Days of the Rebels 1815/1840 by Margaret Atwood

I will admit that I was surprised by this book when I received it from a second hand book store. I thought they must have sent me the wrong book, but when I opened it up, there was Margaret Atwood’s name and I thought, I guess I will be learning a lot with this one. Days of the Rebels was published in 1977 as part of a series called Canada’s Illustrated Heritage.

The end pages are a timeline from 1815 - 1840 highlighting some key figures and events. What I found really interesting was a sketch called Cholera Preventive Costume which shows the protective measures advised for doctors during the 1832 epidemic in the Canadas. Among other precautions they were told to use nose covers, wear extra covering over all clothing , walk on tobacco leaves and carry camphor and other herbs. It’s quite an illustration especially during this time of the COVID pandemic when some people are struggling just to wear a mask.

The prologue begins in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Atwood introduces Joseph Howe, who was a publisher. Then we move to Montreal and Quebec. In 1815, Montreal was the largest, richest, most cosmopolitan city in the colonies. It was the centre of the fur trade. It also had picturesque charm. This was also a place where people could get rich if they went about it the right way. Atwood introduces John Molson as an example.

A character that Atwood has written about before is also quoted several times in the book. Susanna Moodie is an example of immigrants coming to Canada and not being prepared for what they were in for.

Atwood highlights some women and men of the time. She talks about the fur trade and the rivalry between the Northwest Company and the Hudson’s Bay company with the furtrade. She also talks about the difference in women’s work and men’s work.

One of the chapters is dedicated to talking about crime. There were two mentalities about what was happening in Upper Canada. Either it was riddled with ignorance, recklessness, lying and drunkenness or it was a place where no one had to lock their door and no one stole because everyone had enough to eat. What was true was that whatever evils there were could be linked back to drinking. Alcohol was cheap, it was served over the counter in all places, there was no tax on whisky in Upper Canada.

The most frequently punished crime in the colonies was stealing.

I definitely did learn a lot by reading this book and I think one of the things I liked most about it was that Atwood shared things from a perspective that would have been missed if it were anyone else.

Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛

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