When does Neflix’ “Frontier” take place in Canadian history





After recently watching the highly recommended series “Frontier” on Netflix  which takes place the era of the Canadian fur trade and trappers, I wondered if a specific timeframe can be attributed to the series. The information on the internet provides the information that it takes place somewhere ‘in the 1700s’ in very broad terms, but the 18th century was a century of major changes in North America, so this was hardly satisfying to me as a “history buff” (which, for lack of a better term, fits the bill). Based on the information provided during the series, this must be somewhere between 1783 and 1791. A few clues given during the series are:

1. The story is clearly set after 1763. Much is mentioned by different characters in the series about France, but France itself is no longer a colonial power in the region during the series, despite the appearance of a French soldier with the Bourbon flag in the intro of the series. The fact that the population of Montreal speaks almost exclusively French is true historically because the number of English-speaking settlers in Canada was still very limited at the time. During a conversation with a French-speaking trapper or “coureur des bois” a clear reference is made to the past war with France and that the man ”fought for the French” in that war; this clearly sets the story in the post-1763 period when France lost its colony in Canada after the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War, in the US better known as the French and Indians wars of 1754-1763 (wonder how Canadians refer to it).

2. The United States is already independent in the series. Different comments are made about the conflict between England and the young United States in past tense. There is also a character who states that he fought “for the Crown” during the American War of Independence. This places the story at least after September 3, 1783 the Treaty of Paris where Great Britain recognized the United States. There are also several loyalists who appear in the series who, as is known, immigrated to Canada after the American War of Independence, thereby giving an influx to the hitherto very sparsely populated colony of Canada (later: Province of Quebec).

2. It is after the ‘Acte de Quebec’. During a brief discussion between a British officer and the American fur trader based in Montreal, Samuel Grant, the British officer tells Grant that “the Acte de Quebec does not supersede the Charter or the Hudson Bay Company of 1670″. This places the story in the post-Quebec Act but before the 1791 Constitutional Act. The 1774 Quebec Act was effectively superseded by the Constitutional Act of 1791, which partitioned Quebec into two new provinces, Upper and Lower Canada.


Based on the aforementioned information, my conclusion is that the story – which  itself is of course fiction but set against a true historical background -  must take place somewhere between 1783 and 1791.

On a quite different note, I appreciated this series also because  it shows several indigenous / first nations & black characters in the 18th century not as slaves and only victims but appearing as free men and women in control of events, which is not the same as being treated equally of course. This is historically correct because there was – for example, when it comes to afro Americans – a small minority of free(d) black men and woman in the era, especially in Canada where many black loyalists sought refuge after the American War of Independence (but that is another story). In my personal view this is a welcome correction to the usual narrative whereby black characters exclusively serve as victims and slaves as if they had no agency whatsoever themselves.  

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