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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Print Price: $105.99

472 pp.
14 photos, 4 tables, 4 maps, 7.5" x 9.25"


Copyright Year:

Imprint: OUP Canada

Interpreting Canada's Past

A Pre-Confederation Reader, Sixth Edition

Edited by Amy Shaw, Corey Slumkoski and J.M. Bumsted

A carefully curated collection of primary and secondary source documents that introduces students to the approaches and methodologies historians use to interpret the past.

Thought-provoking and engaging, this acclaimed pre-Confederation reader introduces students to the approaches and methodologies historians use to understand the past. Organized both chronologically and thematically, the expertly-curated readings provide students with a balance of primary source documents and scholarly articles to explore the nation's history before 1867.

Readership : First- and second-year students taking introduction to Canadian history courses.


  • "This text provides a convenient point of entry for students to see how historians use primary and secondary sources in their research."
    --Barry R. MacKenzie, St. Francis Xavier University

  • "Interpreting Canada's Past provides a comprehensive treatment of the main themes of Pre-Confederation Canadian history covering a broad geography and a balance of perspectives including Indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, and women."
    --Andrew Watson, University of Saskatchewan

Introduction to Primary and Secondary Sources
1. Origins and Contact
Primary Documents
1. From "Where the First People Came From," in Cree Legends from the West Coast of James Bay
2. Indigenous Art and Artifacts
- St. Lawrence Iroquoian pot
- Distinctive pinched face-effigy pipe
- Incised Thunderbird images
- Moose antler comb from Teiaiagon
- Pictograph site on Agawa Bay, Lake Superior
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Teyohahá:ke-Two Roads," in The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River, Susan B. Hill [NEW]
4. From "Red Ochre, Vermilion, and the Transatlantic Cosmetic Encounter", Jean-François Lozier
2. Missionaries and Indigenous Peoples
Primary Documents
1. From The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610-1791
2. From Word from New France: The Selected Letters of Marie de l'Incarnation
Historical Interpretations
3. From Harvest of Souls: The Jesuit Missions and Colonialism in North America, 1632-1650, Carole Blackburn
4. From "Education, Francisation, and Shifting Colonial Priorities at the Ursuline Convent in Seventeenth-Century Quebec," Mairi Cowan [NEW]
3. The Seigneurial Regime in New France
Primary Documents
1. From "Memoir of Jacques Raudot, Intendant, to M. de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine, on the Growth of Seigneurial Abuses in Canada, November 10, 1707," Jacques Raudot; D.C. Bélanger, trans. and ed.
2. From Travels into North America: Containing Its Natural History and a Circumstantial Account of Its Plantations and Agriculture in General . . . , Peter Kalm
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Seigneurial Landscapes," in The Metamorphoses of Landscape and Community in Early Quebec, Colin M. Coates
4. From "The Feudal Burden," in Peasant, Lord & Merchant: Rural Society in Three Quebec Parishes 1740-1840, Allan Greer
4. The Expulsion of the Acadians
Primary Documents
1. From "1755 Council Minutes," in Acadia and Nova Scotia: Documents Relating to the Acadian French and the First British Colonization of the Province, 1714-1758
2. From "Extracts from Col. John Winslow's Journal," in Report Concerning Canadian Archives for the Year 1905
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Île Royale, New England, Scotland, and Nova Scotia, 1744-1748," in An Unsettled Conquest: The British Campaign Against the Peoples of Acadia, Geoffrey Plank
4. From "The Decision to Deport," in From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People, 1604-1755, N.E.S. Griffiths
5. The Conquest and Integration of Quebec
Primary Documents
1. From "Governor Murray to the Lords of Trade, Quebec 29th Octr 1764," and "Petition of the Quebec Traders," in Documents Relating to the Constitutional History of Canada 1759-1791
2. From The History of Emily Montague, Frances Brooke
Historical Interpretations
3. From "A Different Kind of Courage: the French Military and the Canadian Irregular Soldier Dduring the Seven Years' War," Martin L. Nicolai [NEW]
4. From "Loyalty, Order, and Quebec's Catholic Hierarchy," Damien-Claude Belanger [NEW]
6. The Loyalists, the War of 1812, and Memory
Primary Documents
1. Material Culture of Black Loyalists
- The Death of Major Pearson [NEW]
- Map of the Great River St. John & Waters [NEW]
- Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser, 11 September 1787 [NEW]
- Advertisement for the settlement of Black Nova Scotians in Sierra Leone [NEW]
- Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser, 18 February 1800 [NEW]
- Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser, 26 May 1800 [NEW]
- Slave collar owned by Abraham deMill [NEW]
- Bedford Basin near Halifax [NEW]
2. "The Petition of 55 Loyalists," 22 July 1783, and "A Memorial of Samuel Hakes and 600 Others," 15 August 1783, in Vindication of Governor Parr and His Council
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Freedom Denied," in The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870, James W. St G. Walker
4. From "Now You See It, Now You Don't: The War Of 1812 in Canada and the United States in 2012" Karim M. Tiro [NEW]
7. The Fur Trade in the Northwest
Primary Documents
1. Fur Trade Maps, from North of Athabasca: Slave Lake and Mackenzie River Documents of the North West Company, 1800-1821
- Indigenous peoples of the Mackenzie River Basin [NEW]
- Mackenzie River and Slave Lake Districts, 1795-1822 [NEW]
- Chart of the Mackenzie River Department (Facsimile) [NEW]
- Expedition up the Liard River to the Francis River (Facsimile) [NEW]
- Chart of the countries adjacent to Mackenzies River (Facsimile) [NEW]
2. From A Sketch of the British Fur Trade (1815), in The Collected Writings of Lord Selkirk 1810-1820, vol. 2, Lord Selkirk
Historical Interpretations
3. From "'He Was Neither a Soldier nor a Slave: He Was under the Control of No Man': Kahnawake Mohawks in the Northwest Fur Trade, 1790-1850," Nicole St-Onge [NEW]
4.. From "Taking Indigenous Women Seriously" in French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest, Jean Barman [NEW]
8. Immigration in the Early to Mid-nineteenth Century
Primary Documents
1. From "Testimony of Alexander Buchanan," in Third Report of the Select Committee on Emigration from the United Kingdom
2. From Statistical Sketches of Upper Canada, for the Use of Emigrants: by a Backwoodsman, William Dunlop
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Transatlantic Webs of Kin and Community," in Emigrant Worlds and Transatlantic Communities: Migration to Upper Canada in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, Elizabeth Jane Errington
4. From "An Unprecedented Influx: Nativism and Irish Famine Migration to Canada," Scott See
9. Rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada
Primary Documents
1. From Ninety-Two Resolutions, in Journals of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, 4th session of the 14th Provincial Parliament (7 January-8 March 1834)
2. From "The Seventh Report on Grievances (April 18, 1835)," in Appendix of the Journal of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Closing the Last Chapter of the Atlantic Revolution: The 1837-38 Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada," Michel Ducharme
4. From "From Folklore to Revolution: Charivaris and the Lower Canadian Rebellion of 1837," Allan Greer
10. Women in British North America
Primary Documents
1. "To the Electors of Quebec County"
2. From The Proper Sphere and Influence of Woman in Christian Society: Being a Lecture Delivered by Rev. Robert Sedgewick before the Young Men's Christian Association, Halifax, N.S., November 1856, Robert Sedgewick
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Women and the Escheat Movement," Rusty Bitterman
4. From "Innocent Flirtation to Formal Courtship" in I Wish to Keep a Record: Nineteenth Century New Brunswick Women Diarists and Their World, Gail C. Campbell [NEW]
11. Indigenous Peoples in British North America
Primary Documents
1. From "Report on the Affairs of the Indians in Canada," (1842-44), in Appendix to the Fourth Volume of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada 1844-45
2. "The Robinson-Superior Treaty," in The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, Including the Negotiations on which They Were Based, and Other Information Relating Thereto, Alexander Morris
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Empire, the Maritime Colonies, and the Supplanting of Mi'kma'ki/Wulstukwik, 1780-1820," John G. Reid
4. From "'An Equitable Right to Be Compensated': The Dispossession of the Aboriginal Peoples of Quebec and the Emergence of a New Legal Rationale (1760-1860)," Alain Beaulieu
12. "Rushing" the Empire Westward
Primary Documents
1. "Letter of Charles Major, 20 September 1859," in Daily Globe, Toronto, 2 January 1860
2. From Journals, Detailed Reports and Observations Relative to the Exploration, by Captain Palliser, John Palliser
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Hardy Backwoodsmen, Wholesome Women, and Steady Families: Immigration and the Construction of a White Society in Colonial British Columbia, 1849-1871," Adele Perry
4. From "'A Delicate Game': The Meaning of Law on Grouse Creek," Tina Loo
13. The Emergence of Métis Identity
Primary Documents
1. From "J. Halkett to Earl Bathurst, 3 June 1818," in Correspondence in the Years 1817, 1818, and 1819, between Earl Bathurst and J. Halkett, Esq. on the Subject of Lord Selkirk's Settlement at the Red River, in North America
2. From "Declaration of the People of Rupert's Land and the North West," Fort Garry, December 8, 1869, in The Collected Writings of Louis Riel, vol. 1.
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Within the Grasp of Company Law: Land, Legitimacy, and the Racialization of the Metis, 1815-1821," Michael Hughes [NEW]
4. From "Prologue to the Red River Resistance: Pre-liminal Politics and the Triumph of Riel," Gerhard Ens
14. Confederation and Anti-Confederation
Primary Documents
1. From Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces, George Brown
2. From Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces, A.A. Dorion
Historical Interpretations
3. From "Tax Revolt in Nova Scotia in the 1860s: Fairness and Region," in Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History of Canada, 1867-1917, Elsbeth Heaman [NEW]
4. From "Confederation as a Hemispheric Anomaly: Why Canada Chose a Unique Model of Sovereignty in the 1860s," Andrew Smith [NEW]

Primary Source Library
- 60 canonical and lesser-known primary sources for both Pre- and Post-Confederation
- Each source is accompanied by an introduction offering students a contextual and social perspective

Amy Shaw is an associate professor in the History Department at the University of Lethbridge, where she teaches both pre- and post-Confederation history of Canada.

Corey Slumkoski is an associate professor in the History Department at Mount Saint Vincent University.

The late J.M. Bumsted was a retired professor at the University of Manitoba.

Interpreting Canada's Past - Edited by Amy Shaw, Corey Slumkoski and The late J.M. Bumsted
A History of the Canadian Peoples - J. M. Bumsted and Michael C. Bumsted
Sport in Canada - Don Morrow and Kevin B. Wamsley
Writing History - William Kelleher Storey and Mairi Cowan
Rethinking Canada - Lara Campbell, Tamara Myers and Adele Perry
Home, Work, and Play - Edited by James Opp and John C. Walsh
Gender History - Willeen Keough and Lara Campbell

Special Features

  • Comprehensive collection of historical documents and current scholarship presents students with an extensive look into Canada's political, economic, and social pre-Confederation history.
  • - Primary source documents introduce students to actual participant voices from the past, helping them relate to what life was like before Confederation.
  • - Secondary source documents offer historiographical interpretations of key topics and demonstrate how primary source documents are used by historians to reveal how interpretations of the past continually evolve.
  • Contributions from leading Canadian historians offer a broad range of perspectives on Canada's social, political, and economic history before Confederation.
  • Thoughtful chapter introductions give students the contextual framework needed to understand the documents that follow.
  • Questions for consideration encourage students to think critically about the material and suggestions for further reading promote active learning.
New to this Edition
  • Expanded coverage of Indigenous histories and perspectives reflect current historiographical and methodological developments in the fields of Indigenous and Canadian history.
  • 11 new readings and 14 new historical photos offer students insight into various topics of interest, including Fur trading in the Northwest, courtship and marriage in the 19th century, and Indigenous perspectives on Contact, trade, and cultural exchange.
  • Revised and updated throughout, including 12 revised chapter introductions and Questions for Consideration to help students meaningfully engage with the material covered in the text.