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Date of Award

4-2001

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Supervisor

Dr. John C. Weaver

Language

English

Abstract

This thesis addresses the deficiencies of recent studies that principally employ cultural factors, such as religion and country of birth, to explain variations in wealth and property in nineteenth-century Ontario. Southern Ontario's "first land," an amalgam of particular environmental, climatic, and geophysical factors, presented settlers with a defined set of agricultural and economic possibilities. As settlement activities altered the natural surroundings, a new series of economic possibilities emerged, which in turn, required its own settler response. This relationship changed constantly. In Saltfleet Township, Ontario, the principle area of study for this thesis, the main economic activity was agriculture. A few decades of intensive farming negated the millennia required to enrich the soil with the matter necessary to sustain plant life, while deforestation exposed the ground to the eroding effects of rain and wind. These alterations required a change in the settlement landscape, broadly characterized as improved husbandry and crop specialization tailored to a farm's particular environmental characteristics. This combination of settlement and natural responses produced individual parcels of property with distinct characteristics, including soil fertility, climate, and distance to markets. Studies that seek to understand settlement and agriculture in southern Ontario cannot treat farmland as homogeneous, no matter how many qualifying statements are employed to acknowledge and then exclude these variations. In isolating local environmental variables, such as a farm's topography, drainage, distance to water, and location relative to the Niagara Escarpment, this thesis uses a new settlement model that emphasizes the importance of local environmental variations, the effect of which is only recognizable over a long period of time. What emerges is the importance of farmers' abilities to perceive changes in the land and market, and to act upon what they saw.

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