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Anticipation - Expectations for the New Land

Scientific Expeditions

Throughout the nineteenth century, knowledge of the Northwest was slowly accumulated from military surveys, gentlemen travellers, moral crusaders, and commercial interests. By mid-century, mounting pressures in Britain, the United States, and eastern Canada to learn more about the continental interior prompted two major scientific expeditions, both of which were far more systematic and more encompassing than anything previously undertaken.

The first, a British-financed expedition under the command of Captain John Palliser and Dr. James Hector, arrived at Fort William (now Thunder Bay) in mid-June 1857. A combined military and civilian operation, the Palliser expedition investigated the entire region extending from Lake Superior to the Rocky Mountains and remained in the field for three years.

The second, a Canadian-backed expedition, arrived on the northwestern shore of Lake Superior about six weeks after Palliser. It was strictly a civilian operation and was led by Henry Youle Hind, a professor of chemistry at Toronto's Trinity College, and Simon James Dawson, a civil engineer from Quebec. In its first year, the expedition examined the area between Lake Superior and Red River (the Red River Exploring Expedition) and the following year between Red River to the South Saskatchewan River (the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition), and determined "the best route for opening facile communication through British Territory."

The observations of both expeditions were communicated in official reports, maps and, in the case of Hind's expedition, artworks and photography. Together, the two expeditions started the long process that would eventually see European perceptions of the West transformed from a desolate and lonely landscape to an unspoiled paradise full of promise.

Further Readings

See also

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Report on Western Canada 1871, by Jean l'Heureux
Report on western Canada,
1871, by Jean l'Heureux

Palliser's map of North America, 1865, by Edward Stanford
Palliser's map of
North America,
1865, by Edward Stanford

Title page to Reports of Progress... on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition, 1859, by Henry Youle Hind
Title page to Reports of
Progress... on the Assiniboine
and Saskatchewan
Exploring Expedition
1859, by Henry Youle Hind


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