Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor David P. Gagan
Industrial capitalism altered the class structure of mid-nineteenth century Brantford, Ontario; by more clearly distinguishing the business and working cIasses. This dissertation addresses that process through the means of a collective biography of the town's businessmen. To this end, as many businessmen as possible have been identified at roughly decadal intervals from 1830 to 1881 and personal and economic data on them assembled from a number of quantifiable sources, principally manuscript census schedules and assessment rolls.
As a social activity, business was in Brantford in the 1870s no longer what it had been twenty or thirty years previously, a stage of life for a large proportion of the adult male population and a state of independence to which ambitious young men could realistically aspire. The desire for this independence attracted British and American immigrants to Brantford from the 1830s to the 1850s in hopes of achieving a life style which had become difficult to sustain in more developed economies. The favourable conjuncture of staple based prospensity within a relatively isolated consumer market made it possible for men with limited assets to establish viable and successful enterprises. Moreover, in a culture which wholeheartedly encouraged independence, a man could command credit on the strength of his own character and sense of responsibility.
The basis for pervasive self-employment was undermined in Brantford by the contraction of credit during and following the depression of the late 1850s and early 1860s and by the integration of the urban economy into a larger and more competitive regional trading system. Nevertheless, those who survived this critical period were in a position to expand their businesses. Unlike the 1850s when increases in demand were met by roughly proportionate increases in the number of businesses, in the 1870s growing demand encouraged the expansion of existing businesses. The result of this was a shrinkage in the size of the business community by about forty per cent.
The presence of entrenched and established business interests made it far more difficult to become self-employed in the 1870s and it took longer to acquire the experience, assets and connections needed to embark on a business career. For this reason, newcomers were at a disadvantage in comparison with natives and businessmen were increasingly drawn from the Canadian-born population or from those who possessed that familiarity with the community derived from a lengthy residence. Moreover, once in business, advancement was much less likely for the novice and small businessman than it had been in the 1850s. The high rates of business discontinuation suffered in the 1870s by men in business less than ten years and by the least wealthy contrasted with the solid security of the business elite.
These more limited opportunities for self-employment and for advancement through self-employment provided a sharper definition of the business class in mid-nineteenth century Brantford. No longer was a business career a mark of social maturity and independence. Instead, the businessman was the exceptional survivor of demanding economic and social circumstances.
Burley, David G., "The Businessmen of Brantford, Ontario: Self-employment in a Mid-nineteenth Century Town" (1983). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1416.