Before Canada: Northern North American in a Connected World, ca. 1000-1800, McGill University, Montreal

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The territory later to be known as Canada, vast and always thinly populated, functioned for centuries as an unlikely international carrefour.  Long-distance travel under daunting conditions long served to connect far-flung peoples and places.  Starting out from the Bering Sea, Thule bands pushed westward across the Arctic rim toward Greenland and down into Labrador, just when Norse seafarers were approaching these same regions from the North Atlantic.  Tsimshian and Tagish traders ventured out along mountain glaciers linking the Yukon interior to the Pacific coast.  Basque whalers and Norman cod fishers visited Newfoundland and penetrated into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, coming every summer in large numbers and linking these regions to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Indigenous captives from the American southwest as well as Africans caught up in the toils of the Atlantic slave trade found themselves in involuntary servitude in Montreal and Quebec. Long before the age of the railroad and the telegraph, canoe routes thousands of miles long were linking indigenous nations of the prairies to Europe via Hudson Bay and the St. Lawrence. The connections were obviously economic, but they also had political, cultural and intellectual dimensions.

Harold Innis noted these networks and connections long ago, but his vision was highly eurocentric and imbued with the teleologies of settler nation-building.  The time is right for a more balanced and decolonized appreciation of spaces and connections.

To be held at McGill University, Montreal on October 26th and 27th, 2019, “Before Canada: Northern North America in a Connected World, 1000-1800AD) will see historians, geographers, archeologists and literary scholars gather to look at the long-distance movement of people, goods and ideas that put Canada in touch with global circuits before there was a Canada.

All papers have now been accepted. To attend the conference, or for more information, please see our “Registration”, “Programme” and “Information” tabs.

Conference Website