Gold Vessels      

Catharine Parr Traill

-an article for the North Shore News ‘Spiritually Speaking’ column

Catharine Parr Traill and her sister Susanna Moodie were two of Canada's
most important 19th-century writers. Catharine Parr Traill College, a
campus of Trent University in Peterborough, is named for her. Catharine
was particularly famous for her books: The Backwoods of Canada (1836)
and Canadian Crusoes (1852). A French edition of The Backwoods of
Canada, Les forêts intérieures du Canada, was published in Paris in
1843. It was not until 1929 that a Canadian edition of The Backwoods of
Canada was published.

She also wrote The Female Emigrant's Guide, The Tell Tale, The Young
Emigrants, and Hints on Canadian Housekeeping’ As Lynn Westerhout put
it, Catharine “wrote to earn money, but her work showed that wonder,
courage and faith are most important in life.” The Encyclopedia
Britannica speaks of Catharine who, with richly detailed descriptions of
frontier life, was one of the first to praise the beauties of the
Canadian landscape.

Catharine left England to pioneer with her new husband Thomas in the
unknown Canadian backwoods. She wrote a farewell letter to a good
friend, saying that “she (was) willing to lose all for the sake of one
dear valued friend and husband to share with him all the changes and
chances of a settler’s life.

Catharine faced dire poverty in the early pioneering days: “On examining
the state of my purse, I find just $4.30. This is all the funds I have
to begin the year with. It is true that I have half a barrel of flour,
and some meat and I have often been without meat and money. God will
provide as heretofore.”

She wrote in 1852 to her sister Susanna: “`I feel it is a miserable
state to be like a vessel without a pilot drifting before an
overwhelming storm on every side rocks and shoals and no friendly port
in sight no beacon light to guide us on our perilous way. Do not think
dear sister that I lose my faith in God's gracious providence. I
believe that he can in his good time bring all things to an end of these
our troubles...”

Catharine’s husband Thomas was often downcast by the financial troubles
that they faced. Catharine wrote: “I wish that he could look beyond the
present and remember that the brightest of earthly prospects endure but
for a season – and it is the same with the trials and sorrows of life –
they too come to an end.”

As Charlotte Gray notes, “Catherine at ninety-five was left virtually
penniless...Without Catharine’s knowledge, an urgent plea was sent to
the British Prime Minister, at 10 Downing Street, for help...” Over
$1,000 was raised. Along with the money was sent a letter to Catherine
saying: “We cannot forget the courage with which you endured the
privations and trials of the backwoods in the early settlement of
Ontario, and we rejoice to know that your useful life has been prolonged
in health and vigour until you are now the oldest living author in her
Majesty’s dominion.” Catharine responded by saying: “I can only adopt
the hearty simple phrase used by the Indian women of Hiawatha village
–‘I bless you in my heart.’

Charlotte Gray

May Catharine Parr Traill’s deep pioneering faith and courage be an
inspiration to a new generation of women and men who seek to break new
ground in the twenty-first century.

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The Rev. Ed Hird

Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver

Anglican Coalition in Canada

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