The King’s Mills in Niagara-on-the-Lake (1784-1794)

Hi all, it’s been a while since my last post so it’s time I give an update on my research!

Things are slowly coming together here; my data set is growing and my analysis of Niagara’s early economy continues to develop. I’ve made a few ArcGIS map drafts now, and I’ll post the latest one here in this blog so you can see what I’ve been working on. Keep in mind that these maps are continually developing and still need fine tuning, but they’ve been useful so far in revealing a few things about local development that I hadn’t really considered before.

Continuing with the Servos accounts that I had written about in previous posts, I wanted to visualize these patterns of local exchange, specifically in the markets of lumber and flour which were two of the province’s main staple products during the 19th century. For the sake of brevity I’ll only discuss Niagara’s wheat economy in this blog post. Because this analysis investigates a span of only one decade (1784-1794), the results are somewhat limited; my conclusions are tentative as I continue to collect data for the next two decades. This analysis, albeit narrowly focused, reveals valuable information about Niagara’s early economy. By looking at this market I considered some of the questions commonly discussed in Canadian economic history such as:

  1. Agency, or the question of who held power within society, and how was it manifested? What does this map tell us about the choices made by farmers in Niagara, the level of British investment or the influence of merchants?
  2. What does the quantity of product and its movement through the region reveal about Niagara’s skilled labour force, reaction to market fluctuations, or the overall demand for the product? Who was involved in this supply chain and how?
  3. What was the impact of geography on settlement and rural trade patterns?

Method:

This map is a projection of the data found in Volume 1 of Niagara miller Daniel Servos’ account books, recording transactions at the King’s Mills in Niagara-on-the-Lake from the years 1784-1794. For more info on Servos and the King’s Mills, see my last post. I created an Excel spreadsheet with the name of the customer, their township of residence, the quantity of flour they had milled, and its value in shillings. Then, using historical maps of Niagara townships I determined the location of the individuals’ farms and entered the appropriate X and Y coordinates into the spreadsheet.

This method is time consuming yet rewarding, one of my main issues being the fact that not every account can be accurately pinpointed. Some names are indecipherable, some don’t appear in any maps, censuses or archival references, and some owned multiple pieces of land in different townships. These X and Y coordinates are the result of weeks of research and provide a general picture of farm locations in Niagara with a few possible outliers, which can’t be avoided when dealing with incomplete amalgamations of sources.

The GIS contains a few historical maps of Niagara townships in the late 18th century, a modern soil map, the flour and lumber sales per year, and the peninsula’s very first saw & grist mills. If you click on the arrow on the left side of the map a legend will appear and you can toggle the layers for each of the years to see who interacted with Servos at the King’s Mills, what they were selling, the quantity, price, and where their home farm was located. I’ve embedded the map below, but it is easier to work with from the ArcGIS Desktop App if you click on this link: https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=14b75b69233c4b078ae4d1e5efafea14

Map Analysis: What Does it Mean?

Communities in Niagara were centered around saw and grist mills as an economic junction where production and consumption took place. Historian Joshua MacFayden talks about this concept in his book on Canada’s 19th century flax industry, saying that a flax mill was “a place where former slave owners, Unionists, and escaped slaves worked together, not equally, and not exactly cheek by jowl, but together.” [1] The Servos accounts show a similar union of people from all walks of life; ex-slaves like Peter Long, prominent Mohawk women like Molly Brant and merchants like Samuel Street and Robert Hamilton intersected at the King’s Mills, forming a web of social and material interactions.

The King’s Mills brought people together from within Niagara township, but the map shows that for the first few years people had to travel great distances to mill their wheat and corn. In total, 65% of the 179 people that held an account with Servos between 1784-1794 lived within 10 miles of the mills. You can see this more clearly by clicking on the King’s Mill Buffer in the legend. The other 35% came from other parts of the Niagara peninsula, spanning as far west as Grimsby and as far south as Fort Erie and Port Colbourne. The escarpment didn’t prevent people from bringing their crops down to the King’s Mills, and some of these journeys would take 2-3 days. Why was this the case?

At first it was out of necessity. The map shows that in the years 1784-1789, Servos had a few customers come to NOTL from Clinton and Grimsby Townships, but they stopped coming by 1790. This was because at first there were no other gristmills in the peninsula for the settlers of these districts to use, and thus they had no other options but to travel the far distance. Once the mills on the Thirty and Forty Mile Creeks were built in 1789, Servos no longer saw those customers.

The King’s Mills brought together people from different townships within the Niagara district, forming social connections that spanned regional boundaries. When Grimsby farmer Jacob Glover came to Servos with wheat and corn, he left with a milled product but also brown sugar and rum. [2] Servos also charged him for one night’s lodging, making rent income a byproduct of his milling enterprise. People who brought pine logs to Servos would leave the mills having also bought flour for their families. The exchanges in these early days are not terribly complex, but they show the formation of a greater community in the Niagara peninsula… one that did not discriminate based on class, gender or ethnicity. The map forces us to think of these people spatially and take into account the unique transportation challenges many faced.


I plotted the other mills that appeared in Niagara between 1783-1792 onto the map as well. According to Surveyor General D. W. Smith, there were 14 sawmills and 10 gristmills in the Niagara peninsula in 1792. [3] I added an escarpment layer to the map and when activated we can see that 15/24 of the mills were built atop the escarpment. While this natural feature was in many ways an impediment to transport, the settlers were still able to harness its natural power to their benefit.

Like the King’s Mills, these other mills interspersed throughout the Niagara region each functioned as a hub of socio-economic activity for their individual townships. Burch’s Mills at the top of Niagara Falls serviced the entire Stamford & Willoughby townships. We can see in the map that the King’s Mills only had two customers from that area, even though Stamford and Niagara Township bordered one another. Both the King’s Mills and Burch’s Mills annually serviced the same 10-40 families within a 10-mile radius during this first decade, creating invisible lines that formed distinct communities.

Loyalist settlers required permission from the authorities if they wanted to build a mill, but half of the mills in this first decade were built without permission. Having multiple options for milling in these communities fostered competition, exemplified in Niagara Township as there were three different families operating mills on the Four Mile Creek by 1792. If you turn on the 1784 Niagara-on-the-Lake map layer and the Secord Mill buffer, you’ll see that the northern half of the Niagara district interacted with the King’s Mills more so than the lower half.

What this means is that the Secord Mills were likely taking those customers. If you turn on the Secord Mill Buffer and turn on all of the flour sale layers post-1787 there are only eight customers living within a 3-mile radius of the Secord Mills that chose to have their products milled at the King’s Mills. The other 80% of the King’s Mill customers in the Niagara district came from the northern half. Servos’ accounts show between 11-44 customers using the King’s Mills in the first decade of settlement. This doesn’t seem like very many people, especially since some of them only came to the mill once or twice in a year, but the Secord Mills could have been getting the same number of annual customers which would mean there was actually a lot more business going on in Niagara at this time than the account books suggest. Since I don’t know of any Secord account books in existence to support this hypothesis, I am making an assumption through the map projection that they provided a significant contribution to the settlement at Niagara, especially for a few years when the King’s sawmill was out of commission.

Having three different millers (Servos, Secord & Lutes) operating in this small area within the period of a decade show the population growing at a pace that required more than one miller to process the amount of wheat, corn, and lumber being brought in. Competition is a good thing because it pushes each person to produce the best quality outputs and offer fair prices to consumers. These milling developments in Niagara indicate rapid growth, accessibility, and allowed each person to make their own choice when investing in the economy.


ArcGIS maps are useful to spatial histories in their ability to combine elements of geography and history. Topographical studies of the Niagara region including field surveys and remote sensing are generated by modern researchers but can also apply to historical analyses. For example, if you turn on the 1989 Niagara soils layer it provides another dimension to this study. How did the quality of farmland affect settlement?

Another reason why the King’s Mills received fewer customers from the southern portion of Niagara township could be because it contained poorer soil than the north. There are a multitude of soil types in the Niagara peninsula ranging from sand to hard clay, and there are not many places where someone couldn’t grow a crop… especially the hardier crops like corn, wheat, rye, and buckwheat. One would think that Niagara-on-the-Lake would be prime farmland, being known for having a microclimate conducive to growing tender fruits. However, there are parts of Niagara-on-the-Lake that have hard clay soil (indicated as light and dark green areas), especially in the southwestern portion, that make crop growth more difficult than in other areas. Hence why the land is now home to the Niagara airport and not another vineyard! I think that extending this analysis another two decades will really indicate whether soil was the issue in that part of Niagara, pushing people to engage in other forms of labour or to sell the land and move further west.

Some historical maps of Niagara provide hints of what the soil was like. If you turn on the 1818 Francis Hall map layer, it shows the Louth/western Grantham area as “Black Swamp.” There was a distinct lack of customers from these areas throughout this entire period, which might have been intensified by land drainage issues. These lands on the Lake Ontario shoreline are described in primary sources as being extremely wet; people tried methods of building dams and digging trenches to dry out the ground. Elizabeth Simcoe even wrote that the Iroquois trail that ran along the bottom of the escarpment, now known as Hwy 8, was often obstructed. [4]

“The Governor thinks the country will derive great benefit by opening a road on the top of the mountain (where it is quite dry) from Niagara to the “Head of the Lake,” [Burlington] instead of going a most terrible road below, full of swamps, fallen trees, etc.”

When studying rural economies it is important to understand the geographic factors that affected settlement. In Niagara we know that the escarpment hindered north-south transportation, but historical & modern maps can show the greater extent of these issues. A snowball effect took place as wet land meant poor road construction, which meant limitations on transportation, which meant people often only went to the King’s Mill in the wintertime, which meant it was important to build good quality sleighs and own healthy oxen, but also that participation in the economy was limited by geographic features. One’s wealth and status did not matter; the playing field was leveled by these shared obstacles. Living near to a mill or waterway was a huge advantage, and these early lessons learned by Loyalist settlers formed the framework for roads that we still use today. Historian Andrew Burghart says that in Niagara the towns created the roads, not vice versa. [5] He means that although the Iroquois trail was formed by Indigenous peoples that hunted and traveled through Niagara, it was not always a viable route for a settler economy that relied on the movement of wagons with heavy bulk goods like grains and lumber. Therefore, north-south roads developed along the creeks in response to the needs of the new settlers.


The map also shows that it took at least ten years for a farm to become well-established in Niagara to the point where it could produce beyond subsistence and sell flour in bulk to merchants. Isaac Horton’s accounts provide a good example of these static numbers over the years, as he had 355lbs of flour milled by Servos in 1787, 394lbs in 1791, and 241lbs in 1794. There was a gradual rise in the number of customers at the King’s Mills per year, from eleven people in 1786 to thirty in 1793. The number of customers tripled within a decade, as did the amount of flour being milled, but the growth was not exponential. The price of a counterweight (112 lbs) of flour in 1793 was worth half of what it was worth in 1786. This meant that even though people were milling around the same quantity of flour each year, they were actually earning less as time went on.

It’s also noteworthy that during the “hunger winter” of 1787-88, Servos milled more flour than he had in previous years. Although first-hand accounts mention a poor crop yield that season, the famine cannot be completely attributed to a lack of food in Niagara. Rather, this was the year that the British government stopped sending rations to the area, resulting in a winter of rough adjustment for the Loyalists.

King’s Grist Mill Annual Figures

YearNo. of CustomersFlour Produced (cwt)Average Price per Cwt (s)Value of Flour Milled (£/cwt)
17861119.16360.1
17872027.536.650.3
17882230.834.252.7
17891820.541.742.7
17902222.440.245.1
17913063.732101.9
17922769.926.592.6
17933065.02994.1
179444Incomplete Data29.7Incomplete Data
Data gathered from “Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. MS 538. Archives of Ontario

The ArcGIS map also hints that a large portion of the Niagara peninsula was still uninhabited by 1794, which slowed development. Although the entire peninsula had been surveyed & assigned to settlers, and many 100-acre plots had even changed ownership, much of the land in these districts were owned in bulk by retired officers of the British military. Surnames like McNab, Bradt, TenBroek, Butler, and Hare are seen often, some of them owning 1000-2000 acres. According to a 1783 census there were 46 families living in the district of Niagara with each family owning one or two 100-acre plots but each family cultivated only an average of 10 acres per year. If families could only improve that small amount of land, that means that hundreds of acres along the Lake Ontario shoreline were not being used.

Political reformer Robert Gourlay’s 1822 Statistical Account of Upper Canada shows that this was still an issue much later, land speculators buying thousands of acres and letting them lay bare for decades. Governor Simcoe and other provincial leaders encouraged settlement in Niagara, but saw the danger of having so many families in the peninsula originate in the American colonies, despite their oaths of loyalty to King George III. Gourlay argued that for Niagara to prosper it required a larger unskilled labour force to work on the farms and heighten agricultural production, but the way in which land was initially distributed retarded the potential for success as it slowed road construction and isolated localities. [6]


In this analysis the ArcGIS map suggests that farmers were greatly impacted by their geographical location both on a large and small scale, and they made choices that facilitated growth during this first decade of settlement. The developments in local milling indicated settler agency. Farmers chose who to trade and work with, made land improvements and developed capital assets without always asking for government assent. They saw the potential that Niagara had to offer including the gravitational benefits of the escarpment, a moderate climate and plenty of space for growth.

Government rations were only handed out for the first 3 years, so the people supported themselves very early on, but were aided by the fact that their taxes were low and they didn’t have to pay for their land, received restitution from war loss claims, and some got half-pay as officers in the military. These benefits provided a foundation for the farmers to work with, however, they still needed money to purchase seed, pay for milling services and other farm help, as well as farm tools & miscellaneous household items. Since cash was scarce, this resulted in the debt economy for the first few years as people paid each other back mostly through exchange of goods and labour. The government also controlled the influx of people settling in Upper Canada and their initial distribution of titles for land. Some of these decisions created long-term challenges that effectively slowed progress until the mid-19th century industrial period.

Merchants were not making a profit off of the work of Niagara’s settlers quite yet. Robert Hamilton made a lot of money during this decade, but it was not because of his ties to the local market, rather his other enterprises with the portage and his connections to partners in Detroit and Kingston. Hamilton’s interactions with Servos in these ten years only indicate that Servos delivered 35 loads of unspecified goods to him between Feb-May 1787, earning a total of £3.5 for this work. If merchants were buying large quantities of flour from settlers, it would have showed up in Servos’ accounts as bulk sales in the credits section.

The typical narrative of economic historians for Upper Canada during this period focuses on the importance of either staple materials themselves or the economic relationships in forming our nation’s socio-political structures. Joshua MacFayden suggests a social constructivist approach regarding the flax industry where “all societies set out ‘paths and diversions’ to establish terms by which objects are circulated and exchanged.” [7] It certainly seems that Niagara in the first decade of settlement adhered to the latter theory as farmers exhibited this agency in many forms. We are not seeing specific products dominate the local market or societal classes form based on commercial links. As the analysis continues and flour production ramps up, I am interested to see how these patterns develop.

Sources:
[1] Joshua MacFayden, Flax Americana: A History of the Fibre and Oil That Covered a Continent, (Monreal & Kingston: McGill-McQueen’s Press, 2018), 35.
[2] “Account Book Volume I 1785-1795″. Daniel Servos Records 1779-1826. No. 42. MS 538. Archives of Ontario.
[3] Ernest Cruikshank, Notes on the history of the district of Niagara, 1791-1793, (Welland: Welland Tribune Print, 1914), 49, accessed from Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/notesonhistoryof26crui/page/n6/mode/2up.
[4] “The diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, wife of the first lieutenant-governor of the province of Upper Canada, 1792-6,” ed. J. Ross Robertson, (Toronto: W. Briggs, 1911), 319, accessed through Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/diaryofmrsjohngr00simcuoft/page/318/mode/2up.
[5] Andrew Burghardt, “The Origin and Development of the Road Network of the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, 1770-1851”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 59, no. 3 (1969), 435, accessed January 2020, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2561724.
[6] Robert Gourlay, Statistical Account of Upper Canada, (London: Simpkin & Marshall, 1822), 428, accessed from Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/statisticalaccou02gouruoft/page/n6/mode/2up.
[7] MacFayden, Flax Americana, 18.

Visualizing Historiographical Data

Hi there, it’s been a while. This semester is coming to a close and thank goodness we are finally getting some spring weather!

This post and the next one are a little different from all of my posts so far in that they are also assignments for a required course I am taking at Brock as part of my Master’s thesis. The course is entitled Visualizing Historical Research and the aim is to work with different tools of data visualization to engage with history in a way that we as historians are not quite as familiar with. This course fits neatly with my current research as I work to visualize the spatial relationships between colonial settlers in the Niagara region, and I have learned a few useful things from this course this past semester.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that over the past six months I have been studying the scholarship of Canadian economic history, and now I need to organize the historiography in a clear manner. Of course, I could do this textually by simply writing down names and titles of books, describing the themes and categories that have appeared over the past century, but another helpful way of organizing such information is by using visualizations. This first blog post will discuss the benefits and limitations of the Timeline and the Venn Diagram when presenting historiographical information.

In his 2006 paper on the history of data visualization, American psychologist and statistician Michael Friendly states that the timeline was first used as an educational tool by natural philosophers and physicists of the 18th century, namely men like Joseph Priestly and Jacques Barbeau-Dubourg. [1] They were used to chart the progression of an individual’s biography, indicating the most noteworthy moments in the person’s life. Timelines are a good way of showing influential moments, and thus I thought it might be a good idea to create one that shows the different categories of historiography that appeared over time, pertaining to my area of research. Using Microsoft PowerPoint and aided by Carl Berger’s The Writing of Canadian history: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing since 1900, I organized some of who I felt were the most influential historians into distinct categories. The result looked like this.

Click to enlarge

Timeline Overview
As you can see, I began with the 1930s and Harold Innis, a scholar that I have written about multiple times already in this blog. I grouped Innis, Creighton, Lower, and Careless into the category of “traditional economic history,” since the staples thesis and the Laurentian thesis largely form the basis for contemporary studies of Canadian economic development. Economic history became overshadowed by political biographies, and eventually became popular again by the 1960s when historians like W. L. Morton began to look at economic developments as regional studies, understanding that patterns of growth and decline are subject to their own environments. This is clearly important for my study, since I am putting a regional focus on these questions of enterprise and transfers of commodities. Out of that came work influenced by the Annales school, and a re-emerging interest in political economy, and eventually social history. Histories involving a closer look at ethnicity, gender, sexuality, labour, and religion gave another dimension to how we view Canada’s past. However, as Canada entered into a new millennium, fragmentation within the study of Canadian history had reached a crisis point. Ian McKay eventually wrote the essay “The Liberal Order Framework” which argues that historians should approach Canada “not as ‘an essence we must defend or an empty homogenous space we must possess,’ but rather as an ongoing ‘project of liberal rule.’”[2] In other words, instead of looking at Canada within its geographical boundaries, this framework investigates how liberalism as a specific worldview affected the way in which colonial peoples interacted, made decisions, and saw the world. Finally, one of the most popular ways that we approach history today is with a post-colonial consensus that Indigenous people are integral to any study of Canadian history; that we should not just view them as victims but rather try to understand how they displayed agency through their daily choices.

Issues
Although I used colour coding techniques to match the authors with their categories and produced a timeline that I felt adequately reflected some of the most basic moments in the historiography of Canadian economic development, I found the timeline visualization to be problematic when demonstrating the existing scholarship of my more specific topic. This timeline shows the viewer a basic categorization of developments over time, but it is far too broad to help me visualize the nuances of my Loyalist-Era, Niagara based project. One problem is that placing an historian into rigid, one-dimensional categories assumes that they are incapable of exploring more than one topic in their writing; an absurd presumption. For example, I placed Allan Greer under the category of “Annales school” even though he could also fit under the umbrella of “Regionalism.” I began to realize that imposing a specific beginning or end date to these categories does not accurately reflect the hundreds of people who might adhere to tenets of “Regional” or “Social” or “Traditional” histories outside of the boundaries I had prescribed here. Am I not currently in 2019 working on a regionally focused history of my own? Am I not also basing some of my assumptions on “traditional” theories?

A timeline’s singular categories do not permit engagement with multiple groups, but they also do not take into account the wide variety of economic and communication theories that historians have created and adapted over time. Scholars placed in different categories, while focusing on different topics can still share theoretical approaches to studies of economy. For example, both Ian McKay and Allan Greer display Marxist approaches to their writing of history. This timeline does not show these authors’ theories about how trade functioned, who held the power in economic relationships, and what drove the business networks in a certain place at a certain point in history. These categories alone show nothing of historians’ engagement with theories of environmental determinism, materialism, Marxism, economic determinism, or liberalism.

Another issue that arose was with the broad categorization of “social history.” From around the 1960s onward, gender history, Indigenous peoples’ histories, labour history, histories of religion, and more were all becoming more prominent in academia and despite their vast differences are all grouped under the same category. Ultimately, I realized that the timeline is far too general, squeezing historians into one-dimensional categories and ignoring their multi-faceted approaches to history that encompass a variety of geographical areas and time periods. Because of this, I wondered if there could ever be an ideal way of visually presenting historiographical information.

Solution
However, dealing with the issue of overlapping categories made me consider the solution of using a Venn Diagram. I wanted to show how my thesis fit into existing scholarship, so I substantially narrowed my focus. While researching the historiography of my topic, I realized that historians have studied Canadian economic development, the Niagara region, and the Loyalist era before, but few have studied all three simultaneously. This diagram shows the three areas that my project covers in terms of space, time period, and category of analysis. Canadian historians have always been fascinated by Loyalist history, many publishing studies of loyalism in Ontario, but these studies are mostly socio-political in nature, discussing the structural development of Upper Canadian government, the Family Compact and the tensions leading to the 1837-38 Rebellions. A general trajectory of Canadian economic history has developed over time, encompassing the growth of trade networks, migration patterns and industrialization throughout the large geographic area, but does not accurately reflect the economic development of Niagara itself. Finally, those historians that do look at the economic history of Niagara in most cases study the area in its early industrial years, focusing on the building of the Welland Canals and the railway system. These historians are completing their studies upon scholarship that has a weak substructure. There is a clear need for more in-depth studies of the very economic foundations of the Niagara region.

Placing the work of Canadian historians within classifications of:
1) Space (Niagara)
2) Time (Loyalist era)
3) Category of Analysis (Economic)

This Venn diagram eliminates the issue of singularly categorizing historians, allowing them to fill as many as three categories here. By looking at this diagram, you can see that there are a lot of Canadian historians who have studied Canadian economic history in the colonial period, but studying the Niagara region in a more specific lens is less common. You can also see that there are a couple of historians that do analyze all three areas. Bruce Wilson especially has contributed to this area of study in his 1983 book about the enterprises of Robert Hamilton, who was Niagara’s most prominent merchant in this time period. There are still issues with a Venn diagram, like the fact that it only allows for three categories. However, it is possible to make more complicated Venn diagrams with four or five circles if you want to get really specific.

What is a Mind Map? Taken from iMindMap.com

Other Ideas
There are many other ways that historiography could be visualized. Mind mapping is another effective way of organizing one’s thoughts, showing the relative importance of each point based on its size or location on the page, and showing how the points relate to one another.

Check out this video featuring Tony Buzan, the inventor of the Mind Map, as he explains some of the best practices for creating your own.


Notes:
[1] Michael Friendly, “A Brief History of Data Visualization,” in Handbook of Computational Statistics: Data Visualization, eds. Chen, Hardle & Unwin (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2006), 7.
[2] Jean-Francois Constant and Michael Ducharme, “Introduction: A Project of Rule Called Canada,” in Constant and Ducharme eds., Liberalism and Hegemony: Debating the Canadian Liberal Revolution, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), 4.

Mapping New Knowledges Conference

Last Thursday, Brock University held its 14th annual Mapping the New Knowledges Student Research Conference, where graduate students from all departments are welcome to share their research in either oral or poster presentations throughout the day.

I was pleased to present my poster, share my research, and gather advice throughout the day, making it a successful first-ever conference appearance for me.

My fellow MA history students shared their work as well. It was a great way to meet new people and form new connections in a trans-disciplinary atmosphere. Thank-you to Brock’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Students’ Association for organizing the conference!

Navigating the Historiography Part 2

Okay, another round of secondary sources, here we go.

Last month I was working through some of the more traditional economic histories of early Canada that most Canadian history buffs are familiar with (Innis and Creighton). This month, I’ve read some more recent work that puts the focus on regional studies. In the process, I learned the importance of understanding history in a more localized context, and not always viewing the past with a broad lens.

Two of the authors discuss similar histories, focused on rural nineteenth century Nova Scotia, and one author provides a gendered approach to this subject which has been traditionally dominated by studies of men.

Bittermann, Rusty. “The Hierarchy of the Soil: Land and Labour in a 19th Century Cape Breton Community” Acadiensis 18, no. 1 (1988): 33-55. https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/Acadiensis/article/view/12258/0.

Morgan, Cecilia. Public Men and Virtuous Women: The Gendered Languages of Religion and Politics in Upper Canada, 1791-1850. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Samson, Daniel. The Spirit of Industry and Improvement: Liberal Government and Rural-Industrial Society, Nova Scotia, 1790-1862. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2008

Rusty Bittermann and Daniel Samson study the history of rural Nova Scotia, and each tackle topics of power dynamics in society, examining how farmers responded to industrialization, capitalism, shifts in labour and demographics in the mid 1800s. (Danny Samson also happens to be my supervisor… which made our discussions about these books easier in some ways, and harder in other ways, haha). Bittermann argues that the settlement of Middle River, NS experienced differentiation of wealth and influence over time. The initial distribution of resources to colonists created divisions that just became deeper throughout the 19th century. As people born into slightly more privileged circumstances put that wealth into investing in resources like land, tools, and labour, they created assets that could be passed onto future generations, therefore entrenching the wealth disparity (p. 34). Samson argues that the development of rural economies in Nova Scotia is slightly more nuanced, seeing farmers not as proletarians succumbing to the inescapable confines of capitalism, but as men and women who occasionally achieved success by other means. In this book we see examples of both successful farmers and poorer “backlanders” making choices that allowed for improvement within society (agricultural, educational, etc.), therefore suggesting that social stratification was fluid rather than entrenched.

These arguments have clear ties to my own research of 18th and 19th century Niagara, and showed me that these types of regional studies hold lot of potential for valuable discovery. Did the same social stratifications exist between farmers in Niagara? Did wealth disparities become entrenched or was equality easier to obtain? How did geographical features like the “Black Swamp” on the south shore of Lake Ontario (see map above) affect settlement patterns and subsequent crop growth? In a similar vein, how did merchants interact with farmers, and what was the role of paternalism in their relationship over this short but turbulent time period? Doing these readings has brought up a lot of new, but important questions that I hope to answer as I begin looking through primary sources.

Cecilia Morgan’s book provides an interesting look at Upper Canada from a more socio-political standpoint, dismissing the traditional argument that men and women of the nineteenth century operated only within their own public and private spheres of life. She examines gender roles throughout the century, arguing that masculinity could be defined both at home and in the workplace, and that females exerted influence in public places like temperance parades and church bazaars. She relies heavily on newspaper accounts for evidence, which I thought was a fascinating avenue of understanding the politics, religion, and social standards in this time period. I am currently TA-ing a Post-Confederation Canada history course at Brock where just this past week the students completed an assignment that forced them to think about the ways in which newspapers can prove useful to historians… well here’s another good example!

Thanks for reading!

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.

 

Making Progress with ArcGIS Pro

Hi again!

Just thought I’d give a quick update on how my GIS training has been going. It’s getting towards the end of the Fall semester here, and I’ve been busy writing papers and grading essays, but there’s still been time to squeeze in a GIS tutorial here and there. ESRI’s ArcGIS Pro website has a number of tutorials available to teach users the basics of this new software. Since I already have the program downloaded onto my laptop, I am able to do these practice runs from anywhere, which is super handy. I go to this website here:

http://pro.arcgis.com/en/pro-app/get-started/pro-quickstart-tutorials.htm 

There are a number of different tutorials to choose from. So far, I’ve learned how to navigate maps, add data to a project, import an ArcMap document, convert a map to a scene, and symbolize layers. 

This was a fun one. “Adding Data to a Project” allowed me to visualize how flooding might affect the city of Wellington, New Zealand, based on its current topography:

I don’t know how long each of these are supposed to take… but one will usually take me about 45 minutes to complete. Using this software is like learning a new language… it’s not similar to anything I’ve ever had to do before. I have to click on every single tab, pane, and layer to see what it does, and I have to read about every single function that ArcGIS Pro is able to perform. Historians are trained to be quick readers. When you have to read about a book a week per class, you learn to find those main arguments, and skim over the less pertinent information. (Otherwise you’ll never get anything else done!) Learning GIS is a completely different process. There is no big picture approach to understanding the program… it’s a step-by-step learning process and there is no “skimming” allowed. I am hoping that eventually the process becomes quicker and easier, since right now I look like my 87 year old grandfather when he tries to type an email.

Sharon from Brock’s MDGL just sent over a particularly interesting tutorial entitled “Quantitative mapping for ArcGIS Pro” which is a little more in line with the type of work that I will be doing in the upcoming months. This tutorial explains how to use statistical data, in this case local census data, to map the housing and education profiles of the population of St. Catharines. I will be working with similar types of quantitative data, so this one looks to be very useful.

In addition to tutorials, I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the past few months in order to get a better idea of how historical GIS can expand the potential of analysis for this project. Here’s just a few books and articles that I’ve read so far:

Bonnell, Jennifer and Marcel Fortin, eds. Historical GIS Research in Canada. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2014.

Gregory, Ian and Alistair Geddes. Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Heasley, Lynne. “Shifting Boundaries on a Wisconsin Landscape: Can GIS Help Historians Tell a Complicated Story?” Human Ecology 31, no. 2 (2003): 183–213.

Knowles, A.K., and A. Hiller. Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS are Changing Historical Scholarship. Redlands, California: ESRI Press, 2008.

Novak, Mathew J., and Jason A. Gilliland. “Trading Places: A Historical Geography of Retailing in London, Canada.” Social Science History 35, no. 4 (2011): 543–7

Wood, Justin. “‘How Green Is My Valley?’ Desktop Geographic Information Systems as a Community-Based Participatory Mapping Tool.” Area 37, no. 2 (2005): 159–70

Digital historians argue that historical GIS was once a creative appendage to research, but it is now directly driving analyses of the past! (Gregory & Geddes, 2014) The investigative capabilities of GIS detect patterns that historical narratives alone cannot, providing a variety of angles for analyzing Niagara’s merchandising networks.

That’s it for now. Back to grading…

A Bumpy Start

So the past two weeks have held the typical grad school workload of reading, applying for grants, reading, TA-ing, reading, writing papers, and of course… more reading. I have been trying to gain  an understanding of the general layout of the historiography of colonial Canadian economics up until this point. This process is clearly going to take a while, but through all this reading I’ve already picked up a few themes and made a few connections where I think my research will make a contribution. Here’s just a handful of the books I’ve read since my last blog post:

Clarke, John. Land, Power, and Economics on the Frontier of Upper Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001.

J. K. Johnson. Becoming Prominent: Leadership in Upper Canada, 1791-1841. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989.

McCalla, Douglas. Consumers in the Bush: Shopping in Rural Upper Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014.

McCalla, Douglas. Planting the Province: the economic history of Upper Canada, 1784-1870. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

Samson, Daniel., ed. Contested Countryside: Rural Workers and Modern Society in Atlantic Canada, 1800-1950. Acadiensis, 1994.

Wilson, Bruce. The Enterprises of Robert Hamilton: a study of wealth and influence in early Upper Canada, 1776-1812. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1983.

Much of this research was propelled by the deadlines for SSHRC and OGS applications for funding next year. To be honest, working through all of this material was difficult. It was an information overload, and I had a hard time piecing together the authors’ arguments.  I took notes and extracted what I felt was pertinent, but was left with multiple sets of separate notes with no comprehension of how they related to one another.

Thanks to the past four years of university, I knew it was possible to power through this mental block. I just needed to take a step back and start over, assembling one theme at a time. Eventually, a few major arguments became clear and I’ve since gained a basic level of understanding from these Canadian historians. This GIS-driven project is fundamentally about merchant networks, but situates itself within Canadian historiographical arguments about power dynamics in burgeoning colonial societies. I’m excited by the fact that Niagara was a strategic location for the British due to its place within the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes network.

This study also aligns itself with discourse on the “staples thesis” (economic development being driven by staples like wheat, fish, and furs), promoted by Harold Innis in the 1930s, since Niagara was a region that produced materials for both local and national consumption. Debates surrounding the significance of rural consumption have arisen in the past few decades to counter staples theorists’ claims (McCalla, 1993 and Clarke, 2001). The manner by which early local development occurred in Niagara fits into these larger conversations, and due to its significant location on the American border includes transnational, military, and fur trade dimensions. The relationships between the existing merchant elite and the authorities designated by an overseas government are also ripe for further exploration.

This was me on Tuesday, when everything finally clicked:


My advice for other students experiencing mental blocks:

1) Don’t give up! Try another approach, different scenery, take a walk, read something completely different for a while, take some time to recharge, but don’t quit.
2) Ask for help! My supervisor is the one who suggested I take a break and read something else. Guidance in these ways is crucial to your success, and you won’t get as far on your own, no matter how independent you think you are (this is coming from someone whose actual first words were “do it myself”). Don’t be afraid to ask for help- collaboration is key!

My First GIS Tutorial

Hello again!

Just thought I’d give you a quick overview of the ArcGIS Pro workshop that I attended yesterday afternoon. It was my first experience with the new software, and I think it went pretty well!

Wednesday, Nov 14th was global GIS day. According to its website, “GIS Day provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society.” Of course, Brock University’s Map, Data & GIS Library participated in this event, offering up some free food, games & prizes, a chance to watch some Esri scholarship contest presentations, and a helpful ArcGIS workshop.

The workshop was lead by the library’s Geospatial Data Cooridnator Sharon Janzen, who led us through a tutorial that aimed to give users a basic idea of what ArcGIS is capable of doing. My initial thoughts are that this is something that I can probably get the hang of… but there is a lot to learn. The software is fairly intuitive, but you really need to know what is available in order to fully maximize the potential of its features. The user interface is similar to what you’d see in Microsoft Word or Excel since it is a ribbon-based application, providing the familiar tabs and tools along the top of the screen. We went through one of the tutorials available on Brock’s MDGL website, and were given the task of choosing a new location for a Starbucks in St. Catharines based on variables like the current locations of coffee shops in the city, and the median average income of each community. You can have a look at the tutorial here.

In order to do this, we were taught the basics of inserting databases, geocoding, adding new data from ArcGIS Online, adjusting symbology, and creating heat maps. One hour later, we each had a finished project that looked something like this:

During the tutorial, I was constantly trying to figure out how these features can apply to my project. The creation of a database with statistics concerning 18th and 19th century merchant activity is going to be a time consuming process, but slightly easier now that I’ve seen examples of data sets that were used in this tutorial. In addition, I will be able to play around with georeferenced historical maps of Niagara that already exist, thanks to the MDGL. Things are slowly beginning to make more sense. I still have a long way to go, but I’m excited about how this software is going to help present my historical information.

Thanks Sharon!