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Pioneers go electronic

Michael Peterman, professor of English literature at Trent and, fittingly, principal of Traill College, has long been recognized as a leading expert on the lives of 19th-century authors Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill. He has spent decades researching the works of these two influential early Canadian writers, and is one of three academics who have painstakingly edited and preserved volumes of correspondence by Moodie and Traill.

Recently Michael was thrilled to see a new resource open for anyone interested in learning more about these fascinating sisters. A website has been launched by the National Library of Canada that boasts a wonderful array of documents and information about Moodie and Traill. Michael was asked to serve as a curator of the site, and worked for over two years to develop all of the copy and text with Beth Hopkins, a colleague from York University, and Carl Ballstadt, a colleague from McMaster University.

"The idea behind the site was to blend the resources of two institutions – the National Library and the National Archives. With both Moodie and Traill, information ended up in both locations. There were some Traill books in the archives and a significant collection of letters was repatriated from New York to the National Library," explains Michael. "With the website, the material can be fully accessible to the public and the resources can be integrated."

Hundreds of original letters are posted on the site, as well as biographical, historical and contextual information. Additional resources and lesson plans are also posted.

An on-line introduction to the two sisters reads like this: "Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill are two of Canada's most important 19th-century writers. Born in England only 23 months apart, the two sisters became professional writers before they married. In 1832 they emigrated with their Scottish husbands to Canada, settling in the backwoods of what is now Ontario, near present-day Lakefield. They recorded and interpreted their experiences as pioneers in books for which they remain famous to this day — for example, Catharine Parr Traill's The Backwoods of Canada (1836) and Canadian Crusoes (1852), and Susanna Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush (1852) and Life in the Clearings (1853). They continued to live and write in Canada until their deaths — Susanna's in 1885 and Catharine's in 1899."

The Moodie/Traill website is designed to help readers and students enter into the worlds of these two remarkable sisters. Using original photographs and other illustrations, the site seeks to make the worlds of the sisters come alive for today's readers and aims to provide them with material for further research and study.

The site can be found at www.nlc-bnc.ca/moodie-traill.

Posted November 1, 2002

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Last updated November 8, 2002