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In nineteen-century British North America, many themes pertaining to reform arose through the demand to improve institutions and instill positive change in order to promote progress in society. In order to explore the ways in which reform was attempted, it is important to consider how certain historians have interpreted how this institutional improvement was implemented and whether they see it was successful or not. Through an analysis of the viewpoints of three different historians and primary documents based on education and mental institutions and the ways in which reform was sought to improve them, it becomes clear that there are several key concepts that connect these types of reform together through distinguishing features.
Elizabeth Jane Errington focuses on the significance of women’s contribution to the economy. She argues that although women were still limited in employment opportunities, they too provided goods and services that were important to society. Women were told that “‘any task was suitable’ for a woman as long as it furthered the good of the family” […] [or] ‘was accepted by her husband”. The most common employment for women was domestic service which, under colonial expectations, required homemaking skills. However, the fifth primary document, Emigrants Wages in Upper Canada, Distress, &c. wrote that women servants could hardly earn half a male’s wages. Errington stressed that the conditions in which they worked were appalling and that their wages were diminutive for their work. But even such a little amount was necessary to secure the family. Some women, wives in particular, were given more power when they assisted with their husbands’ economic affairs such as helping with craft, cooking for guests and taking charge when the husband was away. Female employment expanded when particularly when widows were forced into service. Soon women were able to open schools, run hotels and open their own businesses which helped expand their influence in the workplace. Though women were marginalized in the public workforce, they utilized their social position to find ways to earn a living and contribute to society.
The primary and secondary sources contained in Chapter 8 of the Visions text, The Métis and Red River Society: Change, Adaptation, and Resistance -1830’s to 1870s, examined the social tensions and changes which occurred between Métis populations and the growing number of white settlers in the Red River region. The analyses of the three historians, Sylvia Van Kirk, Gerhard Ens and Gerald Friesen, focused on diverse issues of Red River society between 1830 and 1870 including Métis migration, shifting cultural norms, the influence of white women, and the Métis resistance led by Louis Riel. Complementary to these historians’ arguments, the primary sources, including Norbert Welsh’s memoir and several photographs, provided evidence of the impact of these societal changes as well as the diverging interests of white settlers and the Métis. While their particular topics and perspectives differed, each of these historians’ interpretations examined a common theme of how both Métis individuals and communities adapted and experienced conflicts in an effort to actively navigate the changes of 1830-1870 as the expansion of Canada’s borders and white settler communities reshaped cultural and economic practices and marginalized Métis populations.
Salisbury’s article suggests that unlike traditional Eurocentric historical representations, Europeans must be understood as entering in to a pre-existing framework of Aboriginal history (p. 24). By using archaeological evidence of the exchange of certain European goods (e.g. glass beads) alongside Aboriginal goods (e.g. mica, shells) Salisbury demonstrates the way in which the European traders were integrated alongside traditional Aboriginal trade networks (p. 23). This directly contravenes the common assumption that European goods superseded Aboriginal trade networks. Salisbury’s use of archeological evidence is formidable as it circumvents some of the intrinsic problems that come with relying on heavily mediated records in the form of missionary/settler journals and letters, namely that they stifle or subvert the Aboriginal voice for their own purposes as settlers, colonialists, or missionaries.
Institutions such as schools, prisons, and asylums were causes for reform in the middle of the nineteenth century in British North America. In chapter 9 of Visions, Daniel Francis, Janet Miron, and Robert Lanning discussed these institutions and the public opinion reflecting them. Francis discussed the development of asylums in Maritime Provinces, Miron touched on touring asylums in Ontario, and Lanning wrote on the demand for schools and how inspections impacted rural Nova Scotia. Each of these historians provided evidence of what living conditions were in asylums and schools. Through comparing and contrasting these articles, historians can see the major impact these institutions had on society.