Wordsworth Country Beyond the Lake District

Lake District travel writing and the picturesque way of framing nature “to look well in a picture” was perfected in the area’s northerly spaces by the late eighteenth century and later consolidated in the idea of Wordsworth Country.

The tendency to appreciate nature in pictorial terms influenced the enthusiastic landscape descriptions that punctuate the Romantic era travel journals of SFU namesake Simon Fraser, the explorer and fur trader who helped chart present-day British Columbia.

Simon Fraser’s poetic response to the wilderness is a reminder of how the romantic heritage of appreciating natural scenery, epitomized in Wordsworth’s poetry, remains very much with us, providing inspiration for the way we frame pictures of Canadian landscapes today.

Portrait of British Columbia fur trader and explorer, Simon Fraser
Simon Fraser Collection, SFU Archives


A classic letter of Lake District writing from the 1750s asserts that the “full perfection” of the Vale of Keswick consists of three circumstances, “beauty, horror and immensity united.” In his explorations of the Pacific North West in the early nineteenth century, Simon Fraser carried along with him the language familiarized by generations of Lake District tourists. In his journal, Simon Fraser sounded every bit the romantic tourist in search of the picturesque as he careened down the river that would soon bear his name: 

“…in the hills there was a steep rock or bank of considerable elevation and length, resembling an immense pile of architecture far surpassing anything that ever entered the idea of mortal man, and in what, though without any regularity, all the different orders seemed to have been combined, which created a pleasing and awful sensation to behold and consider the superiority of Gods works over those formed by man. But to describe what I have often felt in these romantic and wild regions where nature appears in all its forms is far above my slender abilities.”

June 8, 1808. The Letters and Journals of Simon Fraser, 1806-1808, ed. W. Kaye Lamb, 2007.