Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor G.M. Craig


Professor M. Cross


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the origins of a provincial strategy for economic development in Upper Canada between 1812 and 1840. The first serious treatment of this topic was by Donald Creighton in 1937. Since then historians and political economists have seized upon the relationship between the so-called "Family Compact" and economic development as an example of nascent nationalism, outright commercial interest, or the corporatist roots of the Canadian economy.

The genesis of provincial development policies deferred between 1818 and 1825. The men responsible for marshalling pubic opinion, setting out the broad framework for policies, and implementing legislation in the House of Assembly were pre-eminent figures in the Compact. John Beverly Robinson, John Stracham, John Macaulay, and Jonas Jones. To a lesser extent Christopher Hagerman and George Markland were also involved. The thesis accepts the legitimacy of the well-established historiographical connection between the Compact and development. It sets out the assumptions which underlay the economic programme of the self-proclaimed gentry but is not a history of economic development during the period or an analysis of development legislation. Rather it is an attempt to delineate the theoretical prerequisites of the idea of the development in Upper Canada and its relation to society.

The War of 1812 set the stage for the first discussion by Robinson of the need for a prosperous society. The military vulnerability of the province and the experience of widespread disaffection during the war prompted the suggestion in 1816 that the colony's first line of defence was prosperity. The most important assumption which endowed the development of the 1820s with its characteristic flavour was the Edenic myth of the gentry -- the belief that Upper Canada had been providentially-endowed with a lush natural bounty, comparable to any spot in the world. This faith was the foundation for the gentry's enthusiam for development on the grand scale, at great cost, with little regard for profit, or how to pay the enormous debt which eventually resulted. The exaggerated sense of provincial capability was ground in providential belief. Moreover this myth accorded with generally-held assumptions that the resource base of the province was fundamentally agricultural.

The immediate spur to development came from American initiatives with canals in New York State in 1817, the discontent about improvement evident during the agitation of Robert Gourlay in 1818, and most important, the depression which held the province between 1819 and 1821. In 1821 a committee of the House of Assembly reported its findings on the internal resources of the province. The thrust of its recommendations was overwhelmingly agricultural. Timber received short shrift and manufacturing was all but dismissed. The committee's conclusions were that stable markers in Great Britain and the improvement of internal navigation would ensure long-term prosperity. The subsequent Committee on Internal Navigation and the parliamentary committee reporting on its findings were dominated by the gentry. In 1825 through the efforts of Robinson, the province committed itself to the gentry's programme for canals with an enormous loan to the Welland Canal raised by debenture financing. Development itself was a limited matter: canals to get the rich products of the soil to markets and preferential entry of wheat, flour, and timber to British markets. In American trade the gentry strove mightily to maintain a just balance between free trade on certain goods and protective tariffs on others.

The core of the gentry's beliefs was an agrarian image of society in its myriad forms: political, economic, and social. This was the pre-capitalist society of independent commodity producers. The gentry's political beliefs were rooted in the hierarchical ordering of an agrarian society. Their political language and their concept of moral character and virtue were based on the maintenance of an agrarian society with only limited urban centres and commerce. They believed that canals were a public trust and should be undertaken by the province and superintended by those who had only the general interest at heart - gentlemen. They rejected the egalitarian image of society held by radical agrarians and the capitalist image of society advocated by merchants such as William Allan. The issue which bought these contending images together was the question of legislation union with Lower Canada. h Lower' Canada. Throughout the 1820s and the 1830s the gentry rejected a society in which considerations of finance and commerce were pre-eminent.

The thesis concludes that the limited strategy for development which originated between 1818 and 1825 was directly attributable to the agrarian assumptions, Edenic myth, and political beliefs of the Upper Canadian gentry.

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