Rebellion and Reform
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Rebellion and Reform
Canada at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century
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The Economic Situation
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the timber industry had replaced the fur trade as the economic engine of British North America.
In the first half of the 1800s, logging replaced the fur trade as Canada's dominant industry. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
In the first half of the 1800s, logging replaced the fur trade as Canada's dominant industry. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Canada's economy depended heavily on its export trade to England.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte imposed a blockade on all of Europe preventing trade with England. Deprived of wood from Scandinavia, England turned instead to Canada's forests. The wood was mostly used for building ships. England had to build ships in order to pursue its war against Napoleon.

Each year, hundreds of ships loaded with oak and elm left Quebec City, the capital of Lower Canada, and Saint John, New Brunswick, heading for Great Britain. The Royal William, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, was built in Quebec, one of the main centres for shipbuilding.

In Lower Canada, land became more and more difficult to obtain under the seigneurial regime.
British North American wood was used to build ships in Quebec City and other colonial ports in the 1800s. . (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
British North American wood was used to build ships in Quebec City and other colonial ports in the 1800s. . (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The landowners, the seigneurs, demanded ever-higher rents. The shortage of new land to clear forced many peasants to abandon agriculture and look for work in the towns.

By 1830, Montreal had become the principal economic centre of the two Canadas. Its wealth was controlled by a handful of merchants and industrialists from the anglophone upper classes, men such as Peter McGill who became president of the Bank of Montreal in 1834. Rue Saint-Laurent / St. Lawrence Blvd. became an invisible barrier between rich and poor, anglophone and francophone.

Just before the rebellion of 1837, the economic situation became particularly difficult in Upper and Lower Canada. Harvests had been bad. Near Quebec, the situation was desperate.
On January 9, 1837, a correspondent from the newspaper Le Canadien reported:

"Times are so hard that some habitants have taken to eating their own horses. Harvests have fallen short for four years now and many habitants don't have even a potato. It is certain that most of them will die of hunger, if relief is not provided to them."

In 1847, the economy of Upper and Lower Canada sustained a huge blow when England adopted a free-trade policy. England abandoned preferential tariffs, which gave raw materials from its colonies preferential access to the British market. The Great Famine was devastating Ireland. In order to help its victims, England to had to be in the position to buy food products, above all wheat, at the lowest cost.

Since they were no longer forced to pay higher prices for goods from the colonies, English industrialists and merchants hailed the move.
They could now procure raw materials where they were the cheapest.

The economic future of a united Canada was uncertain: exports had slowed down and jobs were scarce. Businessmen pointed the finger at the free trade policy adopted by the British government. It wasn't until 1849 that Canada became prosperous again.

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Current Topic:
Rebellion and Reform
Next
The Seventh Report on Grievances
Canada at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century
The Economic Situation
Rising Population and Immigration
The Countryside of the Two Canadas
A Petition against the Seigneurial Regime
The Cholera Epidemic of 1832
NEXT CHAPTER:
The Reformers' Protests

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