- Fashioning the Canadian Landscape: Essays on Travel Writing, Tourism, and National Identity in the Pre-Automobile Era by J. L. Little
It was all about the landscape, it seems, when nineteenth-century travellers and tourists looked out their railway carriage windows or (more likely) from the deck of a steamer and recorded their impressions of Cape Breton, Quebec's Eastern Townships, the Labrador coast, or the lakes, mountains, and shorelines of British Columbia. In Fashioning the Canadian Landscape, historian J. I. Little has brought together eight previously published essays with two new contributions, along with an introduction and afterword, all of which foreground the role conceptions of landscape played in male travellers' and tourists' impressions of the Dominion. Little argues that notions of the picturesque inflected the accounts left by Canadian and British writers, no matter where the writer's gaze happened to land. Like their contemporaries in other parts of the world, these men were primarily interested in creating representations of landscapes that accorded with their own set of values, those of order, respectability, and British civilization. These depictions, Little argues, also were used in the service of nationalism, particularly for Canadian and British writers who saw geography as playing a critical role in the development of national identities and characters. In contrast, the American writers whose work Little examines were more interested in searching out quaint habitant culture, the "romantic folk culture" of Cape Breton's Highlands (p. 8), or views of the sublime along the coast of Labrador. Yet, no matter what the writers' national vantage point, for the most part their accounts saw people and their varied histories as being of less interest than scenery, a pattern in travel writing about Canada that, according to Little, persisted long into the age of automobile travel and tourism.
Republishing one's own work as a collection of essays has its pitfalls, not least of them being that readers may find few new insights. To some extent Little has avoided this problem by providing some new material and by writing a clear introduction and afterword; the former frames these essays well, while the latter suggests the ways in which scholars of twentieth-century tourism and travel in Canada might take up, expand upon, and test his insights and arguments. Furthermore, journal articles and book chapters in other collections do not have [End Page 246] the same impact and weight as a collection of essays with this degree of thematic unity. As I moved from one chapter to another, Little's arguments about the cultural power that the picturesque wielded over these writers becomes more convincing than if I had read articles dispersed in different places over time.
The collection has other strengths, not least Little's fluid and engaging style and the clarity of his prose; it also will introduce readers unfamiliar with the field to a range of nineteenth-century travel writing about Canada (and provides a very helpful bibliography of those sources). Little's discussion of tourism at Lake Memphremagog is, from my perspective, one of the particularly strong chapters, since it allows the reader to appreciate the interaction between travel writing and social practices as well as the subsequent changes to the physical landscape wrought by that dynamic. In contrast, other chapters do not give us a clear sense of the reception of these accounts: I would have very much liked to know about the import and impact of their dissemination. Some English Canadian tourists in Britain, for example, hoped not to encounter Kipling's representations of Canada in any form, direct or indirect, ones that Little discusses in chapter 9, "Our Lady of the Snows Revisited." In turn, those images of Canada as a land of agricultural bounty found in George Munro Grant's 1880s Picturesque Canada were foregrounded in the promotional literature disseminated by Canadian immigration agents in Edwardian Britain.
That said, Little's contributions to this area provide richness and depth to our understanding of the Dominion's place within...