Excessive Expectations

Excessive Expectations: Maritime Commerce and the Economic Development of Nova Scotia, 1740-1870

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Excessive Expectations
    Book Description:

    In the first full-length economic history of pre-Confederation Nova Scotia, Julian Gwyn challenges the popular myth that the British colony prospered before it became a province of Canada. Through his discussion of three periods in Nova Scotia's development (1740-1815,1815-53, and 1853-70) and four themes regionalism, imports and the standard of living, reciprocity, and the balance of payments) he shows that the colony's pre-Confederation economy was anything but glorious. Gwyn argues that Nova Scotia's economy suffered from numerous disadvantages and had few strengths. The 1755 deportation of Acadians destroyed a flourishing agriculture, and the limited extent of arable soil inhibited continuous, interconnected settlement: the colony's regions remained sparsely connected even at Confederation. During the generation it took agriculture to recover from the Deportation, lumber came to provide both an export in its own right and the basis for shipping and shipbuilding. However, thanks in part to the colonial assembly's neglect, the availability of ships did not lead to a prosperous fishing industry. Throughout the period under study, Nova Scotia remained very vulnerable to shifts in the North Atlantic economy and to changes in Britain's military spending and its relations with Nova Scotia's American and Canadian neighbours. British industrialization, changing patterns of trade with the West Indies, and the advent of steamships all challenged Nova Scotia's natural resource sectors and its shipping and shipbuilding, and Confederation necessitated yet another reorientation. While some sectors of the economy displayed real expansion during the early nineteenth century, Gwyn finds that overall the growth was "extensive" rather than "intensive" - it merely kept pace with expanding population, providing no base for the often-predicted glowing economic future. Excessive Expectations sheds light on the current economic problems faced by the Maritimes and will be of great interest to anyone seeking to understand the historical background of this part of the Atlantic's economy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6649-1
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Tables
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    Nova Scotia’s past may have been glorious, but there is precious little evidence of it from the study of its economic history. What dominates the surviving evidence is a record full of personal tragedy, blunders, miscalculations, injustices, disappointments, setbacks, losses, public fiascos, accommodation to difficult or straightened circumstances, and quiet, private desperation. In this finding I follow the great Gibbon, who believed that history is little more than “the register of crimes, follies and misfortunes”² of humanity, whichever family branch we study. Follies and misfortunes multiply whenever business is conducted. Few in Nova Scotia of any generation prospered or were...

  7. PART ONE Three Eras
    • 2 Wartime Expansion, 1740–1815
      (pp. 15-42)

      Both economic opportunities and uncertainties, generated largely by war, are the principal focus of this chapter, and they provide a useful, unifying theme for this formative era in Nova Scotia’s history as a British colony. From 1740 until at least 1815 the economy of the colony was dominated by war and its immediate aftermath. This study should be viewed as part of an international historical concern, which is both large and continuing, with the social and economic impact of war.

      There is still little research on the economic development of Nova Scotia under these difficult wartime conditions.¹ Renewed interest in...

    • 3 Economic Stress with Peace, 1815–53
      (pp. 43-89)

      By the early 1850s it was widely believed that Nova Scotia was “a grand country for great men to gofrom.”² There seemed so little to stimulate their energies or fields in which to develop their talents. It was an insult to native pride when the brigSebimin July 1852 sailed from Halifax for Australia with forty-two immigrants from the province. They left Halifax and Dartmouth, Liverpool and Chester, Amherst and Cumberland, Shubenacadie, Stewiacke, and Windsor.³ The emigrants of the early 1850s were following, perhaps unwittingly, the path of many others – the first settlers in Halifax in 1749, who...

    • 4 Recovery and Stagnation, 1853–70
      (pp. 90-126)

      Many still believe that mid-nineteenth-century Nova Scotia enjoyed a golden age, even if historians have begun to express their doubts.² “The fifteen years preceding Confederation had been a veritable golden age for the economy of Nova Scotia,” wrote one young believer almost thirty years ago³ – a gloss on an idea shaped by Burpee forty years earlier.⁴ Others wrote of a golden age only of sail, which began in the 1840s,⁵ with Nova Scotia–built ships whitening “every sea with their rich freight.”⁶ For yet others the idea is too familiar to cast aside.⁶

      The mythical age, to the believers, was...

  8. PART TWO Four Perspectives
    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 5 Economic Regions
      (pp. 129-159)

      More than rough roads in the 1860s separated the different worlds occupied by Nova Scotians. The province was pre-eminently a place of regional variation, imposed by physiography, from which economic differientation emerged. Each region began its development at a separate historical moment and experienced differing rates of economic evolution. This notion is fundamental to an understanding not only of contemporary Nova Scotia but also of its colonial history.²

      Long before 1870, the ports had long been the most visible centres, though none of them was large, and none economically dominant. There the harvest of the seas, of the soil, and...

    • 6 Imports and the Standard of Living
      (pp. 160-176)

      Historians, as we have seen, have devised all sorts of ways to study changes in the standard of living, a subject they consider of crucial importance.² Since governments in the past cared little for the issue, concerned as they were with other things, most methods used by historians involve teasing out of the surviving records evidence that the documents were never meant to provide. To make some general statements about relative wealth and poverty is a vital responsibility of any economic historian. The study of imports can serve as another source to help us analyse the changing standard of living...

    • 7 Impact of Reciprocity
      (pp. 177-202)

      Out of ignorance, modern politicians tend to exaggerate the significance of free trade agreements; historians are perhaps better placed to make more accurate statements about the real economic impact.² The Reciprocity Treaty, in effect 1854–66, between the United Kingdom and the United States is a case in point. Its economic impact on British North America, in detail still largely undetermined, has received little attention from historians since the 1930s. I therefore propose in this chapter to look at the existing historical writing on the subject, the background and emergence of reciprocity, and its impact on specific sectors of Nova...

    • 8 The Balance of Payments
      (pp. 203-224)

      This chapter raises one major question about Nova Scotia’s economy in the era of Confederation. How did Nova Scotia pay for its huge and continuing deficit in commodity trade? Though my analysis below is limited to the years around Confederation, the problem had existed since the 1740s. Compared to the value of Nova Scotia’s exports and re-exports, its imports cost it much more. Thus the answer to our question will reveal the nature of the investment flows in and out of the colony. Next we can answer three derivative questions. How did the relative scale of such investment flows change...

  9. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 225-234)

    In the successive chapters of this book, through description and analysis, I have expressed the dynamism of economic change in Nova Scotia to the end of the 1860s. There has been an obvious focus on Nova Scotia’s commercial world and external economy, yet the impact on ordinary people and places within Nova Scotia has also been a major theme. For all the evidence marshalled here about inputs and outputs, trends and cycles, their only real interest and value lie in how these elements affected the lives of people. This applies equally to the merchant elite and their families and to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 235-280)
  11. Index
    (pp. 281-291)