Given the geographical and historical proximity of Canada and the United States, it stands to reason that their national literatures would reflect similar concerns. Early Canadian settlers traveled from Europe, with the majority emigrating from Great Britain and France. They were faced with a wilderness that seemed almost infinite—and would not be completely settled even into the twentieth century—inhabited by people whose appearance, beliefs, and customs were different from their own. Their national economy was closely linked to natural resources, dominated by such industries as farming, fishing, mining, logging, and milling. Little in their previous experience had prepared them for such an encounter, and few of the artistic models they had brought from Europe allowed them to completely express the reality of their relation to this “new” world. Like their cousins to the south, Canadians were continually renegotiating their identity relative to the surrounding landscape, and early Canadian writers sought to raise this daily phenomenon of encounter and compromise to an expression of national selfhood.
As such, it is strange to note how differently Canada and the United States developed, in both literary and historical senses. Where Americans were driven by their “manifest” directive to settle the continent, Canadian settlement was less rapid and headlong. Official groups such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police often preceded settlers into the wilderness, carving out a habitable and “known” space for pioneers who followed. The emphasis was usually on order, which prevented the frenzied land rushes and cultural clashes occurring to the south. Where American settlement was often violent, punctuated by slavery and wars with American Indians, Canadian movements across the landscape were deliberate and, at some level, introspective. Relations with Indians, though not perfect, were enhanced by the Canadian government’s simple willingness to adhere to its treaties. Other interchanges between cultures, despite friction, infrequently rose to the level of martial conflict that punctuated U.S. history. Indeed, the high premium that Canadians have historically placed on cultural dialogue continues to be exemplified by the coexistence of anglophone and francophone cultures.