danger of narrowing the country’s history in a new manner and admits that this thesis, or any thesis for that matter, cannot explain everything. The Metropolitan Thesis is the matured child of the Staples Thesis, a more refined assertion that commerce and its movement to and from city centers led to the development of Canadian character. The manipulations of western Canada by such Eastern political groups as the Canada First Party seem to support the theory. A metropolitan based conception of Canadian history, however, openly refutes Walter Sage’s assertion of a greater North American historical pattern dominated by north to south movement, rather than an east to west model. The metropolitan outlook also leads one to question the validity of Doug Owram’s assessment of the frontier in A Promise of Eden. Yet, upon close inspection one notes that it was the Eastern establishment that created the propaganda that attracted people to the west in order to serve their own economic and political yearnings. One may even notice that this pattern suits the development of frontier settlement in the United States more so than Careless purports.

Published by Jessica M. DeWitt

Dr. Jessica M. DeWitt is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States. She is passionate about the use of digital technologies to bridge the gap between the public and researchers. In addition to her community and professional work, she offers various editing and social media consultancy services.

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