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The Limits of Rural Capitalism: Family, Culture, and Markets in Montcalm, Manitoba, 1870-1940

Publication Abstract

Sylvester, Kenneth M. 2001. The Limits of Rural Capitalism: Family, Culture, and Markets in Montcalm, Manitoba, 1870-1940. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

The Limits of Rural Capitalism is an important study of the social and economic development of the Municipality of Montcalm, a largely French-Canadian community in southern Manitoba. It challenges the view in prairie historiography that agriculture had commercialized before the west was opened to settlement, and that ethnic communities alone resisted the market's potential. Using a novel combination of demographic, financial, and legal evidence, Sylvester shows that both Ontario and Quebec migrants came west within family networks, and that neither economic individualism nor ethnic clustering overshadowed the importance of family strategies. In an environment where landed proprietorship was the norm, the demands of parents on the unpaid labour of their children constrained the growth of labour markets, and concerns for farm succession limited the accumulation of wealth. In the shadow of an industrializing and urbanizing world, these people, who came mainly from the District of Montreal and eastern Ontario, sometimes via New England, raised large families, drew largely on the unpaid labour of kin, owned their own farms, limited financial entanglements with outsiders, and established multiple heirs. While household autonomy diminished over time, the limits of rural capitalism persisted.

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