13 August 2012

Book Review: Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers of Ontario and Quebec

Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers of Ontario and Quebec
Lucille H. Campey
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Dundurn (Aug 13 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1459703510
ISBN-13: 978-1459703513
Cover price: CDN$ 35.00

Historians agree that the English have been neglected, compared to the Irish and Scots, as a subject for Canadian studies. That extends to genealogy. The Ontario Genealogical Society recently conducted a poll asking "What regions have you been searching to build your family tree?" Of 137 respondents 114 answered Canada, 99 England, 88 US, 78 Scotland and 71 Ireland. Yet no OGS members have felt the urge to form a special interest groups for the English as exist for the Scots and Irish.

Aside from this neglect there are several challenges facing the researcher of pioneer English settlement in Canada. Some records cause confusion for statistics as Loyalist immigrants would cite their ancestry as English even though they had been in what is now the US for generations. Although there were areas where larger groups settled English people generally emigrated on their own or in very small family groups and assimilated into a community that accommodated many different ethnic groups. Organizations like the Sons of England and St. George's Societies faded while the equivalent Irish and Scottish organizations were able to continue, and maintain records, owing to the population being concentrated geographically. The overall picture of English settlement has to be discerned from surviving individual pieces of evidence, much as an image can be composed in pointillism -- but with many points missing.

Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers of Ontario and Quebec, the second in Lucille Campey's three book series on the English in Canada, goes some way to remedying the neglect. The book tackles the challenge systematically: chapter one an overview; a chapter devoted to Loyalist immigrants and; six chapters which roughly move from East to West very very roughly following the chronological development of English settlement although there are many many exceptions owing to Loyalist settlement, encouragement of settlement for defensive purposes, location of choice land and the efforts of land speculators and developers. There are three concluding chapters: Later Emigration from England which sketches the period after Confederation when English emigrants significantly outnumbered Scots and Irish; the Sea Crossing, and; the English in Ontario and Québec. There's also an extensive bibliography and index.

The emphasis is on the 19th century pioneer. There can hardly be an English county for which some emigration is not mentioned.

A thesis argued is that English immigration was "not primarily a flight from poverty but a manifestation of how the ambitious and resourceful English were strongly attracted by the greater freedoms and better livelihoods that could be achieved by relocating to Canada's central provinces."  Making an immigration decision is rarely predicated on a single factor, but rather, on balance, whether one sees the grass as greener on the other side. Successful immigrants look to the long term as the early months and years are often stressful as the book well illustrates.

The eleven chapters, 300 pages, are followed by a 115 page appendix listing emigrant ship crossings from England to Québec, 1817-64. Its useful reference material but the additional 20% makes the book rather hefty, an excellent argument for the Kindle and Nook eBook formats in which it is available, and at considerably reduced cost.

Seeking a Better Future is written at a high school graduate level and thoroughly researched using English and Canadian sources. Many line maps indicate areas of greater English settlement which greatly aid understanding for the geographically challenged.

As with Lucille Campey's previous books, Seeking a Better Future is a major addition to the literature for those looking for insight into their pioneer immigrant ancestor experience, in this case the English in Québec and Ontario.

Disclosure: Based on a review copy received without charge.

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