Women in Upper Canada

Published 13 Jul 2017

Generally, in the past, women in Upper Canada lived according to their social classes and most of all, according to the norms that society has dictated on them. Women who possess wealth, power, and influence are relatively treated differently by society as compared to the women who belong to the lower class. Aside from social status, another major factor that determines how women were treated in Upper Canada in the past was their race or color. It is well-known that during that time non-whites were generally considered as the lower forms of human beings while the white people were the superior ones. In the past, those who were not members of the white race or in other words, the minority, were discriminated. However, while the treatment towards minority groups was the same for both genders, the actions of and perceptions toward women was significantly different.

The lives of women in Upper Canada in the past were discussed in Julia Roberts’ paper “A Mixed Assemblage of Persons: Race and Tavern Space in Upper Canada” and Kevin Wamsely and Robert Kossuth’s paper “Fighting It Out in Nineteenth Century Upper Canada/Canada West: Masculinities and Physical Challenges in the Tavern.” In both papers, the lives of women were depicted particularly through their actions inside a tavern, which was “once a nineteenth century rest stop for traveller and colonist, both gentleman and gentlewoman alike” (Wamsely & Kossuth, 2000, p. 405). Moreover, the tavern was a “great mixture of rank and persons that included women” (Roberts, 2002, p. 4). In short, both papers showed that women, regardless of color and social status, were able to enjoy the entertainment, liquor, and relief that a tavern during the nineteenth century provided.

However, their actions of women inside the tavern were different mainly because of what society during that time dictated on them. For the purpose of brevity, women can be classified as either rich, such as members of the nobility, or poor, such as the gamblers and alcohol drinkers. During that time there were “increasing limitations on public life for urban, married, middle class women” (Wamsely & Kossuth, 2000, p. 409). Meaning to say, regardless of social status, the actions of all women in Upper Canada were limited and could only watch their men engage in the fistfights, duels, and other games in the tavern because “physical strength and athleticism were considered to be appropriate characteristics of men only (Wamsely & Kossuth, 2000, p. 411). Moreover, both papers depicted that men and women of all classes all drank in their homes but “public drinking was indecent for women” (Wamsely & Kossuth, 2000, p. 416) and that even women of wealth and status weren’t exempted. Furthermore, part of the basis of a woman’s character in Upper Canada was their affiliations to the taverns. During that time, a woman’s reputation, which includes her employment opportunities, could easily be tainted by their “connections to unsavoury public houses” (Wamsley & Kossuth, 2000, p. 416) and even lewd behavior.

In short, aside from race and social status, it is society that significantly determined the lives of women in Upper Canada in the past. Both readings showed how women were not allowed to perform a lot of activities that men do. It can then be deduced that women were not given the same rights and opportunities that men have. Although this treatment and perception towards women is no longer prevalent today, there are still a lot of instances that women are considered weaker than men not only in Upper Canada but across the globe as well.


  • Roberts, J. (2002). A Mixed Assemblage of Persons: Race and Tavern Space in Upper Canada. The Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 1.
  • Wamsely, K. & Kossuth, R. (2000). Fighting It Out in Nineteenth Century Upper Canada/Canada West: Masculinities and Physical Challenges in the Tavern. Journal of Sport History, Vol. 27, No. 3.
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