Navigating the Historiography Part I

It’s time for another update! Since my last post, I’ve been spending most of my time on MA course material and TA responsibilities, leaving little room for thesis work. Still, I managed to make a little headway in my background reading.

Understanding the scholarship regarding the development of colonial Upper Canada has been an interesting process. A solid understanding of how historians have interpreted this era is critical for creating thoughtful research questions, and the more I read the more I grasp the general arguments about its early economic and political growth. My Zotero “Must Read” collection still vastly outnumbers my “Have Read” collection, but hey… one book at a time.

For anyone studying Canadian history, Harold Innis and Donald Creighton will undoubtedly come up at some point in the conversation. These men have provided some of the most fundamental arguments about the economic development of Canada with their examination of the fur trade and the movement of staple products like cod, timber, and wheat from the 17th century onward. I’ve learned the basics of their “staples thesis” and “Laurentian thesis” in the past, but have never actually read their books! Thus, I read the following:
(Craig is influential as well, and a little more recent)

Innis, Harold A., and Arthur J. Ray. 2017. The Fur Trade in Canada : An Introduction to Canadian Economic History. The Canada 150 Collection. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2017

Creighton, Donald, and Donald Creighton. 2002. The Empire of the St. Lawrence : A Study in Commerce and Politics. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2002.

Craig, Gerald M. 1963. Upper Canada : The Formative Years 1784-1841. The Canadian Centenary Series: V. 7. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1963.

Innis’ book was originally published in 1930, Creighton’s in 1937, and Craig’s in 1963. Historians generally will take information that was published almost a century ago with a grain of salt. That being said, the advanced age of these texts does not mean that their scholarship is invalid. On the contrary, I found these books to be extremely useful in my understanding of the early Upper and Lower Canadian economy, as they situate the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes in the broader context of a trans-Atlantic trade system. Innis argues in his “staples thesis” that Canada developed the way it did because of the lateral movement of staple products from the continent over to Britain, forming a cultural connection that impacted the building of socio-political and industrial structures in Canada. According to Creighton, it was specifically the St. Lawrence river system that facilitated this British merchant class monopoly on the market economy via staple exports. For more information, see Dr. Daniel MacFarlane’s excellent present-day analysis of the Laurentian thesis.

These three authors also discuss the relationship between Canada and the United States. With the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the American Revolution ended and a border was created, resulting in major consequences for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence trade system. The fact that Niagara is a border region holds exciting potential as I look into the relationship between the two nations during this period of transition. The authors also discuss the political relationship between the merchant class and the growing agricultural communities in Niagara after 1800. The class struggle that culminated in the 1837-38 Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions was seeded in the polarization of merchant and farming classes as the second generation of Loyalists matured. As I comprise my geospatial database of merchants, trade routes, and commodities, I am interested to see how my results align with these standard theories.

Next on the agenda is to read some more recent studies from the 1980s and 90s. I expect to see some revisions!

 

Ontario’s Bureau of Archives Reports

Happy New Year!

With one week of vacation left before school starts again, I spent some time looking through the very first reports ever made by Ontario’s provincial archives.

The Archives of Ontario were officially founded in Toronto in 1903 and originally titled the Bureau of Archives. The Bureau was first stationed in the Ontario Legislative Building, and now exist in their own site on Toronto’s York University campus. The first head archivist, a man named Alexander Fraser, was met with the enormous task of inventorying the items in the province’s collection, and deciding on a vision for their future preservation. The Bureau of Archives initially produced one report every year, detailing the inventories of documents in their possession, and even including full-texts of major collections.

The focus of these early reports was largely upon the late 18th and early 19th century formation of Upper Canada. The Legislative Assembly journals documented in the 1909 Sixth Report of the Bureau of Archives only record the years 1792-1804 (the first three parliaments), and the 1910 Seventh Report of the Bureau of Archives contains only Legislative Council records from 1792-1819. Clearly it took time to organize the collections and the archives eventually grew to include much more material. For my purposes however, these first reports are wonderful sources of information since I am working between the approximate dates of 1775-1822.

I came across some fascinating files, one example which I will post here. This image is from the 1904 Second Report of the Bureau of Archives Part I. In 1783, a Commission was assembled to “enquire into the Losses and Services of all such Persons who have suffered in their Rights, Properties, and Professions, during the late unhappy dissentions in America, in consequence of their Loyalty to his Majesty and Attachment to the British Government” (p. 13). It looks like their first wave of 2,063 claimants listed a total of almost £10 million (close to $50 million) in wartime losses. Can you imagine having this job??

Inkedwar losses_LI

In addition to Commission reports, the Bureau Reports include a variety of documents such as the meeting minutes of the first Land Boards, Government Proclamations, interactions with the Huron people, proceedings of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, maps, personal collections, and other sundries. These Reports from 1903-1920 can be read here on the Internet Archive… you don’t even have to leave your house!

There is so much primary source information to work through here, but after looking through the Reports as well as scouring every inch of the Archives’ website, I now have a better idea of what is available online, what I can access via Interloan at Brock, and what I’ll actually need to go there for in person. Knowing where to look for specific information on shipping ports, shop locations, trade routes, merchant families, commodity production and consumption, and laws and regulations surrounding trade is time consuming, but vital to the foundations of my spatial project. These reports are just one avenue of data collection that I am excited to explore further.