H. Clare Pentland – The Development of a Capitalistic Labour Market in Canada

It has been the custom of economists since the Mercantilists to assume the existence of a capitalistic labour market. It appears that this abstraction was adopted, not from ignorance of labour conditionsMalthus, who sponsored the bleakest model of a labour market, after all possessed exceptional knowledge of contemporary social conditionsbut because it simplified the economists’ main task, as they conceived it, of expounding how a capitalist economy works. The abstraction had the disadvantage, however, of diverting attention from how a capitalistic labour market might develop.1 This question, besides its historical and sociological interest, is relevant to the study of labour markets, and of “economic development.” Yet, in Canada, it has received only brief attention.2 This paper proposes a more detailed view of how our capitalistic labour market arose.

By a capitalistic market is meant one in which the actions of workers and employers are governed and linked by impersonal considerations of immediate pecuniary advantage. In this market, the employer is confident that workers will be available whenever he wants them; so he feels free to hire them on a short-term basis, and to dismiss them whenever there is a monetary advantage in doing so. Hence, the employer takes no responsibility for the workers’ over-head costs: labour, to the employer, is a variable cost. From a broader view-point, the capitalistic labour market represents a pooling of the labour supplies and labour needs of many employers, so that all of them may benefit by economizing on labour reserves. Economy is possible because the labour requirements of employers collectively are less than those of employers individually, to the extent that short-term needs for labour dovetail, and to the extent that a worker can stand as a reserve to many employers. When the demand and supply conditions of labour are dependable enough to permit this pooling, the over-head costs of labour can be transferred from individual employers to the market, that is, to the workers themselves and to the community at large. The essential historical aspect of the capitalistic labour market, then, is the development of the supply and demand conditions that will support it. Two questions are especially critical: How are workers induced to flow into the labour market pool? And how are they prevented from flowing out again?

The importance of the rationalization of labour supply represented by the capitalistic market is brought out by contrasting this market with other methods of labour organization. The common characteristic of slavery and feudalism is that the employer, to be sure of a labour supply, must assume labour’s overhead costs. Labour is then “free” to the employer, without further expense; but this advantage is chimerical if continuous effective use cannot be made of the labour. Slavery, in addition, requires the employer to make an initial capital outlay for his slave. In return, he is entitled to complete controlin the classical case, to lifetime controlof the worker’s person. Despite this apparent advantage, slavery has not proved to be a very popular, that is, cheap, form of labour organization. Feudal organization, besides eliminating or minimizing the original capital investment, is immensely superior to slavery in affording motivation to the worker, versatility of workmanship, and security of the employer’s advances. The capitalistic market, in turn, is more economical than feudalism, while its motivation, if not better, is at least simpler.

The economy of the capitalistic labour market does not guarantee, of course, that every capitalist society will have one. The most that can be said is that capitalism tends to produce such a market. Mature industrial capitalism, in particular, relies on it, for reasons of demand more than of supply. But earlier capitalism demonstrated a broad tolerance, reflecting its capacity to exploit any form of labour organization. Thus, the rise of capitalism in Europe was accompanied by a tightening of feudal bonds in the east, even while serfdom was disintegrating in the west.3 In the sugar and cotton lands of America, capitalism created, and preserved until overcome from without, one of the great slave economies of all time.4 Closer home, the European population of Canada has been, from the beginning, part of a capitalist world; but it experimented with slavery, and used feudal forms through most of its history. Some account of the incidence and economics of these must be given, before turning to the emergence of the capitalistic market.


Slavery was practised in Canada for two centuries, and until about 1800 our forefathers discovered no moral objection to it.5 The laws of the land were adjusted, when necessary, to the convenience of slave-owners, and slaves of several descriptions could be obtained. There were negroes who, despite a myth to the contrary, suffered no harm from the Canadian climate.6 There were Indian “panis” slaves. There were white indentured servants, and there were convicts. Each enjoyed some popularity. Indian slaves were sufficiently common to provide one-tenth of the names in the register of burials at Montreal in 1761.7 There were flurries of interest in negro slavery in 1688 and 1721, and some importation of negroes by American settlers after the Revolution.8 Most of the early immigrants to North America, both French and British, were probably indentured servants.9 Finally, Canada received substantial numbers of convict immigrants from France, especially in the 1730’s, when a peacetime boom led to complaints of labour shortage, and many Frenchmen convicted of evading the salt tax were available.10

And yet what is striking is the precarious hold and mild practice of Canadian slavery. The reason seems to be, clearly, the unsuitability of slavery as a solution to Canada’s labour problems. Even where it has flourished, slavery is awkward and costly. The initial investment is high. Maintenance costs must be sustained whether the slave is producing or not. And slave labour is notoriously inefficient. Only in plantation agriculture, with a need for continuous, large inputs of low-grade routinized labour, could slavery pay.11

In Canada, the climate limited the pursuit of most occupations to a few months in the year. Nearly every employment, moreover, demanded some skill or adaptability, and often demanded mobility. It is significant that nearly all the coloured slaves in Canada were used in the year-round routine of house service. Greater flexibility was possible with indentured servants, but even before the great inflow of free labour after 1815 made their servitude pointless, the opportunities in America for mischief and escape, especially as the area of settlement widened, were destroying the indenture system.12


The system of labour organization that held sway in Canada until about 1850, neither slave nor capitalistic, is here called “feudal.” This choice of name may seem presumptuous, but it rests on the view that “feudal” labour relationships in Canada depended on the same economic conditions, and exhibited the same spirit, as originally characterized feudal relationships in Europe.

Primarily, of course, feudalism has to do with agriculture. It is worth noting Munro’s view that the Canadian seigneurial system, far more than contemporary Europe, mirrored the original form and vitality of feudalism, with a noblesse devoid of great privilege, maintaining direct relations with their dependants.13 Canadian conditions similarly accented the original lordly function of bearing the overhead costs of settlement and civilization.14 The habitant’s freedom from capital expense, in this system, was an important element in his stubborn resistance to capitalistic agriculture and to the capitalistic labour market. However, the concern here is with non-agricultural employment.

It may be suggested that early mediaeval Europe featured a shortage of skilled labour, lack of dependable demand for such labour, and uncertainty about monetary incentives. Nevertheless, it produced an efficient system of manufacture by means of apprenticeship and dedicated craftsmanship, supported by the leadership of the authorities and securities of law and custom. The spirit of organization was the feudal one of mutual dependence and mutual loyalty.

When Canada developed, the scale of enterprise tended to be larger. But the problems, and the solutions, were essentially the same. The country lacked a labour market and labour reserves, especially of skilled men, and lacked also the dependable demand that could justify and encourage a labour reserve. From an employer’s viewpoint, workmen were always scarce, and from a workman’s viewpoint, places were always scarce. The feudal solution was to bring the parties together, not in the offhand manner of the capitalistic market, but in a long-term relationship. The employer, despite the scantiness of his capital, took more or less permanent responsibility for the worker’s overhead costs. He did so, even though he could not use the worker continuously, because the worker was sometimes indispensable and there was no dependable source of short-run supply. In exchange, the worker, as much by custom as contract, yielded up the chance of a momentary advantage with another employer.15 The system depended, in one aspect, on a balance of bargaining advantage. When the balance changed, through expansion of the labour supply and restriction on the number of employers, the system tended to collapse or be transformed.16 But in early times in Canada, and, one thinks, in Europe, scarcity of labour preserved it.

The relationship produced was a personal one of leadership and loyalty. In return for his service, the workman acquired an identification and security whose loss, in the capitalistic market, he still regrets. In return for labour, the employer owed responsibility and leadershipleadership, not just in form, but in the pervasive and indefinable style still appropriate to voluntary and military organizations. Leadership was vital, not only to co-ordination, but to motivation. The feudal labour market lacked, except as a desperate last resort, both the negative incentive of violence associated with slavery, and the negative incentive of dismissal associated with capitalism. Besides, feudal employers understood better than capitalist ones that human motivation is a complex thing in which economic motives may play a minor part. What the feudal employer operated, in fact, was a system of status, hierarchies, symbols, privileges, and loyalties. These phenomena, after hiding out for some decades with the anthropologists, have now been allowed a stiff, grudging re-entry into industrial society. The feudal employer had to make an artful, rather than a scientific, use of them. Still, feudal motivation could be wonderfully effective. What other system, for example, would induce men to “carry 200 to 450 pounds over rocky portage trails at a pace which made unburdened travellers pant for breath”?17

There is no dearth of examples of feudal labour organization in early Canada. The fur trade, especially of the interior, provided classical conditions for it. The companies, without a whisper of a labour market or labour reserve inland, were heavily dependent on the loyalty and permanence of their labour forces; while the men, far from home, and with slight prospect of alternative employment, were equally dependent on the companies.18 If Richard Glover has emphasized how far Canadian traders might fall short of good feudal practice, he has also argued persuasively that the Hudson’s Bay Company provided better leadership and commanded better loyaltyin short, practised better feudalismthan it used to be given credit for.19 In another direction, there is a long record of the use of military units, whose social structure derives from the very roots of feudalism, to do work in Canada that would have been left to civilians in a better-supplied labour market. The Troupes de la Marine of New France, Colonel By’s companies of Royal Sappers and Miners recruited to build the Rideau Canal, and the Queen’s Rangers, who spent some years opening roads from York, are only some of the examples.20 A particularly instructive, and late, case of feudal organization is that of the Calvin firm of Kingston.21

But perhaps the best example of all is that of the St. Maurice Forges at Three Rivers.22 The Forges was a very large enterprise for its day, and it operated for 150 years. But nothing about it was more remarkable than its feudal labour force which, generation by generation, served it faithfully through its long life. The permanent employees of the Forges numbered around one hundred and twenty. Most of the first generation came from France, about 1738, on short contracts. In the early years there was trouble about pay, living conditions, discipline, and the low efficiency of the works; and talk of workers returning to France at the end of their contracts. But scarcely any of them ever went. One reason may be seen in the genealogies so patiently collated by Sulte: very soon the workmen married local girls, and were fathering the next generation of ironworkers. The permanent Forges community of about five hundred persons became a settled and seemingly contented one.

It was also set sharply apart from the rest of the colony. Its introversion did not depend only on its isolated position, or on its specialized work. Unlike most settlers in New France, the ironworkers came from Burgundy, and preserved their own peculiar customs and superstitions.23 There was considerable intermarriage, so arranged as to reinforce a jealously guarded hierarchy of status within the community, which rested on the hierarchy of occupations. Finally, all lived in company housing, with a company store, under the paternal eye of the director.

The Forges’ monopoly of ironmaking that made operator and workmen so heavily dependent on each other also assured a reliable market for the Forges’ output. With the overhead costs of labour thus underwritten, the Forges’ labour force furnished a magnificent instrument to those who knew how to use it. If the community’s prejudices were respected, its structure preserved, the whole ruled firmly and judiciously, the men worked faithfully at wages which, in course of time, deteriorated until they were below the rates for other skilled work.24 The enterprise had some able directors, but none compared as a practitioner of the arts of feudal leadership with Matthew Bell, monarch of the Forges from 1798 (or earlier) until 1845. His passing coincided with the technical, and political, obsolescence of the establishment. In spite of this, and some poor management, the momentum provided by a superb labour force carried St. Maurice ironmaking almost to the present century.


The capitalistic labour market, it has been noted, is the one so well supplied with labour that employers feel free to hire workers as desired, on a short-term basis, without assuming any responsibility for their overhead costs. There is not much sign of such a market in Canada before 1830. In the next two decades, there is evidence of transition towards it. In the view of this paper, the essential structure of a capitalistic market existed in the 1850’s, and the market had attained some sophistication by the 1870’s.

The impermanent employment relationships of capitalism can be regarded from two points of view. Admirers have stressed the advantage to the worker of a legal freedom to accept, reject, or change employment. Such freedom reflects the fact that, for a capitalistic market to function, demand for labour must have attained a tolerable level of regularity and balance. Otherwise, workers will be driven or starved out of the market, and it will cease to exist. When the conditions of its existence are met, there are, indeed, opportunities for the individual to improve his position which less flexible systems cannot give.

Workers, always conscious of job scarcity, have been more inclined to emphasize the insecurity and inhumanity of the capitalistic market. Their emphasis reflects the fact that, since demand for labour is always more or less irregular in capitalism, the market can only appear and persist if labour tends constantly to be in surplus supply. Capitalist unemployment may be smaller in volume than feudal under-employment, but its sharp demarcation, and the risk of being thrust into the reserve of unemployed workers, is one reason for feudal man’s reluctance to enter this market. Its impersonality repels him also; while the higher income which it implies, if appreciated, is not necessarily prized. Hence, the capitalistic market can only appear when many are driven into it by the loss of alternatives. It can only flourish when workmen and employers have accepted the attitudes, the discipline, and the incentives suited to it.

A sketch of the rise of the capitalistic market, then, must attend to: (1) the development of a regular demand for labour; (2) the sources of labour supply; (3) the barriers to workers’ escape from the market. The development of capitalistic attitudes is not a less important topic, but there is no room for it here.


The production for export of staples drawn from an extensive area, usually a seasonal activity in Canada, and one subject to abrupt changes in prices and profitability, is quite unfavourable to the formation of a capitalistic labour market. It is the integration of an economythe growth of manufactures, of cities, of a home marketthat provides the concentration and balance of demand required for it. Construction of the transportation facilities that integrated the Canadian economy produced transitional conditions, in the direction of a domestic product market and a socialized labour market. Keeping five, ten, twenty thousand construction workers in fairly continuous employment after the 1820’s, it provided substantial support for population growth, the circulation of money, and effective domestic demand. When completed, the transport systems fostered centralization of production and the growth of cities by welding the country into an economic unit. The railways promoted the growth of particular cities, through the employment of hundreds and thousands of permanent skilled workers in their extensive shops. Montreal, with about 25,000 inhabitants in 1819, had 58,000 in 1851 and 131,000 in 1871. Toronto’s 9,000 people of 1884 became 31,000 in 1851 and 59,000 in 1871. Hamilton had a spectacular growth to 22,000 or so in the early 1850’s and London, with about 4,500 people in 1848, had 7,000 in 1851 and 18,000 in 1871. Much the same places benefited from the growth of manufactures, now supported by a coherent domestic market, fostered by a new technical milieu, and encouraged by some explicit protection after 1858. Early manufactures depended heavily on craftsmanship, but factory production based on machinery and unskilled labour and mass demand was a feature of the 1860’s.25

The expansion of city and provincial markets, along with a similar development in the neighbouring states, provided that multiplication of employers and stability of demand necessary to make a true market for printers and bakers and shoemakers, construction and railway tradesman, and even, to some degree, for unskilled labourers.


At first sight, the obvious source of labour for a Canadian labour market was the native population, especially of French Canada. Increasing almost 3 per cent per year, the French numbered half a million about 1842.26 Complaints of land shortage among them were common by the early 1830’s,27 and the under-employment of the habitant was notorious. His difficulties were compounded in the 1830’s and 1840’s by a catastrophic failure of the wheat crop, stemming from soil exhaustion.28 The evidences of pressure include rebellion,29 emigration,30 very low wage rates in Lower Canadascarcely above English ones31and physical deterioration.32

And yet, the French Canadians showed little interest in wage employment, except on a short-term, local, basis. It was the Irish who took all the unskilled and casual work of Quebec and Montreal, besides thousands of construction jobs; and Irish sturdiness and truculence are not the basic explanation of the exclusion of the French. When the latter were offered these jobs, they took them slowly and abandoned them quickly.33 Only in work in which they were well established before 1760, so that a social tradition of wage-earning existed, did the French Canadians persist in wage employment.

This pattern of behaviour is anomalous only from the viewpoint of the capitalist market. It is quite consistent with the behaviour of other inheritancedividing people of Europe. The implications of divided inheritances for economic development have been conveniently summarized by Habakkuk.34 The division of small holdings assures that heirs, sooner or later, will lack an adequate means of support. Yet the little something each receives, the possessiveness of this social environment, and the lack of preparation for another, hold members of such societies out of the labour market, except on a seasonal or casual basis. If opportunity offers, they may (as the French did) devote part of their time to home manufactures; but only the collapse of their society will force on such people the geographic and social mobility demanded by the capitalistic market. It was the collapse of similar societies that put Irish and Highland Scot peasants in the Canadian labour market. A less spectacular erosion put some French Canadians in the American labour market, and significant numbers, from about 1870, in the Canadian. But the erosion was too slow to make the French the original manpower of the market.35

The raw material of the labour market had to come, therefore, by the immigrant stream. And because the timber trade brought so many of North America’s immigrants to Canadian ports after 1815, the supply was ample. Many of the immigrants, moreover, were highly responsive to market incentives. But this fact produced a new hazard. The more capitalist-minded the immigrants, the more determined they were to be farm proprietors rather than wage earners. Before 1850, English and Scottish immigrants usually became proprietors in very short order. It was just such a rejection of wage employment that inspired Edward Gibbon Wakefield, in the interest of capitalist development, to demand new barriers to the ownership of land.36

Still, the labour market was supplied and, in a way, the Wakefield system worked, because most of the immigrants were Irish.37 But the single statistical head, “Irish,” covered two sorts of people, who came at different times: depressed Roman Catholic peasants, of whom more will be said later; and Protestants, mostly from Ulster. It was Ulstermen who came almost exclusively in the 1820’s, and predominantly until about 1835. They were aggressive and ambitious; but they were also thrifty, and often poor. They were very ready, then, to take employmentnot only skilled work, for which many were fitted, but almost any employment. For instance, if one may judge from the names on the pay lists, most of the men who dug the Lachine Canal, 1821-6, were Ulstermen.38 On the other hand, the Ulster immigrant had no intention of spending his life as a wage earner. He worked for a few years, saved carefully, then bought a farm, and left the labour market.39 New immigrants came to replace him, so that labour remained available to employers. Still, the conditions for a capitalistic market are not well met while men can go out of the market about as easily as they come into it, and reliance must be put on so unpredictable a supplier as the immigrant flow.40 Employers needed a more certain labour reserve, and a more secure bargaining position, than this. In every mature capitalist country, they sooner or later get it. Outflow from the labour pool was to be staunched in Canada, too.


By the 1850’s, three events combined to protect the reserves of the Canadian labour market. The first was the fading into the far interior of the frontier of readily available land. The second was an influx of Irish peasants who were prepared to remain permanently in the unskilled labour market. The third was the coming of a substantial body of British artisans who were similarly prepared, though for quite different reasons, to remain in wage employment.

By 1850, the good land of eastern Canada, for practical purposes, was all taken up. The American frontier of settlement stood open, but it was now out on the plainsplains remote in distance and, more important, unsuited from a technical viewpoint to exploitation by the European-born.41 There was a new frontier of urban opportunities, but its rules were highly selective, and it could not compare with the land in absorptive capacity.

The migration of Irish peasants, mostly from Munster and Connaught, was to provide the main constituent of Canada’s capitalistic market. This flow was especially large in the 1840’s and reached its peak, with the famine flight, in 1847. Before 1830 it was only a trickle. Still, these Irish came in time to solve, unexpectedly, the problem of finding unskilled labour to construct the Rideau Canal (1826-32). Here they demonstrated a profound indifference to every principle of hygiene and mechanics, and they died like flies.42 But they worked like horses, and more pressed on behind. When the Rideau Canal was finished, a contingent pushed into the Ottawa Valley timber industry. The main body made its way, public work by public work, up the St. Lawrence, while others came through the United States, in the 1830’s and 1840’s. In the 1850’s, still more thousands of them built the railways of western Ontario, and inundated places like Hamilton and London.43 Meanwhile, they had preempted all the heavy, casual, and ill-paid work of Quebec and Montreal by 1830 or 1832, overrun Kingston about the same time,44 provided Toronto with a new social problem by 1834,45 and shortly thereafter were left by construction as a substratum of population in every sizable town in the province.

The Irish peasant was hard-working for others, indolent for himself, ignorant, superstitious, fervent, belligerent, loyal, sociable; but his distinctive characteristic, in relation to the labour market, was his preference for wage employment. Unlike all earlier arrivals in North America, he never wanted to be an independent farmer. Whether because of his general remoteness from the Protestant ethic, or because the countryman’s position was so hopeless in Ireland, where wage employment offered the only chances,46 the Irish peasant clung to wage work in spite of every hazard of low pay, uncertain employment, and abominable conditions. This attitude made Wakefield class these peasants, scathingly, as his fourth category of slaves-voluntary ones.47 But it was this attitude that made possible the capitalistic market, as far as unskilled labour is concerned, in which employers could take or reject labour at will, always confident of a reserve to cushion their needs.

What the Irish did for the unskilled market was done for the skilled market, in substantial degree, by the English and Scottish artisans who immigrated in the 1850’s. Primarily, it was the railways that provided the market for them, and even imported them. The Grand Trunk Railway alone undertook to bring out, in 1854, no less than 4,000 men, mostly skilled.48 Urban industries encouraged by railways provided for additional immigrants, and contributed to make a genuine skilled labour market, with reserves and alternative opportunities, in the larger cities.

British artisans of the 1850’s had little in common with Irish peasants. But they shared the Irish preference for wage employment. The artisans took pride in their crafts, and had a heavy investment in them. They belonged to a settled generation that eschewed the radicalism of their fathers, and accepted the industrial society in which they had been raised. Moreover, they understood pretty well how to deal with it: in disputes with their employers, these men were far quieter than the tempestuous Irish, but more solid and much more effective.49 When an artisan left the labour market, it was usually to seek higher wages in another one.50

The labour market of the 1850’s had rough edges, but it represented a vital transformation. The demand for labour was stable enough, the supply large enough, and the outflow small enough that employers no longer needed to complain (except during the wild boom of 1854) that men could not be got, or to hire on an annual basis in order to have men for a few months. After 1860, the market broadened and deepened with the growth of manufactures. About the time of Confederation, like the economy as a whole, it reached a new level of maturity that permitted Canada’s first labour “movement” to appear. By that time, immigrants were fewer, and different, and wage earners were drawn increasingly from the local population. These changes, however, were modifications of a structure already in being.

1However, see Karl Marx, Capital, I, chaps. xxvi ff.

2H. A. Innis and E. Ratz, “Labour” in W. S. Wallace, ed., Encyclopedia of Canada, III (Toronto, 1936).


3Eileen Power, “Peasant Life and Rural Conditions” in Cambridge Medieval History, VII, 734-7; M. Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism (London, 1946), 54-7; also Paul M. Sweezy, “The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism,” and M. Dobb, “A Reply,” Science and Society, spring, 1950.

4Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery ( Chapel Hill, 1944), chap. I.

5The gradual extinction of slavery in Upper Canada was provided for by an act in 1793. Slavery was ended in Lower Canada by hostile court decisions, 1797-1803.

6Ida Greaves, The Negro in Canada (Montreal, 1930). Chap. I deals with the question of climate.

7Alice J. E. Lunn, “Economic Development in New France, 1718-1760,” Ph.D. thesis, McGill, 1942, 12. The name “panis” is supposed to come from “Pawnees,” exceptionally docile Indians who were easily captured by the Foxes and sold to the French.

8Canadian Archives, Report, 1899, 86; J. N. Fauteux, Essai sur l’industrie au Canada (2 vols., Quebec, 1927), II, 477. References to negro slavery in the last quarter of the eighteenth century are numerous, e.g., Greaves, The Negro in Canada, 10-16; but a census of 1784 reported only 304 slaves in Lower Canada.

9A table in Georges Langlois, Histoire de la population canadienne-francaise (Montreal, 1934), 60, divides Canada’s 10,000 immigrants, 1608-1760, as follows: indentured servants 3,900; soldiers 3,500; prisoners 1,000; women, with a view to marriage 1,100; free, voluntary immigrants 500. See also: Allana G. Reid, “The Development and Importance of the Town of Quebec, 1608-1760,” Ph.D. thesis, McGill, 1950, 36-40; A. E. Smith, “Indentured Servants: New Light on Some of America’s ‘First’ Families,” Journal of Economic History, May, 1942, 40-52; M. L. Hansen, The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860 . . . (Cambridge, Mass., 1940), 44-52, 98, 105.

10Reid, “The Development and Importance of the Town of Quebec,” 45; Lunn, “Economic Development in New France,” 8-11.

11Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 6-7, 23 ff.

12“Captain M. [Miles MacDonell] in returning from Scotland 1790brought some indentured menbound for 4 yearsbut they became discontented and so troublesome that he gave them up most of their timethey had nothing by their bargain to expect at the end of their time.” Lord Selkirk, Papers (P.A.C.), LXXV, 101. For mass desertion see John R. Commons and Associates, History of Labour in the United States (2 vols., New York, 1918), I, 413.

13W. B. Munro, The Seigniorial System in Canada (New York, 1907), 13, 197, 218.

14Lunn, “Economic Development in New France,” 61-2.

15While workmen were often very faithful, there were limits: “Frenchmen were frequently employed [by farmers at Kingston about 1800], yet they could not be duly depended upon to remain during the whole season. At harvest time, when large wages would be offered, the hired man would often, without hesitation, leave his employer to go to another who would give him for a while larger wages . . .” W. Canniff, History of the Settlement of Upper Canada (Toronto, 1869), 591. That is, feudal relations tended to break down not only when workers ceased to be scarce, but also when employers ceased to be scarce.

16As in Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In Canada, the Price interests were able to operate a vicious system of debt slavery on the Saguenay. R. Blanchard, L’Est du Canada francais (2 vols., Paris, Montreal), 1935, II, 67-70.

17Grace Lee Nute, The Voyageur (St. Paul, 1955), 14.

18H. A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada (New Haven, 1930), 240-5; Lord Selkirk, Papers, LXXV, 119-21.

19On the Canadians, E. E. Rich and A. M. Johnson, eds., Cumberland House Journals and Inland Journal, 1775-82: First Series, 1775-79 (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1951), Introduction by Richard Glover, xliv-li. On the Hudson’s Bay service, ibid., Second Series, 1779-82 (1952), xv-lii. The contrary view is expressed in Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada, 149, 158-9, 164-7.

20Lunn, “Economic Development in New France,” 15-19; G. F. G. Stanley, Canada’s Soldiers, 1604-1954 . .. (Toronto, 1954), 145-6, 187.

21D. D. Calvin, A Saga of the St. Lawrence (Toronto, 1945).

22Benjamin Sulte, “Les Forges Saint-Maurice,” Melanges historiques, VI (Montreal, 1920); Fauteux, Essai sur r’industrie au Canada, I, chap. II; Lunn, “Economic Development in New France,” chaps. xI, XII; Canada, Sessional Papers, 1844-5, Appendix (0). Also A. Tessier, Les Forges Saint-Maurice, 1729-1883 (Three Rivers, 1952).

23Sulte, “Les Forges Saint-Maurice,” esp. 106-7.

24In the early years the wage rates were set to draw workers from France, and were considered outrageously high. Apparently by 1749, and more clearly by 1800, they were two-thirds or less of what other skilled workers received. However, the benefits and disadvantages of company housing and store, which can only be guessed at, affect the comparison.

25Some of these developments were discussed in H. C. Pentland, “The Role of Capital in Canadian Economic Development before 1875,” this JOURNAL, XVI, no. 4, Nov., 1950, 457-74.

26Censuses reported 524,000 French in Lower Canada in 1844 and 14,000 in Upper Canada in 1842. See Jacques Henripin, “From Acceptance of Nature to Control,” this JOURNAL, XXIII, no. 1, Feb., 1957, 10-19.

27The Durham Report exaggerated the situation, however, in its claim that between 1784 and 1826, the population of the seigneuries had more than quadrupled, while the quantity of land under cultivation had increased only a third. Earl of Durham, Report on the Affairs of British North America (4th ed., London: Methuen, 1930), 217. The claim seems to rest on a bad census of 1827, which yields an amount of land per household that is completely at variance with earlier and later returns. Other censuses indicate that the proportion of land to households was well maintained, but the averages undoubtedly hide deterioration on the seigneuries.

28W. H. Parker, “The Geography of the Province of Lower Canada in 1837,” Ph.D. thesis, Oxford, 1958, 55-8; “A Revolution in the Agricultural Geography of Lower Canada, 1833-1838,” Revue canadienne de geographie, 1957, 189-94.

29Parker’s study implies that the rebellion of 1837 followed from failure of the wheat crop.

30Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly Appointed to Inquire into the Causes and Importance of the Emigration Which Takes Place Annually, from Lower Canada to the United States (Montreal, 1849) (Sessional Papers, 1849, Appendix (AAAAA)).

31Q222 Part 1 (P.A.C.), Aylmer to Aberdeen, April 6, 1835, is an unusual return of prices and wages in Lower Canada for 1834. Wages were shown for different seasons but averaged about 2 shillings per day for common labourers and 4 to 5 shillings per day for artisans.

32E.g., evidence concerning French Canadians hired for construction work on the Grand Trunk Railway in Sir Arthur Helps, Life and Labours of Mr. Brassey, 1805-1870 (3rd ed., London, 1872), 197. The French were willing, but physically incapable of doing heavy work. The employer’s explanation was that: ‘They are small men, and they are a class who are not well fed. They live entirely on vegetable food, and they scarcely ever taste meat.”

33E.g., Sessional Papers, 1843, Appendix (T), deposition of Louis Isaac Larocque.

34H. J. Habakkuk, “Family Structure and Economic Change in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” Journal of Economic History, XV, no. 1, 1955, 1-12.

35Dissent must be expressed from Kenneth Buckley’s view that “emigration [of French Canadians] began on a large scale to other regions, and by mid-century to growing urban centers within Quebec” (“The Role of Staple Industries in Canada’s Economic Development,” Journal of Economic History, Dec., 1958, 449; my emphasis). The evidence is against a large movement of French Canadians to urban centres within Quebec before 1870. While it exaggerates the case to say that the French population was more rural in 1861 (86 per cent) than at any other time (Langlois, Histoire de la population canadienne-francaise, 183), the French population of Montreal and Quebec, which was 7½ per cent of the French population of the province in 1851, had only become 8½ per cent of that population in 1861 and 10½ per cent in 1871. The increase between 1851 and 1871 of the French population of Montreal (31,000) and Quebec (16,000) is not much more than might be expected from natural increase of the urban population.

36In his A View of the Art of Colonization (Oxford, 1914).

37The proportions of Irish among immigrants at Quebec and Montreal were: 1817-20, 47 per cent; 1821-4, 74 per cent; 1829-31, 66 per cent; 1832-5, 62 per cent; 1842-6, 58 per cent. Official returns understate the Irish proportion in later years by counting the Irish from Liverpool as “English”: thus, in 1847 there were not just 50,000 Irish (56 per cent) as officially stated, but 75,000 or more (perhaps 85 per cent).

38P.A.C., Public Works I: vol. XVI, Lachine Canal: Accounts, Labourers, 1819-1821 (actually, 1820-4); vol. XX, Accounts, Public Works, Labourers, 1825-1836.

39One can be confident that it was mostly Ulster people of whom the Chief Emigration Agent at Quebec (an Ulsterman) wrote in his report for 1831: “The moment a labouring servant can save out of his wages £.10 or £.15and which is readily accomplished within the first year if frugal; he proceeds into some of the neighbouring settlements and purcheses 50 or 100 acres of land . . (Q198 Part 2).

40While the flow of immigrants to Canada has always adjusted itself closely to demand, the response tends to be one year late. Immigration could also be disturbed by exceptional mortality or rebellion. The collapse of immigration in 1838 and 1839 resulted in complaints of labour shortage in those years.

41E.g., M. L. Hansen, The Immigrant in American History (Cambridge, Mass., 1940), 65-7; H. A. Innis, “Industrialism and Settlement in Western Canada” in his Problems of Staple Production in Canada (Toronto, 1933).

42John McTaggart, Three Years in Canada … (2 vols., London, 1829), II, 243-8.

43P.A.C.: P.S.O., C.W., 1851, no. 284, Petition of the Inhabitants of Hamilton, Feb. 12, 1851; P.S.O, C.W., 1852, no. 364, Mills to Provincial Secretary, Feb. 24, 1852; P.S.O., C.W., 1853, no. 1050, Court of General Quarters Sessions of Middlesex and Elgin to Provincial Secretary, July 7, 1853, and enclosure; P.S.O., C.W., 1854, no. 99, Mayor of London to Provincial Secretary, Jan. 12, 1854, and enclosure.

44U.C. Sundries (P.A.C.), Tunney to Hillier, Oct. 24, 1827.

45Ibid., Mackenzie to Rowan, May 7, 1834, and enclosure.

46K. H. Connell, The Population of Ireland, 1750-1845 (Oxford, 1950); C. M. Arensberg, The Irish Countryman (New York, 1937); C. M. Arensberg and S. T. Kimball, Family and Community in Ireland (Cambridge, Mass., 1940).

47Wakefield, A View of the Art of Colonization, 175. Wakefield’s other classes of slaves were negroes, convicts, and indentured servants.

48Ships were scarce in 1854, and the number actually brought was probably about 2,000 (with families). Toronto Daily Leader, March 30 and May 26, 1854; Helps, Life and Labours of Mr. Brassey, 239; A. W. Currie, The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Toronto, 1957), 29. The Great Western and, later, the Canadian Pacific, also arranged large-scale migrations of skilled labour.

49As in the first strike of Great Western railway shopmen at Hamilton and London, 1856. Hamilton Herald, July 5, 1902.

50R. T. Berthoff, British Immigrants in Industrial America, 1790-1850 (Cambridge, Mass., 1958); Brinley Thomas, Migration and Economic Growth (Cambridge, 1954), 138.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s