Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Settlement Pattern, Environmental Factors and Ethnic Background on a Southwestern Quebec Frontier (1795-1842)

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Settlement Pattern, Environmental Factors and Ethnic Background on a Southwestern Quebec Frontier (1795-1842)

Article excerpt

In studies of frontier settlement patterns, different site factors are recognized as influential on the immigrant settlement process. Environmental factors such as soil features, while widely cited as crucial, have rarely been studied in enough depth to measure their relationship to other phenomena such as ethnic attractiveness. Qualitative and quantitative case studies in early 19th century Godmanchester township's sequence of land occupancy indicate that pioneer settlers in this region of Quebec were influenced by a mixed set of factors that changed over time. In reconstructing Godmanchester's land colonization process and pattern based on local historical sources and Lower-Canada manuscript censuses of 1825, 1831 and 1842, the traditional way of understanding such processes was put into question. Geomorphological deposits, while remaining a relatively decisive factor in determining settlement patterns until the end of the 1820s, were gradually displaced by ethnic proximity, as revealed in censuses up to 1842. To understand this settlement pattern, one must consider the pioneers' goals from their perspective: they were primarily interested in self-sufficiency and were not all necessarily market-oriented farmers. From this standpoint, attractive land to settle seems more appropriate than the standard assumption of good land for cash-crop farming.

Key words: settlement frontier development; 19th century agriculture; historical landscape dynamics; rural immigration; Southern Quebec.

Dans les etudes portant sur la colonisation des fronts pionniers, les variables reconnues susceptibles d'orienter la marche du peuplement sont multiples. Pour expliquer la localisation des colons, une majorite de ruralistes accorde la preponderance aux proprietes du sol. Bien qu'elle soit consideree determinante par plusieurs, l'attirance ethnique ne se voit pas attribuer une importance equivalente. Afin d'evaluer le role respectif de ces deux facteurs, nous avons reconstitue l'occupation initiale du sol dans le canton de Godmanchester (Quebec). Pour y parvenir, nous avons consulte l'historiographie locale et depouille les recensements nominatifs de 1825, 1831 et 1842. Nos resultats indiquent que les deux variables examinees exercent une influence sur l'orientation du peuplement mais que leur attrait respectif ne s'exprime pas necessairement au meme moment. Apres avoir ete decisifs jusqu'a la fin des annees 1820, les depots de surface semblent ensuite perdent de leur influence au profit de l'attirance ethnique. Pour comprendre ce patron d'implantation, il importe de reconnaitre que les colons sont des producteurs residentiels plutot que des agriculteurs commerciaux. Ces derniers recherchent probablement davantage des sites facilitant l'etablissement de leur famille que des terres propices a l'agriculture de marche.

Mots cles: colonisation des fronts pionniers; agriculture au 19e siecle; dynamiques hetoriques du paysage; immigration rurale; Sud du Quebec

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Introduction

In North America, the writings of Turner (1962) have spawned a wealth of literature on the advance of pioneer settlement and the development of frontier society. (1) Since the beginning of the 20th century, particularly in the United States, studies on farming frontiers abound. (2) Many Canadian geographers (3) and historians (4) have contributed to this debate by studying the role played by factors such as soil types on frontier settlement pattern. According to many scholars, the first colonists tended to settle on the best farmland available. Although this pattern seems rational at first glance, the presumed link between early arrival and best land occupancy is not without question. (5) In the 19th century, settlement patterns were occasionally hard to predict and settlers' locations difficult to understand. (6) The relationship between immigrants and their new landscape remains to be properly explored. The role actually played by soil types, and their relationship with other factors, has yet to be clarified. …

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