Catharine Parr Traill and Mount Ararat
Born in 1802, Catharine Parr Strickland grew up at Reydon Hall in the picturesque countryside of Suffolk, England. In a genteel household reminiscent of the Brontes’, she and her sisters began making up stories at a young age, and five of the six girls became published writers. Catharine and her sister Susanna Moodie were destined to become Canadian pioneers and literary icons. Both lived in and wrote about Hamilton Township at  different points in their lives.

Catharine's father, Thomas Strickland, nurtured her early love of nature which continued to be a source of fascination and inspiration throughout her life. When his sudden death in 1818 left the family with limited means, the Strickland sisters looked to writing to generate income. Catharine’s first book was published when she was seventeen. By the time she emigrated to Canada, she had published more than a dozen children's books that featured narratives involving natural history and moral lessons. Titles include Sketches from Nature or Hints to Juvenile Naturalists, Little Downy or The History of a Field Mouse, The Keepsake Guineas or The Best Use of Money, and Sketchbook of a Young Naturalist or Hints to the Students of Nature.
In 1832, Catharine met and married Oxford-educated Thomas Traill, a Scottish gentleman and former officer in the Napoleonic wars. He had been widowed in 1828 and had two sons by his first marriage.

But life soon became a struggle for survival for the Traills, first on their bush farm on Lake Katchewanook, and then after 1839 in the Peterborough area. The early 1840s were full of hardship: illnesses, the deaths of two of the Traills’ eight children, severe financial difficulties and Thomas’ increasingly disabling depressions. He was physically and mentally unsuited for life as a farmer or a businessman, in contrast to his practical and optimistic wife who was always “up and doing.” 

On the brink of bankruptcy, the Traills moved to Wolf Tower on the Rice Lake Plains in 1846, to a six-storey octagonal home provided rent-free for a year by an eccentric English admirer of Catharine’s. The Reverend George Bridges had been so inspired by reading The Backwoods of Canada that, in 1837, he had moved from Jamaica to the colony with his young son. After he left Canada for warmer climes, the Traills accepted his offer of the use of his unoccupied home. 
Rice Lake provided Catharine with a fresh landscape to explore and write about, and her health improved dramatically in the rejuvenating environment. In the spring of 1847, she and her family moved a few miles east to the scenic farm she named Mount Ararat, a rental property they planned to purchase with funds from the sale of Thomas’ half-pay commission. In Sisters in Two Worlds, Michael Peterman states that “Rice Lake and its environs would fire [Catharine’s] imagination at least as much as her Lake Katchewanook home in the backwoods.”

A view across Rice Lake to the mouth of the Otonabee River

“It was a lovely evening that I first descended Mount Ararat... The islands (of Rice Lake) lay almost at our feet, some in deep shade and others just catching the radiant glance of the retiring sunbeams. A deep indigo tint was on the distant shore, and all looked so lovely, that I could have lingered there as long as a ray of twilight remained to lighten the landscape.” 

                                                           Catharine Parr Traill in Forest and Other Gleanings
Inspired by Susanna and John Moodie who had made arrangements to emigrate, Catharine and Thomas embarked on a six-week journey across the Atlantic, bound for the wilderness of Upper Canada. In doing so, they left their homeland forever.
After arriving in Cobourg, the Traills travelled north by stagecoach over the Rice Lake Plains, then across the lake on the Pem-o-dash (which Catharine termed an “apology for a steam-boat”) and up the Otonabee River to the bush near present-day Lakefield. Catharine fell in love with the flora and fauna of her adopted country from the start, and she described her early years of pioneering and nature study in The Backwoods of Canada (1836).
In August of 1848, at the age of forty-six, Catharine gave birth to her ninth child, Walter, while living at Mount Ararat. However, the Traills’ stay at the farm was not to be the permanent one they had hoped for. In the words of their daughter Annie: “It was a delightful situation and my father intended building and was in treaty with its owner to buy it when it was sold over his head, much to his disappointment, as it would have made a very good farm.” After two years at Mount Ararat, during which Catharine was busy writing about the landscape, the Traills were obliged to move. 

They then bought a farm called Oaklands, located a few miles to the east. Since coming to Canada, Catharine had collected specimens of flowers, ferns and grasses, and kept careful journal notes. They were among the few things she was able to save from the fire that consumed Oaklands in 1857. Assisted by friends and family, the uprooted Traills moved back north. After Thomas’ death in 1859, Catharine settled in Lakefield, but continued to visit her daughter Annie who farmed on the south shore of Rice Lake with her husband, Clinton Atwood. 

(For further reading about Catharine Parr Traill’s life and writing, please see the Resources page.)
Botany / EcologyBotany___Ecology.html
Awards / StewardshipAwards___Stewardship.html
Thanks / Contact UsThanks___Contact_Us.html
A walkA_walk.html