A Tip About a Revealing Book: Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary

Today’s post is a revisit to a marvelous book I found while researching, Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary.  If you want to learn about North America two hundred and some years ago, check this out.  I was astounded and thought I’d resurrect this post from another blog I run.  Enjoy!

Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary Day

For the last week of my holiday and up till today, I have been reading very early Canadian history. During that time I met Mrs. Simcoe. She was the wife of Governor Simcoe of Upper Canada whose time in this province (present-day Ontario) has left so many marks. (I grew up a mile north of the Governor’s Road, built by and named for Governor John Graves Simcoe.
Amazingly his wife came with him to this untamed country and kept a journal of her time here. Below is the present-day version available on the web. The picture here is not how she looked. It is one she donned Welsh ancestral garb for; she did not dress like this all the time.


The copy I got from the library is pictured below, with all its fadings and tears, its yellowed pages and its vintage binding from 1965 when Mary Quayle Innis edited and published it. The original diary covers the time the Simcoes were in Canada, September 17, 1791 until October 16, 1796.

I was excited about doing this research for another book but not prepared for the pleasure I would get from meeting Mrs. Simcoe. I would have loved this book even if I weren’t doing research. I even kept it five days past the library due date so that I could finish it.
The chapters are headed as follows:
1. Journey to Canada
2. A Winter in Quebec
3. Journey to Niagara
4. A Year at Niagara
5. Life at York (later renamed Toronto)
6. Life at Niagara
7. Visit to Quebec
8. Niagara
9. York and Niagara
10. Departure

I learned many things about life in my country at that time and much more about Mrs. Simcoe. We tend to think of women from that time as frail creatures but she was anything but. She was artistic and many of her drawings provide excellent views into life of her day. An astute observer of her surroundings, both nature and human, she provides insight into the lives, foods, medicines and geography of this new world.
I’m taking it back to the library in a few minutes so you, too, will be able to take it out and voyage back to 1791.

Have you ever happened upon a great book to help with your writing?  Or a book whose author absolutely got it right?  Consider leaving a comment and telling us about it.

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10 thoughts on “A Tip About a Revealing Book: Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary

  1. Isn’t it great when you find non-fiction that is a delight to read? Why couldn’t history textbooks be like that? So glad historical YA has become more popular, we need to compliment the high school curriculum.

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    • I had the same non-fiction experience when I discovered Alison Weir, whose history books read like exciting fiction books. I own several of her histories just for that reason. And, yes, as I’ve mentioned in this blogspace before, I did not enjoy high school history. That is a taste I developed on my own as an adult. Thanks for commenting, Sherry!

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  2. Sounds like you truly enjoyed this piece of research, but then I think you love it all. What a terrific primary source for your historical and how nice to meet someone who you identify with and could be friends with despite the gap in time.

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    • I do love the research and the trips to out of the way places and the writing. What I don’t like is sorting out which critiques to listen to and which to politely ignore. Can you relate? And imagine meeting someone so influential from two hundred years ago when the Western world was so young. That’s why I like historical fiction.

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  3. I never liked history when I was in school either. I could never remember dates, could not relate to what I was supposed to know. But I do love to read historical fiction and non-fiction that is well-written. I agree with Sherry that there needs to be some changes to the way history is taught in the schools. I used to thing it would be a great idea, in the lower grades, to create cartoons using historical fiction so the kids could actually visualize how the people lived, what they ate, how they dressed, their means of communication, etc. in a form they could relate to. This book sounds like something I would enjoy, but I’m not going to go out to find it as I have a few others to get through first. I have a bad habit of starting a stack of books at the same time and then it takes forever to get through them all. And of course there is my own writing that is calling to me.

    By the way, I got a print copy of a book I have been working on for a long time. It will eventually be offered only as an e-book as it is in full colour, but it was rather exciting to see it in print and to be able to leaf through the pages.

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    • Good for you, Diane. I think seeing your work in print is the best. Of course, those e-books are so accessible. and what a great idea for teaching history to kids. Of course I think they do a lot of that now. It’s a long time since we were there, I guess. I actually know a writer who does these kinds of books for the school market and they are wonderful.

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  4. I love how you “met” Mrs. Simcoe. And I like the version you borrowed from the library better than the current version. Some things are better left simple and not ‘artified’.

    I’m glad to hear someone else loves research. I “met” Mary Shelley in a very similar fashion, by reading her letters.

    I may have to track this book down.

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  5. Dale, I “met” Charles Dickens in the same way you “met” Mary Shelley. I inherited an 18-volume set of the complete works of Dickens including volumes of the letters he wrote home while in America and Europe. It tells you more than a biography can tell.

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