A few months ago, I mentioned that newspapers were a popular form of entertainment in the 1870s and had a significant influence on the era's political and cultural views. As literacy rates rose across the province throughout the late-19th century, book reading also gained ground as a favoured past-time and books on a wide variety of topics and in diverse genres became available.
If a book was published at some point in the past and had struck a chord with readers, it wasn't unusual for it to remain popular decades after it first hit print. Such was the case with Charles Dickens classics like David Copperfield (1849), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861), which continued to be enormously popular with Canadian readers. The dozens of books written by Ontario author and settler Catharine Parr Traill also continued to flourish many decades after they were first published. And, of course, no one could resist of good adventure story. English explorer and fur trader Samuel Hearne's A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean -- recounting his explorations in Northern Canada -- also continued to be a popular read almost a century after it was first published.
Religious texts such as the Bible and devotional writings were enduringly popular and were joined by the works of theologians like controversial Anglican priest turned Catholic cardinal John Henry Newman and Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon.
Philosophy and scientific inquiry also gained prominence during this era with Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man giving rise to more than a few spirited discussions on evolution and creationism while English philosopher John Stuart Mill's On Liberty took on individual freedom and societal progress.
And there was a growing interest in Canadian nationalism, which saw Agnes Maule Machar's religious romance Katie Johnstone's Cross: A Canadian Tale gain prominence along with writing by Irish-born Canadian Isabella Valancy Crawford whose Dickensian magazine articles and poetry celebrating the Canadian landscape and spirit captured the imagination of Canadians.
Let's not forget the affordable and incredibly popular dime novels whose plots often revolved around pioneer tales, detective stories, romances, wilderness adventures and rags-to-riches yarns that were underpinned by not-so-subtle moral messages.