Tue
Oct 4 2011 3:30pm

Canadian Steampunk, Our Historical Inspiration

Steampunks in Canada are a special group of people. Canadians stand out from the rest of the world with our friendly disposition, unique sense of style, and pride in being Canadian. We are a country of adventurers, from a long line of adventurers, we are free thinkers and we like to have fun and be unique. Canadians make fabulous steampunks! But where did our great steampunk attitude come from?

We have the tenacity to survive, and this brings with it a creativity that is shared from coast to coast. This has given us a grand history of inventors, explorers and adventurers. Here are 7 Canadian inspirations for today’s steampunks.

 

Alexander Graham Bell, his wife Mabel and their two daughters, Elsie and Marian (1885)

1.) Amazing historical couple Alexander Graham Bell and his wife, Mabel Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was the inventor of not only the telephone (1876) and many more inventions, but also in his later years the hydrofoil boat (1908) with Casey Baldwin. Both gentlemen were also members of the Aerial Experiment Association. He is also well known, as well as his wife Mabel, for mobilizing the community of Baddeck, Nova Scotia to help the victims of the horrific Halifax Explosion in 1917. His wife Mabel was a very impressive figure on her own, notwithstanding being deaf. She was independently wealthy and financed the Aerial Experiment Association. She was also the first president of the Bell Telephone Company, as well as owning shares in the company.

 

Elijah McCoy

2.) We have the real McCoy

One of my favourite inventors is Elijah McCoy. Born a free man in 1844 in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, his parents were fugitive slaves from the U.S. They made it to Ontario via the Underground Railroad. At 15 years old he went all the way to Edinburgh, Scotland to apprentice and study as a mechanical engineer. He would later invent and patent an automatic lubricator for steam engines. By his death he had 57 patents to his name.

 

3.) A Canadian invented an advanced steam engine that fueled the Industrial Revolution

Another Canadian inventor, who experimented with steam, was Benjamin Franklin Tibbets. He invented the Compound Steam Engine in 1842. It enabled ships to run faster and more efficiently. The first of his engines was installed in the paddle-wheeler Reindeer in 1845. Sadly he died of tuberculosis while still quite young. Who knows what other great inventions he may have come up with?

 

Skookum Jim Mason

4.) Did a Canadian really start the Gold Rush?

Another great source of inspiration to Canadians, whether steampunk or not, are the explorers and adventurers who braved the wilds of the Great White North. One such gentleman was Skookum Jim Mason (aka Keish). He was a Canadian native, part of the Tagish First Nation. In the 1880s he worked as a packer. He helped Canadian surveyor William Ogilvie in his explorations of the upper Yukon. While there is still controversy as to who actually made the initial discovery, Skookum Jim is credited with making the gold discovery that led to the Klondike Gold Rush (it was originally credited to his brother-in-law George Carmack).

 

5.) Our Earliest Adventurers

Fur traders like David Thompson and Andrew McDermot, or Pierre Guillame Sayer whose trial for illegal fur trading brought down the Hudson Bay Company’s monopoly. There are also the great voyageurs: Sturdy traders (mainly French Canadian) who transported furs by canoe over long distances. They had to be able to carry two 90-pound bundles of fur over portages. Hernias were common and often caused their death.

 

Queen’s University Women’s Hockey Team 1917

6) Adventurous Canadian women who inspire great steampunk

Phyllis Munday was a Canadian mountaineer and explorer since the age of 15. At 21, in 1915, she joined the British Columbia Mountaineering Club.

Susanna Moodie was a prolific writer who is famous for writing about being a settler in what was then the “backwoods” of Ontario. She wrote “Roughing it in the Bush” in 1852. It was meant to be an emigrant’s guide for those looking to move to Canada from Britain.

The Canadian Women’s Press Club was established in 1904 by a group of Canadiana women journalists returning home after covering the St. Louis World’s Fair. The first president was Kathleen “Kit” Blake Coleman of the Toronto Mail and Empire, one of the first female war correspondents covering the Spanish-American War.

A number of ladies began women’s organized hockey at the university level in 1891. The Women’s Hockey Association claims that the first game was hosted in Ottawa, Ontario in 1891 (the NHL encyclopaedia puts the date at 1889).

 

7.) Finally, our most recent Canadian steampunk inspirations

We are very lucky to have many great steampunk artists, authors and other amazingly creative people here in Canada. These include author Arthur Slade. He is the author of the Hunchback Assignments series. A fine series of young adult literature that has become famous around the world. Another Canadian author is Kenneth Oppel. He is well known for his Airborn series and his new novel This Dark Endeavour. Paul Marlowe wrote the fabulous novels Sporeville and Knights of the Sea (in which Baddeck, NS and Bell’s home there are quite prominent).

We have many artists and inventors including Kyle Miller of Thin Gypsy Thief , Ian Finch-Field of Skynznhydes, Daniel Proulx of Catherinette Rings, who has been showcased at Oxford in the U.K. and is known internationally, and professional costumer and prop builder Adam Smith of Sword in the Stone Crafts.

Then we have Keith Thompson, who you will all know from his incredible illustrations in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. Mike Perschon, aka Steampunk Scholar, and his always well-appointed reviews and academic articles. Nancy Overbury and her wonderful Steampunk Tuesday articles on Overbury Ink. Last, but certainly not least, is the wonderfully witty and opinionated Jaymee Goh and her blog Silver Goggles.

There are a great many more amazing Canadian steampunk inventors and imaginative souls in Canada, but I see the hook coming my way, so I must now leave the stage. Cheers!

You can find out more about these great Canadian historical inventors and adventurers, as well as many others at these various sites:


Known internationally as Countessa Lenora, Canadian Queen of Steampunk, Lee Ann Farruga is the founder of Steampunk Canada, a national organization bringing together local steampunk groups from across Canada and educating the general public about this genre/community. You can also find her at Twitter - CountessaLenora

This article is part of Steampunk Week: ‹ previous | index | next ›
5 comments
June Scudeler
1. June Scudeler
Interesting post. However, the voyageurs were Metis, not French Canadian.

Signed
A Metis steampunk enthusisast
René Walling
2. cybernetic_nomad
June: Some voyageurs were Métis, others were French Canadians, one does not exclude the other and I daresay that the majority of Voyageurs were French Canadians. – Just sayin'
Jaymee Goh
4. Jha
June Scudeler: Thanks for pointing that out! Would love to hear from you about Metis participation in steampunk. What Lee Ann forgets to mention about me is that my work is specifically about POC steampunk.

cybernetic_nomad @ 2: That's like sayin' "using 'Man' encompasses women as well". It sounds nice, but different from practical reality and historical practice. One term DOES lead to excluding the other. Just sayin'.

And now, our obligatory patriotic chorus:

WE ARE THE BEAVER! FURRY AND WE'RE FREEEE! YEA!
WE ARE THE BEAVER! WE GOT TWO BIG FRONT TEETH, YEA!
WE ARE THE BEAVER! WE CAN CHEW RIGHT THROUGH SMALL TREES, YEA!
WE ARE THE BEAVER! WE ARE THE BEAVER! WE ARE THE BEAVER!
René Walling
5. cybernetic_nomad
Totally missing my point and introducing politically correct rethoric where it's not needed.

"However, the voyageurs were Metis, not French Canadian."

Clearly says that French Canadians were not voyageurs. which is simply not true.

If the comment had been "Some voyageur were Métis", then I wouldn't have said anything sinc ethat is true
June Scudeler
6. Jones
"That's like sayin' "using 'Man' encompasses women as well". It sounds nice, but different from practical reality and historical practice. One term DOES lead to excluding the other. Just sayin'."

Actually, historical practice is indeed that "man" encompassed males and females. "Man" is an Old English word that meant (and continues to mean, amongst other things) "person" or "human". Like many words, "man" still has several different meanings, including an all-encompassing one. "Woman" is derived from "Wif-man", meaning basically "female-person". So, when we use man=person we are using it in its original sense, not in the way that, for example, people sometimes use "he" as short for "he or she".

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