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The Limits of Rural Capitalism

The Limits of Rural Capitalism: Family, Culture, and Markets in Montcalm, Manitoba, 1870-1940

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 296
  • Book Info
    The Limits of Rural Capitalism
    Book Description:

    Sylvester challenges the view in prairie historiography that agriculture had commercialized before the west was opened to settlement, and that ethnic communities alone resisted the market's potential.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8164-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Maps, Figures, and Tables
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    This book was written in part because of countless kitchen table discussions with my maternal grandmother. She was born in Montreal and moved west during the Depression after marrying a young engineering student attending McGill. She stayed most of her life, but never really adjusted to leaving her beloved hometown. She always had a different perspective on what life was like in the West than my grandfather, who was born and raised in the Red River Valley. Her stories were of how difficult it was to fit into a small prairie town, of how narrow, provincial, and condescending the ‘English’...

  6. Chapter 1 Shared Origins of Settlement
    (pp. 12-28)

    The common strategies of succession that guided rural folk to Montcalm, Manitoba, are seldom seen as part of a shared historical tradition. Ethnic clustering across the western interior is usually attributed to various forms of ‘group settlement.’ Yet underneath these organized migrations lay the most common social obligation of rural migrants. While Montcalm’s settlers came from all over their native provinces and the northeastern United States, those who were able to emerge as members of the farm-owning majority relied heavily on the auspices of kin. The persistent element of community arrived under similar circumstances. An older married generation came west...

  7. Chapter 2 Making Families and Generations
    (pp. 29-45)

    In an age when technology and expanding urban markets provided the stimulus to embrace farm enterprise, Montcalm family life worked to expand the capacity for household independence. Like many other North American communities, Montcalm’s youthful and sex-balanced population responded to the promise of territorial expansion not by reducing but by maintaining or increasing pre-industrial birth rates. In a pattern that mirrored population expansion in the farm states of the American midwest, elevated fertility followed the migration of farm families to new areas of western settlement.¹ Indeed, a fertility transition did not take hold in Montcalm until the turn of the...

  8. Chapter 3 The Economy of Family Farms
    (pp. 46-65)

    While trends in family life enhanced economic independence, the new scale of farming in Montcalm pulled succeeding generations toward the market’s rewards. Although most families refrained from hiring paid labour, open prairie in the Red River Valley encouraged producers to bring nearly all their land under production. Meeting this new standard took time and, when it was their turn, Montcalm’s youth responded by adopting new labour-saving technologies. Often lacking the resources to do this alone, most formed partnerships with family members and neighbours and shared the costs and use of agricultural machinery. Nevertheless, the surpluses generated by field agriculture were...

  9. Chapter 4 Credit, Commerce, and Market Change
    (pp. 66-99)

    Before the turn of the century family farming changed at a pace largely of its own making. The key adjustments on the prairies had less to do with finding off-farm work than simply with keeping up to the scale of agriculture. The work itself was not so intensive, except for the short frenzy of the harvest season, that there was a need to hire year-round help. Slack time during the year prevented most farmers from hiring labour. They preferred to rely on the informal, unpaid, labour of family members. Until the scale of agriculture changed dramatically in the early twentieth...

  10. Chapter 5 Ending and Making Local Culture
    (pp. 100-134)

    When Joseph Fillion made contact with the countryside of what would become Montcalm, his remarks signalled many of the changes at hand in 1873. Soon the district before him would be a thickly populated farm community, and the values attached to the land irreversibly changed. Although the gap between the original inhabitants and the newcomers he represented was not as wide as he had thought, Fillion nevertheless drew attention to differences. The poverty of local population and the richness of the soil would have to be reconciled, and he had already cast the drama in his mind as one of...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. Chapter 6 Continuity, Inheritance, and Inequality
    (pp. 135-167)

    Currently historians know little about how nineteenth-century inheritance practices changed during the development of the Prairies, and perhaps even less about the association between inheritance and the commercialization of prairie farm life.¹ In this chapter the fates of Montcalm farm families are used to shed light both on how aging parents provided for their children’s futures, and on how changes to prairie agriculture were reflected in inheritance practices. As farmers’ relationships to the market economy changed, so too did their relationships to their children. Once committed to establishing their progeny firmly within the farm community, by the 1920s Montcalm’s landholders...

  13. Chapter 7 Leaving Rural Life
    (pp. 168-190)

    Even with Canada’s western metropolis a short train ride away, relatively few Montcalm farm youth made their way into the city before 1940. Although the scale of prairie agriculture grew and placed enormous added pressure on farm succession, many adult children continued to work on their parents’ farms into the 1930s. The Great Depression also worked to keep young people in rural communities. Before 1940 the movement of young people into Winnipeg could not be described as an exodus of job-seekers. Despite the city’s close proximity, most Montcalmois moved into the city as individuals. Although they relied on family to...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-196)

    Farm families in turn-of-the-century Montcalm farmed to make a living and improve the life chances of their children. Not all understood or embraced the changes that a growing rural capitalism brought to their lives between 1890 and 1920. But many had begun to adjust to the imperatives of commercial agriculture. The sons and daughters of Montcalm’s early settlers showed signs of greater market involvement. Whereas their parents’ generation had responded to the promise of prairie life by extending the basis for social independence, having large families, and drawing almost exclusively on their children’s unpaid labour, the second generation was more...

  15. Appendix: A Note on Sources
    (pp. 197-202)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 203-248)
  17. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 249-268)
  18. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 269-270)
  19. Index
    (pp. 271-280)