2 Fundamentally, the
civilization of each society in North America is the
civilization of Europe. An inward necessity, instinctive and
compelling, had driven the immigrants to preserve the mysterious
accumulations of their cultural heritage
Undoubtedly, these two
societies, one almost exclusively French and the other
predominantly English, were differentiated by race, language,
laws and religion. [...] But the society of the St. Lawrence and
the society of the Atlantic seaboard were divided by something
else, which was more fundamental and which is purely American.
Immediately these migrants had to come to terms with the new
continent. From it they had to wrest a living; and since they
were Europeans and not Indians, a living meant not merely the
food to sustain life but the amenities of West-European
civilization which alone could make it tolerable. They had to
find means to produce their own necessities and to pay for their
imports from Europe.
3 Each society, after
long and recurrent error, had read the meaning of its own
environment ; accepted its ineluctable compulsions and prepare
to monopolize its promises. And each, in the process of this
prolonged and painful adjustment, had acquired an American
character, a purpose and a destiny in America.
3 Chance flung the
first English colonists on the edges of the Atlantic seaboard
and opened the single great eastern waterway of the interior to
the French. In the history of the different economies, of the
cultural patterns which were to dominate North American life,
these were acts of the first importance.
4 The river up which
Cartier ventured gave entrance to the totally different dominion
of the north. It was a landscape marked off form the other
geographic provinces of the new continent by the almost
monotonously massive character of its designs. A huge triangle
of rocky upland lay bounded by a river and a string of giant
lakes. [...] The enormous flat bulk of the Precambrian formation
was not only the core of the whole Canadian system, but it was
also the ancient nucleus of the entire continent.
5 The Canadian Shield
and the river system which seamed and which encircled it, were
overwhelmingly the most important physical features of the area.
They were the bone and the bloodtide of the northern economy.
For the French and their successors, it was inescapable.
Settlement starved and
shriveled on the Shield; it offered a sullen inhospitality to
those occupations which were traditional in western Europe and
which had been transferred by the first immigrants to the
Atlantic seaboard of North America.
It was an area of
staples, creating simple trades and undiversified extractive
industries; and its furs, its forests and its minerals were to
attract three great assaulting waves of northerners.
6 [...] this drainage
basin, driving seaward in a great proud arc from Lake Superior
tot he city of Quebec, was the fact of all facts in the history
of the northern half of the continent. It commanded an imperial
domain. Westward its acquisitive fingers groped into the
territory of the plains. Aggressively it entrenched upon the
dominion of the Mississippi. [...] It was the one great river
which led into the heart of the continent . It possessed a
geographical monopoly; it shouted its uniqueness to adventurers.
the river meant mobility and distance; it invited journeying;
[...] the whole west, with all its riches, was the dominion of
the river.[...]it seemed the destined pathway of North American
trade; and from the river there rose, like an exhalation, the
dream of western commercial empire. The river was to be the
basis of a great transportation system by which the manufactures
of the old world could be exchanged for the staple products of
the new. [...] The dream of the commercial empire of the St.
Lawrence runs like an obsession through the whole of Canadian
8 the pressure of
geography bore with continuous persistence upon an unprotected
people; and a brutal necessity drove the first Americans to come
to terms with the landscape they had inherited. [...] What the
continent flaunted, they took; they could not be made to seek
what it seemingly withheld Their economies grew naturally,
organically out of the very earth of the new world.
11 The economy of the
north was in utter contrast with the industrial and commercial
organization of the Atlantic seaboard. In the north, geography
directed the activities of men with a blunt sternness; and it
had largely helped to create a distinct and special American
system. The lower St. Lawrence was for the French, as it is for
the Canadians of today, the destined focus of any conceivable
commerce was not to be built upon a solid foundation of
agricultural production. The river and the Shield, which seemed
physically to overawe the valley with their force and mass,
reduced the lowlands of a position of secondary economic
But the first
important Canadian market and the first source of Canadian
staples for export lay, not in the lowlands, but in the west.
13 Canadian expansion
drove impulsively westward, along the rivers and into the
interior. The energy and initiative that lay dormant in the
lowlands grew exuberantly in the western wilderness of rock and
water and forest.
14 Furs, a product of
the Shield, obtainable by the river system of transportation,
weighted the already heavy emphasis of the Precambrian formation
and of the St. Lawrence. Furs impelled the northerners to win
that western commercial empire which the river seemed to offer
to the daring. The expansion of the French was the penetration,
not the occupation, of the west [...].
14 This was the
northern commercial system, of which furs were the first staple
; and the fur-trading organization of the French was the
elementary expression of the major architectural style of
Canadian business life. It was a distinct North American system,
peculiar to CD, with the immensity and the simplicity which were
characteristic of the landscape itself.
14-15 [...] The whole
landscape annexed to the river of CD, the lands that spread out
north and south and westward of the Great Lakes were claimed and
largely exploited by he commercial state which was centralized
at Quebec and Montreal.
15 The pressure of
this system was enormous. The colony grew curiously - ungainly,
misshapen, almost distorted - stamped by tasks and ambitions
which were, on the whole, too great for it.
16 It was western
trade, moreover, which largely determined the style of Canadian
politics. Transcontinentalism, the westward drive of
corporations encouraged and followed by the super-corporation of
the state, is the major theme in Canadian political life; and it
was stated, in its first simplicity, by the fur trade. [...] The
St. Lawrence was an expensive monopoly; ad its imperious demands
could be met - and even then inadequately - only by the
corporate effort of the northern society. [...] Strong,
centralized government was of course imported from old France;
but its continuance in the new world was encouraged, rather than
opposed, by the northern commercial system.
20 In a certain sense,
the French were not really the builders of the northern
commercial empire: they were its first owners, its first
occupants. They read the meaning of the region, they evoked its
spirit, and they first dreamed the dream which the river
inspired in the minds of all who came to live upon its banks
[...] its was an astonishingly correct anticipation of the
experience of successive generations of northerners. With the
surrender of the transportation system of the St. Lawrence,
there was passed on also to the victors the commercial
philosophy based upon it.