When Mrs. Jameson came to America with her husband, the Attorney General of Upper Canada, she was not content to settle for the life of a housewife
From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
In the summer of 1837 Anna Jameson came to town.
Well, unless you’re an avid student of local history, you might think you’ve never heard of her. However, if you’ve ever taken a stroll down the downtown boardwalk, chances are you’ve at least caught a glimpse of the historic plaque near Station Mall commemorating Anna and her many accomplishments.
As the plaque states, Anna Jameson (1784-1860) was a famous 19th-century author, illustrator and social reformer.
She is perhaps best known as the author of the book Winter studies and summer migrations in Canadaan insightful, informative, and humorous account of her travels in Upper Canada.
A true visionary, Anna also sprinkled the book with her impressively progressive views on women’s rights, class conflict and race relations. It’s safe to say that Anna Jameson was way ahead of her time! Winter Studies is now considered the first Canadian travel book of the 19th century.
If you visit her Wikipedia page, you can read her many academic contributions on a variety of subjects, including feminism, art history, and Shakespearean studies.
What her Wikipedia page doesn’t mention is that Anna Jameson was the first European to ever navigate the St Mary’s rapids.
Here’s the full story:
Anna Jameson was born in Dublin, Ireland and grew up in England. In 1836 she came to Canada with her husband Robert Jameson when he accepted the position of Attorney General of Upper Canada.
As a woman of great intellect and even greater adventurous spirit, she did not want to settle for the life of a housewife during her stay in Canada. In 1837 she decided to leave and explore the country. Her travels took her throughout Upper Canada and also to the United States.
While staying on Mackinaw Island, she heard about a boat bound for Sault Ste. Marie within an hour. Almost intoxicated, she managed to pack up all her things and get to the boat on time for departure.
It was a two-day voyage on a small Canadian boat rowed by five voyageurs coming from the Sault. Anna described the trip as strenuous as the crew rowed both against the current and upwind in the hot summer heat. When they reached the St. Mary’s River, they were instantly engulfed in a cloud of mosquitoes.
They finally reached the banks of the Sault, exhausted, just in time for a heavy rainstorm.
Welcome to Sault Ste. Marie, Mrs. Jameson!
In her book, Anna gives detailed descriptions of the settlements on both the American and Canadian sides.
According to her, in 1837 our fledgling North Shore community consisted of a meager trading post owned by the North-West Company along with a few “miserable log cabins” owned by some French Canadians and outlaw voyageurs employed by the North-West Company .
Below was the home of Mr MacMurray (an Anglican priest) and his wife, “with the Chippewa village under their care and education”. There was also a small mission church and a schoolhouse.
And that was it, and that was all.
Still, there were two things Anna liked about Sault Ste. found very impressive. Mary:
The first was the quality of the white fish. Anna described eating them four times a day and explained that not only were they plentiful, but they were the best tasting fish she had ever eaten.
The second was the St. Mary rapids.
Anna was immediately mesmerized by the power and beauty of the rapids. If the rapids of Niagara were like a monstrous tiger in play, she wrote, then the rapids of St. Mary’s were like an exquisitely beautiful woman in a rage, but with “no terror in her anger, just the feeling of excitement and loveliness.” ”
Anna wrote that the descent of the rapids was about twenty-seven feet over three-quarters of a mile, but that the roar began over the falls and the commotion under the falls continued so that “the eye encompasses an area of white foam measuring about a mile each way.” “.
During her stay, Anna had the opportunity to watch several Chippewa fishermen as their canoes traversed the ‘boiling surf’ at the bottom of the rapids and the boats ‘dance and pop like corks’.
She also heard stories of how some members of the Chippewa tribe were unafraid to navigate the rapids in their small canoes, and learned to find safe passage amidst the swirling water and jagged rocks. She soon decided that she wanted to experience this adventure first hand.
(It should be noted that according to Bouchette’s Canada, published in 1815, it was inadvisable to travel down the St. Mary’s Rapids in a boat. The book recommended portage instead, which involved a two-mile hike, but the dangers avoided the falls. But Anna Jameson spared no danger.)
Without hesitation, Anna put her plan into action.
A friend of hers found a local who was willing to take her down the rapids in his boat, which was just a small fishing canoe. As she climbed to the top of the falls with her fellow adventurer, she climbed into his canoe and they descended “with a whirl and a splash.”
Using his expertise, the intrepid navigator steered the canoe with great skill, keeping the canoe’s head to the surf. Anna sat in the back of the canoe as it sped downstream, filled not with fear but with dizzying excitement as the boat narrowly avoided the rocks whose ‘touch would have broadcast [them] for their destruction”.
Anna’s entire water adventure only lasted seven minutes, but she would remember it for the rest of her life.
When she safely reached shore at the end of the rapids, she celebrated with her new indigenous friends, who were amazed by Anna’s daring and determination. She was declared a “duly ordained” honorary member of the Chippewa tribe and “inducted into the family under the name Wah,sàh,ge,wah,nó,quà,” which Anna roughly translates to “woman of the white foam.”
Mrs. Jameson’s stay at the Sault was short, but she developed many close relationships during her stay in the city.
After her departure, she first traveled by boat to the Manitoulin Islands, followed by trips to several islands in Lake Huron before finally traveling back to Toronto. In 1938 she returned to England, where she published Winter studies and summer migrations in Canada.
After that, she dedicated a large part of her life to educational and social reforms for women.
A copy of Anna’s book is in the Local History Collection at the James L. McIntyre Centennial Library. Winter Studies is also free to read online. Please note that the unfortunate title change was the publisher’s choice, not Anna’s!
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its archives offer SooToday readers a glimpse into the city’s past.
Learn more about what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here