Canadian immigration: A perspective of Susanna Moodie

By Priya Chetty on August 14, 2014

Susanna Moodie (1803-1885) devoted her life, writing about her experiences with immigration and colonialism. Many of her novels are “emigrant’s guide” for people desiring to settle in Canada. Unlike other writers who have written about themes akin, including Indian Diaspora, Moore pictures more of what then Canada had to offer the British or how would life be in Canada.Susanna Moodie pens down the experiences as a ‘New Canadian’. It was posted Susanna’s marriage in 1831 when she moved to Canada with her husband. In a letter to Mary Russell Mitford, Susanna wrote:

“He [Samuel] gives me such superb descriptions of Canadian scenery that I often long to accept his invitation to join him, and to traverse the country with him in his journeys for Government” (1829).

Susanna Moodie (1) said that “immigration is a matter of necessity not of choice“. People migrate because of reasons galore; personal (family in some other country), financial (better job opportunities) or even socio-political (in cases of partitions or an exodus). Moodie and her husband migrated to Canada in a hope of augmenting their financial status and comfort.  This migration, as anticipated offered them access to improved communications. Also, they now had better financial comfort in Belleville and an opportunity to enhance her career. Moodie worked and revised for the better prose pieces which she had written when they were in England and later successfully published those creations in the Garland. She unfaceted her own personal stories into literary characters and so, “The miser and his son” became Mark Huddlestone (1853), and “Jane Redgrave” and “The doctor distressed” got their character sketches in her next novel, Matrimonial speculations (1854).

Life in Canada as described by Susanna Moodie in her writings

Moore’s magnum opus is considered to be “Roughing It” in the Bush (1852) which is partly a memoir and one of the parts of the trilogy. The remaining two are; Flora Lyndsay (1854) which is a prequel that shows the initial activities and preparations for the upcoming immigration. While the last is a discovery and an exploration of various cities and towns of Canada, Life in the Clearings (1853). These chronicles lay bare the fact that the promising image of the life in Canada that was advertised by the Brits was disparate from the harsher realities which the immigrants were untold about. “Roughing It“, unlike the other books, was generated by the traumatic experiences of emigration and backwoods life, and manifests, in its complexity, the “tensions in the intellectual, emotional, and imaginative life of its author.”(2)  Roughing It in the Bush; or, Life in Canada (1852) is an anthology poem and chronicles of her experiences as a financially sound immigrant from England thrown in the Canadian backwoods. The text has a coarse and un-subtle caution to people who wish to migrate to Canada, that this place is no garden of Eden as promoted in England. The style and tone of roughing in the bush is an imaginative genius very well gelled with the realism of then Canada.

Flora Lyndsay (1854) also chronicles an immigrant and shares their experience relating to the process starting from the decision of migrating and leaving their home country, England till settling and residing in a new and culturally alien Canadian town. It is a set of loosely structured novels that starts with random talks and discussions about emigration by a young married couple and then the final deciding moment ending with the crossing.  The book has a large medley of characters from Moodie’s neighbours and advisers in Suffolk to her fellow co-passengers. It also seems autobiographical when it mentions the drunk captain of the brig Anne on which all of them sailed for Quebec. In the 1850s’, when Moodie was writing Flora Lyndsay, Canada was bursting to the seams with writings on slaves. Moodie’s Mary Prince gives the view of the slave trade and how it looked to the people who had newly immigrated to such places.

Canadian immigration from the perspective of other writers

Apart from Moodie, Rewriting the Break Event by Robert Zacharias, depicts the migration of Russian Mennonites around the onset of the 1870s’ and the Canadian Mennonite literature comprises of the telling of these thousands of migrants and the fall of the Mennonite commonwealth of the 1920s’. This historical event gave birth to (through migration) the Russian Mennonite community in Canada and serves as a bond across all the communal and generational disparity keeping the ancient history alive. Similarly, Sandra Birdsell’s The Russlander is a quest to learn what these migrants went through. Sandra says

Once I realized the horrific circumstances of their migration I felt I had a duty, or rather responsibility, to try and “get it right” in terms of who they were as a people, their culture and the country they lived in. I felt there were many people looking over my shoulder as I was writing, waiting to catch me up on the smallest details” (3).

The atrocities and upheaval are all true and factual depictions, though many characters have a fictitious origin. Other Canadian immigrants’ experience has been documented by Wayson Choy in The Jade Peony (1995) and All That Matters (2004). His writings show a Chinese family living in Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1930-1940s. The author shows the hostilities toward Chinese and Japanese immigrants around Second World War. Rawi Hage talks about oppression and identity in Cockroach (2008). These novels show the oppression and racist abuses they suffered at the time of immigration.

  1. Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush; Or, Life in Canada (London, England: Richard Bentley, 1852) and 3rd. ed. (1854).
  2. Ballstadt, Carl P.A. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol XI (1881-1890). Web. Retrieved from 18.07.2014.
  3. Getting it right: Sandra Birdsell on writing The Russländer. Published in Prairie Fire, A Canadian Magazine of New Writing (Vol. 23, No. 3). Web. Retrieved from 19.07.2014.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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