Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Canadian Economic History

Canadian Economic History: Classic and Contemporary Approaches

M.H. Watkins
H.M. Grant
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 292
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Canadian Economic History
    Book Description:

    Contemporary methodologies include the "cliometric" style of historical analysis, econometrics, labour and regional study, and the changing parameters of government spending and public finance. The juxtaposition of classic theoretical statements with works by "outsiders" such as G.S. Kealey, B.D. Palmer, R.T. Naylor, R.E Ommer, among others, makes this a solid yet innovative record of the progress in economics over the last forty years. Canadian Economic History remains an essential classroom text.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8525-6
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    M.H. Watkins and H.M. Grant

    The discipline of Canadian economic history has changed dramatically during past three decades. “Old” economic history—primarily identified with the staple thesis—has been subjected to revision by “new” economic historians and by a “renaissance” in Canadian political economy. These changes have broadened the scope of the discipline both in terms of the methodology employed and the subject matter under investigation.

    Development of the old school of Canadian economic history can be traced to the 1920s, and the work of W.A. Mackintosh (Queen’s University) and H.A. Innis (University of Toronto). The objective was to redress the heavy “constitutional” bias dominating...

  4. Suggested Further Readings
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Part One: The Staple Approach

    • Economics factors in Canadian History
      (pp. 3-14)
      W.A. Mackintosh

      There will be few dissenters from the position that more attention should be devoted to the geographic and economic factors in Canadian history, and that greater place should be given to the continental aspects of Canadian history. up to the present [1923] the constitutional bias has been strong, and for the obvious reason that the most recent and in many ways the most significant chapter of British constitutional history has been written in Canada. The familiar schoolbook periodization of the history of British North America in terms of succeeding instruments of government is sufficient illustration of this bias of the...

    • The Importance of Staple Products
      (pp. 15-18)
      H.A. Innis

      Fundamentally the civilization of North America is the civilization of Europe. The opening of a new continent distant from Europe has been responsible for the stress placed by modern students on the dissimilar features of what have been regarded as two separate civilizations. On the other hand communication and transportation facilities have always persisted between the two continents since the settlement of North America by Europeans, and have been subject to constant improvement.

      Peoples who have become accustomed to the cultural traits of their civilization—what G. Wallas calls the social heritage—on which they subsist, find it difficult to...

    • A Stable Theory of Economic Growth
      (pp. 19-38)
      M.H. Watkins

      The staple approach to the study of economic history is primarily a Canadian innovation; indeed, it is Canada’s most distinctive contribution to political economy. It is undeveloped in any explicit form in most countries where the export sector of the economy is or was dominant.¹ The specific terminology—stable or staples approach, or theory, or thesis—is Canadian, and the persistence with which the theory has been applied by Canadian social scientists and historians is unique.

      The leading innovator was the late Harold Innis in his brilliant pioneering historical studies, notably of the cod fisheries and the fur trade;² others...

    • Myth and Measurement: The Innis Tradition in Economic History
      (pp. 39-50)
      H.G.J. Altken

      It is very hard to find in Canadian scholarship today any serious criticism, of H. Innis. There has developed a kind of “cult of personality” rather like mystique that now surrounds theAnnalesschool of historians in Europe. There are interesting parallels between the two cases. Innis is known mostly for his work in the “staples theory” of Canadian history and for the later grand-scale extension of that theory to the “staple” of communications and the rise and fall of empires. The staples theory, it is now generally agreed, is not testable. It provides a framework for research, but no...

  6. Part Two: Early Staples, Agriculture and Finance

    • The Fur Trade in canada
      (pp. 53-60)
      H.A. Innis

      The history of the fur trade in North America has been shown as a retreat in the face of settlement. The strategic campaigns in that retreat include the conquest of New France, the Quebec Act of 1774, the American Revolution, the Jay Treaty of 1794, the amalgamation of 1821, the Oregon Treaty of 1846, and the Rupert’s Land Act of 1869. The struggle continues in the newly settled areas of the Dominion. The trade has been conducted by large organizations from the artificial and natural monopolies of New France to the North West company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, which...

    • “All the Fish of the Post”: Resource Property Rights and Development in a Nineteenth-Century Inshore Fishery
      (pp. 61-78)
      R.E. Ommer

      H. Innis once described the eastern Canadian cod fisheries as “inherently divisive” and history has tended to bear him out.¹ In the past, the fishery has set fisherman against fisherman, merchant against merchant, merchant against planter and settler against metropolitan government. In the present, it continues to produce conflicts, of provincial against federal government, province against province, multinational against independent producer, midshore against inshore fisherman. The nature of the resource lies at the root of the conflict. As a common-property resource with an unprotected rent, the fishery is theoretically open to all. Historically, the fact that the fishery is an...

    • The New Brunswick Economy in the Nineteenth-Century
      (pp. 79-84)
      P.D. McClelland

      The central problem of the thesis is the retardation of regional growth. The eonomy of New Brunswick has provided a case in point for over a hundred years. This is to say, real per capita income within the province has tended to lag behind that achieved in competing regions. This competition has been viewed primarily as a scramble for factors of production. The winners were those areas which attracted factors from lagging sectors whenever income differentials became significant. The losers, in turn, could find in such an exodus a major reason why retardation developed cumulative tendencies.

      The choice of New...

    • Why Was Specie so Scarce in Colonial Economics? An Analysis of the Canadian Currency, 1796–1830
      (pp. 85-102)
      A. Redish

      The monetary history of many British colonies, particularly those in new lands, has centred on a chronic scarcity of specie that is said to have characterized their monetary systems. The colonists themselves frequently complained of such a shortage, and blamed it on an external drain arising from an (apparently) insatiable demand for imports. This explanation has been accepted by many monetary historians and forms the core of theories explaining the of banking systems. B. Hammond, commenting on the American system said: “[Early banks] arose from the need of a medium of exchange and a legal tender in the absence of...

    • The Efficiency of the French-canadian Farmer in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 103-124)
      F. Lewis and M. McInnis

      It is widely accepted that in the first half of the nineteenth century thehabitantof French Canada was inefficient in comparison with Canadian farmers of British origin. The French-Canadian has almost universally been described as backward, unenterprising, untutored, and resistant to improved techniques of husbandry, content to cultivate the land in what Lord Durham characterized as “. . . . the worst sort of small farming.”¹ The best-known paper in English on the subject is essentially a catalogue of the backward and inefficient farming practice to be found among the French-Canadian farmers, but this characterization is not just a...

  7. Part Three: Transition to Industrial Capitalism

    • Trends in the Business History of Canada, 1867–1914
      (pp. 127-140)
      R.T. Naylor

      The period from 1867 to 1914 has attracted a disproportionate share of Canadian historians’ attention, and for good reason. It was an era bounded at one end by the consolidation of the state structure of federated British North America, and at the other by the country’s reluctant entry into the twentieth century. It was the era when the foundations of state and nation, economy and society were laid in place. It witnessed the consolidation of the economy on a transcontinental basis—commercial and financial integration, the completion of the main pieces of infrastructure necessary for the wheat economy that followed,...

    • The Working Class and Industrial Capitalist Development in Ontario to 1890
      (pp. 141-166)
      G.S. Kealey and B.D. Palmer

      In the conclusion to his analysis of capitalist development in Russia, V.I. Lenin succinctly pointed to the twofold historic role of capital: first, to increase the productive forces of social labour; and second, to stimulate the socialization that labour. Both of these processes, however, manifested themselves in ways in different branches of various national economies. This chapter seeks briefly to outline aspects of this historic role of capital in Ontario, and set the stage for the following discussion of the Knights of Labor. For across the province the late nineteenth century witnessed the first truly unambiguous of stirrings of industrial...

    • The National Policy and the Rate of Prairie Settlement: A Review
      (pp. 167-188)
      K.H. Norrie

      Nineteenth seventy-nine marks the official centenary of the National Policy, and the unofficial one of what has become known as the national policy. The former terms refers to the broad-ranging structure of protective tariffs introduced by Conservative government of Sir J.A. Macdonald as promised in their 1878 election campaign. The latter, uncapitalized version is now taken to refer collectively to the combination of tariff, railway, land and immigration policies developed over the years after Confederation. Under most accounts, in fact, the national policy survived the electoral defeat of the Conservatives in 1896, with Sir W. Laurier and his government being...

    • A Revision of Canadian Economic Growth, 1870–1910 (A Challenge to the Gradualist Interpretation)
      (pp. 189-208)
      M. Altman

      The contemporary view of Canadian manufacturing growth and development during the post-Confederation-pre-World War I era has been shaped by the work of G. Bertram, who constructed estimates of constant dollar gross manufacturing output from which he derived annual growth rates. These growth rates suggest that Canadian manufacturing output increased, impressively, and with some regularity, from 1870 to 1910. This increase challenged, and, some would argue, undermined the view of the old economic history, exemplified the work of Skelton and Buckley, that Canadian manufacturing realized a sustained take-off only from 1896, following a rather dismal performance from the time of confederation...

  8. Part Four: Growth and Stagnation in the Twentieth Century

    • Capital Formation in Canada, 1896–1930
      (pp. 211-222)
      K.A.H. Buckley

      The production of wheat on the Canadian Prairies provided the basic economic opportunity in the economic development of Canada from 1896 to 1930. This oppurtunity attracted labour and capital to the direct exploitation of virgin land resources and induced investment throughout the economy in major and secondary tertiary industries and, through these, in housing and other communities facilities greater by many times than the investment on the agricultural frontier itself. This leverage effect, the most significant aspect of the frontier, was a determining factor in the development of Canada’s economic structure and, to a large extent, of its political structure...

    • Financial Development and Capital Formation
      (pp. 223-238)
      D. Mole

      A process of financial development improves the flow of funds between surplus and units and deficit units in an economy. If transactions are better organized they should be cheaper to undertake and borrowers and lenders will be able to do business at lower interest rates. J.G. Gurley and E.S. Shaw have suggested that the long downward trend in interest rates after 1920 was in part the result of the rapid financial innovation of the decade.¹ Also, if savers are offered more tempting stores of wealth (life insurance contracts, trust company deposits, or whatever) the general rate of saving may rise....

    • Economic Growth in the Atlantic Region, 1880–1940
      (pp. 239-266)
      D. Alexander

      It has been customary for historians to treat the Maritimes and Newfoundland as two regions rather than one. This reflects, very probably, nothing more credible than an academic inertia about widening horizons. Although there were profound differences in the level of economic activity and in the rate of growth of the two economies before World War II, R.E. Caves and R.H. Holton rightly pointed out nearly two decades ago that they shared a common economic niche.¹

      This essay has several purposes. The first is to encourage historians of the Atlantic region to make more efforts to bridge the Cabot Strait....

    • The Evolution of Quebec Government Spending, 1867–1969
      (pp. 267-275)
      R. Dupré

      There is a tradition in Canada of considering the province of Quebec, with its French-speaking and Catholic majority, as rather singular. One of the peculiarities most often stressed is the historical behaviour of its government. It is widely believed that Quebec did not have an interventionist government, contrary to the other Canadian provinces and indeed to most western countries, before the 1960s.¹ This thesis seeks to determine whether this was the case by analysing Quebec government spending from Confederation to the end of the “Quiet Revolution” in the period 1867 to 1969. Spending is of course only one of the...