Wild West Canada: Buffalo Bill and Transborder History
Grieve, Adam C 1986-
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Canadians continue to struggle with their western identity. For one reason or another, they have separated themselves from an Americanized “blood and thunder” history. But making this separation was not always as easy as it might seem today. This thesis contributes to the growing body of scholarship that is problematizing the western borderlands. It does this primarily by looking at historical representations of the West in late nineteenth and early twentieth century movies, plays, books, and especially by examining the wildly popular traveling show Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. It was largely Buffalo Bill’s show that popularized the Western as a genre of spectacle, and to a degree that earlier historians have overlooked, it did this on both sides of the border. Indeed, the show highlighted “Western” heroic qualities and placed them in a space called “the West” that refused to be divided by the 49th parallel. Buffalo Bill’s show expressed and promoted western sensibilities that were inclusive of Canada, and that many Canadians embraced. In the show Canadians were neither exotic others nor were they European-style eastern dandies. Rather they were participants in a westering narrative that cared little for what the eastern elite or academics might have thought of as distinguishing national characteristics. In this thesis I primarily examine Buffalo Bill’s personal history and the cultural messaging associated with his Wild West Show to illustrate previously overlooked aspects of the history of the way Canadians and Americans have, since the inception of the two countries, and for many years previously, impacted each other from across the border. We already know, for instance, that criminals and political enemies have sought asylum across the world’s longest unprotected border; that fortune hunters have crossed and re-crossed the border looking for one big strike; and that simple farmers, traders, hunters, and business people crossed in the hopes for greater returns and a settled life for themselves and their families. But whereas these kinds of crossings happened in the East as well, they had greater significance along the vast western borderlands, where a man or woman could cross the border without being aware of it. In this thesis, I argue that ideas, evidenced though newspapers, also crossed this western border – often without eastern people being fully conscious of it. But of course, if some people and ideas crossed the border unaware, others invested the boundary with great significance. Such crossing sometimes had more profound impacts on Canadian and American understandings of what was meant by “the west” than we’ve fully appreciated in the past. By examining the previously overlooked history of Buffalo Bill’s personal connection to Canada and the messaging about the Canadian Wild West depicted through his Wild West Shows this thesis seeks to contribute a history that was much more complicated and mixed on both sides of the Canada / US border than previously appreciated.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorCarlson , Keith
CommitteeSmith-Norris, Martha; Cunfer, Geoff; Bartley, Bill; Labelle, Maurice
Copyright DateApril 2016