Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor D.P. Gagan
This study identifies permanence, the search for it and its attainment, as the most important variable influencing social, economic and demographic behaviour in rural society. The dissertation examines the interaction between families and land between 1820 and 1890 in a rural mid-Victorian Upper Canadian community, Toronto Gore township. The Gore of Toronto, one of the prime wheat producing townships in nineteenth century Ontario, is a wedge-shaped tract of land of some nineteen thousand acres situated fifteen miles northwest of Toronto.
The theoretical underpinning for the study is Richard Easterlin's consumption/inheritance model for the behaviour of rural societies. This is butressed by historical studies of the American midwest as well as studies of rural Ontario by David Gagan, Marvin McInnis and Lorne Tepperman. These studies, as well as the data for Toronto Gore, are used to demonstrate that the processes of social change in rural society were related to incursions of economic stress arising out of land and population pressure. Stress was accompanied by demonstrable changes in demographic and economic behaviour at the household level. Toronto Gore was subjected to two forms of economic stress during the period. The first arose from agricultural change and the demands for land made by immigrants and a maturing younger generation. The second was a crisis of shorter term that began in 1857 with the collapse of the wheat market and was exacerbated two years later by a drastic decline in land values. In responding to these crises the younger generation postponed marriage and family formation. The older generation limited marital fertility and adopted devices for the distribution of property that would protect the productivity and profitability of the land. These changes, which conform to the broad outlines of the Easterlin model and the actual historical experience of populations elsewhere, suggest that the Gore's households were not unsual in their behaviour.
The major thrust of the dissertation, however, is that permanence was the most important variable influencing the timing and degree of change. The foundation for permanence was laid during the settlement phase when approximately one hundred families put down roots. Three generations later most of those families were still represented among the township's householders. Others have identified core populations during the settlement phase but thus far no one has systematically studied their behaviour. For Toronto Gore, techniques of family reconstitution developed by French and English demographers are used to reconstruct the population and family relationships. In three generations, intermarriage knit the permanent families into a cohesive group. They owned the largest farms, had the largest households, and were the leaders of the principal social and political institutions. Their children had the best opportunities of acquiring places for themselves in the township. They maintained their relative prosperity because, as a group, they were more sensitive to economic change. In times of economic stress they reacted quickly to protect what they had. Their neighbours responded much more slowly and adjustments in their demographic behaviour appeared almost a decade later.
Mays, Herbert Joseph, "Families and Land in Toronto Gore Township, Peel County, Ontario, 1820-1890" (1979). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 653.