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Journey to the Backwoods

Ferguson Duke's clearingSettlement in Ontario predated the advent of photography, so art and letters were the two common media to capture life in the backwoods. Friends and families back home often had considerable interest in what was going on in the backwoods, but connections by post were slow and tenuous, and often beyond the means of ordinary settlers.

The Kawarthas were unusual in that a disproportionate share of their first immigrants were younger children of genteel families. For a time their were literally more aspiring lords than labourers. These settlers typically had polished manners and education, but insufficient funds to live a genteel life in England. So they left for the colonies hoping that they could live as elites there, typically through agriculture or land speculation. Practically all of them failed, most moved on to other ventures.

The First Fenelon Anglican ChurchAmong these gentry was one woman who had little prospect of marriage, being beyond the age of courtship and hard of hearing. Unlike most of her peers who were caught up in trying to raise families to a reasonable standard in the difficult conditions of the backwoods, Anne lived with her parents, brother and aunt, so had a little bit of free time to pursue arts and letters. Much of her writing was completed to keep her brother William, who remained in England informed of the family's fortunes across the Atlantic.

Anne Langton's work provides a unique view into the settlement history of Upper Canada. Through her art we can see backwoods settlements, native encampments and inside pioneer log cabins. Our permanent Langton Exhibit showcases early life in the Kawarthas with a variety of native and settler artifacts.