The notable achievements of Canadian historians in the fields of political, and economic history have served to establish a framework within which the task of the social and cultural historian may be conceived and performed. Yet the writing of an adequate general monograph in this field is hardly yet possible, for the lack of numerous special studies of particular phases upon which the general historian must depend as groundwork for his task of synthesis and interpretation. In this respect, and for discernible reasons, Canadians have lagged behind their contemporaries in Great Britain and the United States where the minute investigations of countless scholars have prepared the way for the brilliantly integrated studies that have for some years issued from the presses of those countries.
Because of this dearth of special studies, and in view of the fact that for a long period the cultural life of each of the provinces was to some extent separate and peculiar, although they drew much from a common source, and interacted upon each other, the most reasonable approach to the problem would seem to be through the production of series of provincial histories of beliefs, attitudes, and institutions, in such fields as education, religion, science, and literature, each conceived in its just relation to the total configuration. This appears to be the next great task to which Canadian historians should devote themselves, and it has been with a view to making some contribution towards it that the studies, of which this is the first, have been undertaken. The task should be congenial in view of the increasing concern of Canadians to recognize the marks of their own national identity. Although some progress has been made towards the achievement of such recognition, it is not yet possible to delineate the Canadian character with any high degree of precision, partly because an examination of the popular attitudes and beliefs that inform Canadian institutions, and that find, or fail to find, expression in Canadian social and cultural life, has only begun to be made. It might well be that such studies in social and cultural history, as have here been suggested, would yield a knowledge of certain persistent traits In Canadian life which, when recognized, would provide answers to many of the questions that now baffle the student of Canadian society. In that sense these studies are adventures in national self-discovery.
While our primary interest may be in the solution of contemporary problems, it is assumed that these problems must necessarily be approached historically. This point of view may be justified on two grounds. First, whatever else history may be, it still seems reasonable to regard it, although not in the eighteenth-century sense, as “philosophy teaching by example” . In the second place, although past, present, and future are necessary concepts, they constitute a continuous process and, in a sense, do not exist as separate entities. It is therefore of value, if indeed it is not imperative, to regard the “past” as the “present” and “future” in a state of becoming. If history is a continuum it follows that the “present” conditions result, in a casual relationship, from
“past” conditions, and if we are to understand things as they are, and anticipate what they are likely to be, we must appreciate the causes that have made them so. The greater our knowledge, the more effectively may we control the conditions that mould our lives. A study of the past fortifies us against the contingencies of the future. In planning this and other studies in the series these considerations have been borne in mind.
Although all knowledge is the province of a university, it has been assumed that the Provincial University should include among its concerns a study of the forces that have shaped the life of the community of New Brunswick which it was so largely established to serve. It would be recreant to its high calling as a disseminator of “useful knowledge” if it remained indifferent to the reactions of its people to the exigencies of the physical and social environments, which they must meet with a firm will and an enlightened understanding if they are to realize the ends of a rational society on their own terrain. It is not our purpose here to specify the problems which might best be solved through provincial, national, or international action, nor is it intended that these studies should foster a parochial outlook. The anthropologist who pursues his legitimate task of studying the culture of a primitive tribe or area preserves a spirit of detachment and does not become a party to the tribal mores which he is engaged in recording. The concept of culture as regional has been useful in the field of ethnology. Likewise the impact of historic forces has had a regional incidence in New Brunswick, the most conspicuous of which have been those industrial and political processes that have produced that state of “chronic depression” so ably analyzed and described by recent economists. Yet it would be a mistake to regard man as entirely a passive object of blind and capricious forces, and although Mr. Arnold Toynbee does not write hopefully of this eastern region, students of his great work will be familiar with the fact that time and again throughout history men have successfully responded to the challenges of hard ground and penalization by redirecting their creative energies into possible channels leading to fruitful ends. It would be tragic if an ever-deepening taedium vitae resulted from the revelation of the adverse forces that impinge upon and affect the course of life in this area. If the problem were construed too narrowly in terms of natural resources there might be danger of neglecting to husband the human resources that must be brought to bear upon the problem of rebuilding society on surer foundations. In supplementing the work of students in related fields, these historical studies are intended to contribute to the accomplishment of that purpose by providing a basis for discussion which it is hoped will create an intellectual ferment without which there can be little hope of progress towards the realization of a better life for all.