Sunday, September 07, 2014

Cartier Week, #6

George-Etienne Cartier was born 6 September 1814 at St-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, in the Richelieu valley southeast of Montreal, where his family were grain merchants.

It seems an amazing stretch for all these mid-19th century British North Americans, not only born in mostly entirely rural milieu, but living in an entirely wind-, water-, horse-power world. Cartier is born among farmers, many of them semi-literate and practising a very traditional kind of agriculture, in a society where even a trip to Montreal would have been a substantial journey. Cartier turned fifty during the Charlottetown meetings of 1864, and by that time steamships, railroads, telegraphs, and industry were routine parts of his life and the foundation of his career in both business and politics. Strikes me that the only generation that lived through such a whole transition in human existence was the one born about a century after him, which witnessed the changes of the mid-20th century.

Even in his 1860s persona, Cartier looks back to his roots: representing rural constituents, presenting himself as the protector of traditional society and moeurs, But even in his 1814 situation, he looks forward too.  His grandfather was engaged in international commerce, even in his small local way, and had already held a seat in the new parliamentary assembly of Lower Canada.  Even in 1814 business and politics were not as absent from his world as they might seem.
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