The Reluctant Land
536 pages, 6 x 9
106 maps, 3 charts, 52 b&w photos
Release Date:01 Jan 2009
Release Date:07 May 2008
Release Date:01 Jan 2009
Release Date:01 Jan 2009

The Reluctant Land

Society, Space, and Environment in Canada before Confederation

UBC Press

The Reluctant Land describes the evolving pattern of settlement and the changing relationships of people and land in Canada from the end of the fifteenth century to the Confederation years of the late 1860s and early 1870s. It shows how a deeply indigenous land was reconstituted in European terms, and, at the same time, how European ways were recalibrated in this non-European space. It also shows how an archipelago of scattered settlement emerged out of an encounter with a parsimonious territory, and suggests how deeply this encounter differed from an American relationship with abundance.

The book begins with a description of land and life in northern North America in 1500, and ends by considering the relationship between the pattern of early Canada and the country as we know it today. Chapters on Canada and Acadia during the French regime, Newfoundland, the Maritimes, Lower and Upper Canada, the northwestern interior, and British Columbia address changing regional relationships among society, economy, and environment. Intended to illuminate the background of modern Canada, The Reluctant Land is an intelligent discussion of people and place that will be welcomed by scholars and lay readers alike.


  • 2008, Winner - K.D. Srivastava Prize for Excellence in Scholarly Publishing, University of British Columbia
This is a welcome antidote to the simplistic renderings of early Canadian history we are exposed to in high school social studies courses, political speeches and CBC mini-series. […] Harris has crafted a deeply insightful account of the history of what would become Canada. […] The Reluctant Land will be used in historical geography courses for many years to come – but it’s more than that, because Harris set himself the task of writing a scholarly book accessible to the general reader. […] Encountering The Reluctant Land is like listening to a series of articulate public lectures, organized on a regional basis, allowing for an exploration of each part of the country, in turn. Raymon Torchinsky, BC Bookworld, Vol.23, No.1, Spring 2009
Trial lawyers attending on Aboriginal claims will find this text usefully covers the history from 1500 forward, showing the changes from an Indigenous populated land to one organized on European terms. Ronald F. MacIsaac, The Barrister, Issue No.89
Cole Harris offers a new and immensely important interpretation of early Canada. The subject matter is nothing less than the character of Canada. The narrative is exhilarating and the conclusions are significant. Gerald Friesen, author of The Canadian Prairies: A History and Citizens and Nation: An Essay on History, Communication, and Canada
Written by Canada's preeminent historical geographer, The Reluctant Land represents a milestone in pre-Confederation Canadian history. Cole Harris offers a sweeping history of the processes by which a string of European settler societies on the margins of North America evolved to become Canada. This book is certain to become a classic. Margaret Conrad, co-author of Atlantic Canada: A Region in the Making and History of the Canadian Peoples
Cole Harris is a professor emeritus of geography at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of The Resettlement of British Columbia and Making Native Space, and general editor of The Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume 1: From the Beginning to 1800.



1 Lifeworlds, circa 1500

2 The Northwestern Atlantic, 1497-1632

3 Acadia and Canada

4 The Continental Interior, 1632-1750

5 Creating and Bounding British North America

6 Newfoundland

7 The Maritimes

8 Lower Canada

9 Upper Canada

10 The Northwestern Interior, 1760-1870

11 British Columbia

12 Confederation and the Pattern of Canada


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