Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




David Clark


My thesis traces the historical and theoretical formation of a "Canadian" writing. Traditionally, Canadian literature and the "Canadian identity" have been studied thematically. For instance, our relationships to wilderness, animals and geography (the inhospitable land), and the sense of community that develops in reaction to these circumstances are themes which have been examined exhaustively. In contrast, I am theorizing how writing was practiced in seventeenth-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Canadian exploration narratives. The main chapters of this thesis are separated by shoner, more detailed. analyses of visual works, including maps, engravings from exploration books, and Frances Anne Hopkins's voyageur paintings. My explication of these pictures works dialectically with the longer chapters on prose narratives to reveal different aspects of exploration's expansive colonial discourse. In chapter two I identify four distinct forms of writing, including "writing as inscription," the physical act of inscribing on surfaces. These surfaces include the North American landscape where territory is claimed in the name of a sovereign and as an act of imperial expansion. I also discuss writing's role as an agent of capitalism: it structures systems of exchange and records the European's interventions into indigenous cultures. Writing is a portable technology which the explorers use to transmit and store information on the peoples and geographies of the newly found lands. Chapter four discusses the early sea voyages of Thomas James (The Strange and Dangerous Voyage of Captain Thomas James and Luke Foxe (North-West Fox, or. Fox from the North-west Passage). Both men found an inhospitable land barren of resources which would not yield a North West Passage. In chapter six Samuel Hearne's A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay...to the Northern Ocean provides an exemplary model for the role of commerce in the eighteenth century. Hearne's narrative is the most important and influential of the many first-person narratives written by traders in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and his geography is much more detailed and economically productive than those of James and Foxe because he explores for trade and mining purposes. The thesis ends with a reading of the three Franklin expeditions. Although the published texts only detail the first two (Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea and Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea), the loss of Franklin and his men with the third expedition, and the enormous media interest in the subsequent searches for their various "traces," demonstrates the entry of explorers into the "modern" world of communications technologies. The contemporary image of Franklin which has been recuperated through forensic technology mirrors the technology of writing discussed throughout the thesis. My analysis of exploration narratives and the extensive role of writing throughout the colonizing of Canada offers a valuable insight into our literary and cultural history.

McMaster University Library

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