An Economic History of Canada

By Mary Quayle Innis | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Canada is a vast angular mass of Precambrian rock, bounded on the south-east by Logan's fault line, which is the bed of the St. Lawrence River, on the south-west by the chain of Great Lakes and on the west by wide plains, extending to the Cordilleran Ranges. Covered with forest, with a shallow soil, and subject to intense cold in winter, the Precambrian region is unfavourable to agriculture but favourable to the growth of forests and fur-bearing animals.

For two centuries, white men, both French and English, lived on the furs trapped in these forests by Indians whetted to industry by the need for iron and ammunition, and the comfort of point blankets. Paddling down endless river chains, piercing for the sake of beaver to the northern and western oceans, they levied for a livelihood upon one of the greatest forests in the world and turned their stream of furs down one of the greatest rivers. Furs grew scarcer, but the forest remained, and rivers once plowed by the voyageur's paddle now bore timber rafts perilously guided seaward. Wood was the second great crop of the Precambrian forest and a growing population harvested its pines until these, too, diminished. The Laurentian shield had, for the time, disinherited its children, who settled upon its fertile southern margin, like unlucky tenants driven from the manor house to make the best of life in the gate-keeper's lodge.

The southern margin was fertile, the south-western prairies more fertile still and wider, and wheat could be raised there in overwhelming abundance. But the tenants could not settle themselves to live in isolation in their gate-keeper's lodge; they had still to pay the upkeep of the whole vast estate from which they had been thrust out. The ancestral forest could not be forgotten; the burden of it perplexed every mile of the railroad built from ocean to ocean, and laid its toll upon every bushel of wheat carried east to the seaboard and every harvester carried from eastern factory to western farm.

-vii-

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