“Defiled at once, and sanctified by contact”: Anna Brownell Jameson and Visual/Textual Tourism

Figures 1, 2 and 3: Jameson, Anna. 1838. Left to Right: ‘The Canoe on Lake Huron’, ‘Wayish-ky’s Lodge’, ‘Indians’, Voyage to America Album Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections. Used with permission.

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Anna Brownell Jameson, 1844. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Anna Brownell Jameson, 1844. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Anna Brownell Jameson, like others of her class in the mid-1830s, was at pains to extricate herself from the common views and viewing habits of the nineteenth-century tourist. In many ways she was successful. In her book Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838), in addition to describing her time in Toronto while with her estranged husband, the attorney general of Upper Canada, and while travelling without him throughout Upper Canada, she also provided very personal and politicized discussions of Canadian society, translations and discussion of German literature, and her views on the status of women. While she did visit, write about, and create drawings of Niagara Falls, the site was already familiar to most British ‘armchair tourists.’ Instead, it was the Summer Rambles section of the book, and related images, that depicted her 1837 trip through the lesser-known region of northern Lake Huron from Michillmackinac to Manitowaning that became the best-known and most frequently cited section of the book.

Jameson took her role to be that of the guide, the adventuress, and the knowledgeable writer of lesser-known, less-travelled regions:

I have had such adventures and seen such strange things as never yet were rehearsed in prose or verse, and, for the good of the public, thinking it a shame to keep these wonders only to make my own hair stand on end, I am just going to make a book and print it forthwith. (Erskine 1915: 157)

Her observations in print and image have proven to have an enduring resonance. Excerpts from Jameson’s book and her related images have peppered many promotional guides and regional surveys published since 1838, and continue to stir up touristic enthusiasm for the ‘strange things’ of northern Lake Huron. An early example of the touristic uptake of her work appears in an abridged and retitled version of Winter Studies and Summer Rambles that the British publisher Longman, Brown, Green and Longman’s included in its series The Traveller’s Library in 1852. Renamed Sketches in Canada, and Rambles among the Red Men, the book focused on Jameson’s “amusing and interesting chapters” – namely, her summer rambles to northern Lake Huron – wherein she described the ‘indians’, their customs and habits, the process of colonization, and her adventures in the wilderness. This edition reduced the original three-volume text of over 1000 pages to one much smaller book of 340 pages. It removed “all that was of a merely transient or merely personal nature, or obsolete in politics or criticism” (Sketches in Canada, and Rambles among the Red Men: 1852, Preface). Longman capitalized on the appetite for travel literature within Britain’s avid population of armchair travellers. The books, made available in railway stations, fit into Longman’s “determination to put down all immoral and unhealthy publications and to supply a cheap and wholesome literature for the popular appetite” (Longman, quoted in Thomas 1967: 188). This Longman publication marked the beginning of an excerpted practice of reading Jameson, and by extension of ‘knowing’ the north and what to seek once there.

Winter Studies and Summer Rambles continues to be published in Canada in a version edited by Clara Thomas for McClelland & Stewart. While the Thomas edition remains in print, the popular encounter with Jameson occurs via excerpted quotations and the reproduction of a selection of images (such as Figures 1, 2 and 3) that serve to illustrate and provide ‘authentic’ contextual materials for travel texts, tourist guides, and regional books. It is in this way that readers particularly tourists and the general reader, become familiar with Jameson and nineteenth century northern Lake Huron.

A recent, lavishly illustrated coffee table book about Georgian Bay replete with historical images, maps, and chapters on geology, culture and industry includes an oft-repeated and resonant quote of Jameson’s:

The feeling of remoteness, of the profound solitude, added to the sentiment of beauty; it was Nature in her freshness and innocence, as she came from the hand of her Maker, and before she had been sighed upon by humanity – defiled at once, and sanctified by contact. (Jameson 1838: 320)

Authors and editors of other local and regional books use Jameson’s words as exemplars of how contemporary people continue to feel about the region. Because nineteenth century quotes and images are positioned alongside contemporary experiences and views of the region, and Jameson’s romantic view of the north is used as short-hand for contemporary relationships to the region, time is flattened, as is any specificity, nuance, and discussion provided by the textual context of the integral book. As a result, the handful of familiar images and quotes that circulate tend to exemplify and re/produce a particularly problematic construction of place – one that romanticizes and mystifies the ‘indian’ and the landscape, and while authors note the complexities of indigenous-settler relations and treaty-making, the texts celebrate various forms of western progress. As Jameson is often brought forward as a proto-tourist, her images and quotations recreate a way of seeing, and instruct the contemporary tourist on what to look for in the North Channel: ‘indians’, empty and remote landscapes.

While Jameson created twenty-nine images of northern Lake Huron, guides, travel and other books tend to reprint the same set (such as those included above); as with the textual excerpts, they re/produce a particular visual knowledge. Such excerpted practices demonstrate the dialectical relationship we continue to navigate politically, territorially, and culturally, between an imagined and constructed ‘wilderness’ and the ‘sanctification’ of settler/tourist contact. The tourist, like the settler, navigates this dialectic, continually seeking the “freshness and innocence” of the wild north, and like Jameson seeks to sanctify it with contact – indeed wilderness parks are maintained by the economic and cultural impetus of recreation and support the touristic incursion.

Jameson’s literary and artistic productions fit squarely into the dominant representational practices of her time: travellers, artists, surveyors, anthropologists, and geographers catalogued areas of the ‘new world’ within categories such as natural history, geology, and local culture (the former and the latter often related). Jameson’s northern images fall within particular categories: ethnographic images (of Indians and their habitations), landscapes, and images that displayed western incursions into this landscape – such as her image of the fortifications at Michillmackinac or her most famous image Canoe on Lake Huron in which she inserted herself imaginatively and physically into the landscape. Like Jameson, many contemporary tourists seek out, observe, and document the “strange things” – the ‘indian’ and the wigwam – and also seek to insert themselves into an ‘otherwise empty’ landscape by their presence and the photographic record. Jameson may not have wanted to be known as a tourist, but her images and textual excerpts have fed the imagination of tourists since the first edition of Winter Studies and Summer Rambles.

Works Cited

Jameson, Mrs. 1838. Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada. Volumes 1-111. London: Saunders and Otley.

Jameson, Mrs. 1852. Sketches in Canada, and Rambles among the Red Men. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans

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Sophie Edwards

Sophie is the founder/Executive Director of 4elements Living Arts, a non-profit organization on Manitoulin Island (northeastern Ontario) with a focus on land/environment and community. She is working on a PhD in historical geography at Queen's University, and teaches as a sessional at Algoma University (Sault Ste. Marie) in the department of Community Economic and Social Development.

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