How Agriculture Made Canada: Farming in the Nineteenth Century

By Hawkins, Richard A. | British Journal of Canadian Studies, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

How Agriculture Made Canada: Farming in the Nineteenth Century


Hawkins, Richard A., British Journal of Canadian Studies


Peter A. Russell, How Agriculture Made Canada: Farming in the Nineteenth Century (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2012), 400 pp. 20 tables. Cased. $100. ISBN 978-0-7735-4064-4. Paper. £22.99. ISBN 978-0-7735-4065-1.

This is a collection of essays by Peter A. Russell on the historiography of agriculture in nineteenth-century Quebec and Ontario followed by an agricultural history of the Prairies. He has excluded the Maritimes and British Columbia from this study.

Russell begins with a survey of the debate regarding Fernand Quellet's thesis of an agricultural crisis in Quebec beginning in the first decade of the nineteenth century. He suggests that some scholarship provides a measure of support for Quellet's analysis. Russell then considers the debate regarding whether farmers in Quebec were inferior to those in Ontario. He concludes that Canadiens were as successful as Anglophone farmers where they had opportunities. Russell then surveys the historiography of the staples theory first expounded by W.A. Mackintosh in 1923 and subsequently developed into the pre-eminent theory of Canadian economic growth by Harold Innis. He concludes that 'Innis, by an apparent exclusive focus on wheat as an export staple, mistook an important part of the colonial economy for the whole of it ... Without the support of the subsistence-oriented domestic economy, the wheat staple would not have been possible' (p. 141). Russell ends the first half of his book with an exploration of the debate over David Gagan's thesis that rural Ontario suffered an agricultural crisis during the mid-nineteenth century.

Russell begins his agricultural history of the Prairies with an analysis of the struggle between anglophone and francophone settlers for supremacy in the transition of the Red River settlement into the new province of Manitoba. …

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