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The Development of Capitalism in Canada Essay

The history of each country presents a long chain of events that determine and influence its further development. The most noticeable changes in the fate of a country occur when the government decides to switch to another economic system. Canada belongs to the number of countries that performed the transition to capitalism in the nineteenth century but there is still a variety of open questions concerning the topic. The development of capitalism in Canada remains a very interesting research issue for those who find it to be able to shed light on many problems that we face in the modern world. There is no doubt that not all the researchers are of the same mind when it comes to the causes and the effects of development of the capitalistic society. Nevertheless, I believe it to be essential to take into consideration different opinions on the issue as these points of view altogether may significantly contribute to general understanding of the problem. In their works on the history of capitalism in Canada, Pentland (1950) and Fox (1991) analyze the changes in the Canadian society from different points of view.

The Growth of Capitalism in Canada Seen by Pentland

In his article on Canadian history, Pentland makes a research concerning the problem of establishment of capitalism in the middle of the nineteenth century. According to his opinion, there are a few works considering the role that capital had in Canada at that period of time, and this is why there is a need of the research that would provide a consistent review of the problem. In his work, he generally develops an idea of two different stages of development of capitalism in Canada, and these questions are concerned separately. As for the general impression that it produces on the reader, it is my understanding that this article has involved a thorough work as it provides a very detailed review of the sources together with reasonable opinion of the author. To begin with, Pentland states that by the middle of the nineteenth century there were a plenty of signs indicating that the changes of the course of the economy “had gone too far to be turned back” (1951, p.457).

The significant transformation of exchange relationships helped the colony to become more developed in a short period of time. The author places an emphasis on two factors that significantly contributed to the changes that occurred in Canadian society. To him, it is clear that the development was caused by increasing the labor power and infusion of capital. As for the latter, the author definitely regards it as the main source, and also the driving force of development. Speaking about the factor that could be defined as the primary economical deterrent, the author focuses his attention on the situation concerning labor force. Thus, he claims that labor shortage was one of the most important problems of the time that had significantly limited the opportunities of the country a few years ago. Nevertheless, the problem was solved in quite a short lapse of time with help of the extensive immigrant flow to Canada. What is more, the author touches upon the topic of different ways to use the production surplus and important resources in order to have additional opportunities for accumulating capital.

In spite of that, his research is not focused only on the problems concerning money; instead, he believes labor power to be the most important and the most expensive resource that the government is required to have in order to survive. In such a manner, he claims Canada to have been able to cut down these expenses due to the fact that many skilled immigrants were always ready to work there. Throughout the article, he also touches upon the economic situation in the very beginning of the nineteenth century. Considering earlier events, he states that the money saved by way of austerity during the war can be considered as important as the money received from fur trade. It was clear that Canadian market did not possess a great absorptive capacity. Later, with gradual agricultural development, it became able to have real and potential food surpluses that were difficult to sell. Nevertheless, with further inflow of foreign money (especially from Great Britain), the separate group of wealthy Canadian capitalists was formed. In 1875, the market was mature if compared to the one that existed in the beginning of the century. In conclusion, the author regrets that Canada was unable to develop without foreign help.

Economic Development and the Position of Canadian Women

In her article, Fox also touches upon the topic of development of capitalist society in Canada. What makes her article more specific is that she considers the issue in relation to the role of women in development of the country. From the very beginning, the author expresses her confidence that the contribution made by women often remains unnoticed. In her opinion, the problem of gender and relationships between women and men should be paid more attention to in order to understand the nature of the development. At the same time, the author seems to be quite sceptical about the development and its consequences. As it is clear from her article, Canadian people had to pay a very high price for that. In her opinion, women have always acted as a power that was able to unite different groups or nations that had to live on the same territory.

Fox states that the country could develop only due to the cooperative efforts made by women and men but the work performed by women was much more time-consuming as they had to process the results of men’s work. As a result, the efforts made by women were a real help to their husbands who had to provide the family with financial support. At the same time, the income earned with help of women’s hard work was then appropriated by their husbands who preferred to spend it on their own businesses. Throughout the article, Fox highlights the importance of women’s labor. When their husbands had to earn money outside the region, women were ready to do all the hard work on the farms themselves. The contribution that Canadian women were making every day did not involve only performing the work to help their men to earn money. In spite of that, their gender role required them to be always ready to provide their husbands with moral support.

According to the opinion of the author, making a contribution into well being of their husbands and children, women were able to boost the welfare of the society. In her article, she also touches upon the topic of reproductive work that means carrying and bringing up children. Besides, she believes that such a work was one of the most important things for the family in Canadian society. The family was considered as an extremely important unit of a society; in order to be able to survive, the family had to possess its own labor force represented by the younger generation. What is more, women were often considered to be representatives of their husbands, helping them to establish and maintain the relationships that could turn out to be advantageous. Thus, the author proves that women’s role in the development of Canadian society can hardly be overestimated as the money that women were earning provided a help in case of extraordinary situation that could threaten the survival of their husband’s businesses. During further industrial revolution, women were paid much less than men; what is even worse, the work performed by them was often labelled as “unskilled” (Fox, 1991, p. 338). All these factors together present the reason of the author’s critical attitude towards women’s position during the establishment of capitalist regime in Canada.

The Role of Capital

In his work, Pentland quite often refers to the notion of capital and the significant contribution that it made to social and industrial development in Canada. Touching upon the nature of capital that he is talking about, the author defines it as spare resources that are “available either to carry on production over time, or for investment in fixed equipment by means of which productivity may be enhanced” (Pentland, 1950, p.458). Throughout the text, he examines a few types of labour organization in Canada, and proves that the role of capital in each of these systems was significant. For instance, the accumulation of capital made the government able to address the challenges that the market of the country was facing. Consequently, with the solution of these problems in the middle of the nineteenth century, the government got the opportunity to pay more attention to mechanization of various manufacturing processes and improving the quality of the production. Numerous capital injections made it possible to make the work of both factory workers and the farm owners in Canada much more effective. Thus, he sees capital as the driving force of the development of labor organization in Canada in the nineteenth century.

Capitalism and Pre-Confederate Canada

The capitalist system started to develop in Canada a long time ago. Nevertheless, it does not seem to be right to characterize pre-Confederation Canada as a capitalist country. In 1867 a Dominion of Canada was formed by means of uniting a few regions. The process of forming the Canadian Confederation is believed to have been a momentum for the establishment of the capitalist regime in Canada (Todd, 2014, p. 96). To switch from pre-capitalists forms of labor organization to capitalist society, there was a need to unite British colonies in North America and proclaim their independence. Before the formation of the Canadian Confederation, Britain was a force keeping down the economic growth of Canada. The creation of this self-governing country became a step on the road to its getting the independence from Britain. Having reduced British influence, the government of Canada became able to develop light industry, metallurgical engineering, and wood processing industry; due to that, the ruling establishment could get rich with help of the working class. In opposition to that, before the formation of the Dominion, Canadian capitalism was in its infancy.

Feminist Criticism towards Traditional Accounts of Economic Development

As it usually happens, there is no way to contribute into the economic development of the society and comply with the wishes of all social groups. Thus, feminists acted as one of the groups that have been critical of traditional and Marxist accounts of economic development in Canada. According to the ideas of Marx, economic development of the country should be based on surplus production (Fox, 1990, p.465). At the same time, the supporters of feminism claimed that the existence of family farms remained one of the most important factors contributing into surplus production because such farms involved both processes of production and consumption, and this is why it was important to protect the way of life involving family ownership of the materials used to produce goods. The problems that the supporters of feminism also saw in traditional development of Canadian society was connected to turning the women into a cheap labor force and devaluating the results and the significance of the hard work performed by the women.

The process of development in Canada is believed to have started from the society where men and women were given almost the same power; thus, early society on the territory of modern Canada was based on the principle of equality and mutual respect between men and women. However, with the expanding of European influence, the ideas proclaiming men’s superiority over women became more popular, and it had an impact on all the aspects of the society in Canada (Carstairs & Janovicek, 2013, p.41). Women’s economic position was experiencing a significant decline during the “development” of the society. That period, they became more dependent of men, and the household activities were not regarded as a real work. As seen by the supporters of feminism, it is very unfair that these negative consequences of the Canadian development are not usually taken into account when it comes to the works written by historians.


It is clear that these two authors have different opinions when it comes to the discussion concerning the development of Canadian society with the rise of capitalism. Making a conclusion about this historical period, Pentland tends to believe that numerous changes that occurred can be regarded as beneficial for the society. Unlike him, Fox tends to be critical about the consequences of these changes; in her opinion, the establishment of capitalist regime in Canada was a factor that defined women’s position in the society. According to her, women were seen as a cheap labor force, and their household activities and the so-called “reproductive work” were taken for granted; her discontent seems to be great because it was women who were raising the children to provide the government with a man power. As contrasted with Fox, Pentland tends to pay no attention to women’s position and the changing quality of their lives; instead, he increases focus on financial information and the history of labour in Canada. In general, it is quite difficult to compare these two works as they belong to different historical periods. Although both works touch upon the history of capitalism in Canada, Fox tends to consider this problem in relation to the issues of gender, inequality, and fair labor division.


Carstairs, C., & Janovicek, N. (2013). Feminist history in Canada: New essays on women, gender, work, and nation. Vancouver, Canada: UBC Press.

Fox, B. (1991). Women’s role in development. Perspectives on Canadian economic development, 333-352.

Pentland, H.C. (1950). The role of capital in Canadian economic development before 1875. Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, 16(4), 457-474.

Todd, M. (2014). Civilizing the wilderness: Culture and nature in pre-Confederation Canada and Rupert’s Land by A.A. den Otter (review). Great Plains Quarterly, 34(1), 96.

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