Canadian exportations and importations during the 19th century

Beginning in 1854, foreign trade increased significantly in Canada. This activity allows the student to learn about the main imports and exports of Canada at that time.

Industrialization in Canada actually began during the second half of the 19th century. The expansion of the country, working within a federal system in 1867 (Confederation), the construction of the railway and economic policies stimulated its development.

This new era was characterized by economic growth that was undeniably reflected in foreign trade. From 1850 to 1900, not only did commercial trade increase (imports tripled and exports quadrupled), but also the types of goods bought and sold attested to this new economy. In fact, at the beginning of the 19th century, Canada’s exports consisted almost exclusively of natural resources while most imports were manufactured goods that it required. With the growth of industrialization, the country imported more and more raw material from England and the United States that was then processed in its factories. Thus it produced and exported a lot more manufactured or processed goods than at the beginning of the century.

Objects associated with imports

Vegetable pot

This type of pot with a granite enamel finish was popular from the second half of the 19th century until the end of the 20th century. The one in the photo was made in Montreal, Quebec. But the raw material with which it was made, iron, had to be imported.

Iron was one of the principal raw materials imported from England and the United States.

Coal bucket (toy)

This coal bucket was a child’s toy used to re-create an everyday activity. It reminds us of a combustible widely used in homes and industry during the second half of the 19th century.

While coal was produced in Nova Scotia at that time, it was often more advantageous for geographic and climatic reasons to import coal to Quebec and Ontario from the United States.

Coat

This long-sleeved, factory-made coat was tailored in Quebec towards the end of the 19th century. It was bought by a woman from the Quebec City area for her honeymoon.

It is made of the kind of fine wool that was often imported from England at that time, and is lined with cotton twill, a material that was probably woven in this country from raw cotton. At the end of the 19th century, raw materials such as cotton, iron, steel, leather or even tobacco and machinery significantly increased the volume of Canadian imports.

Advertising poster

This poster advertises Old Chum Tobacco, manufactured by one of the first tobacco companies in Canada: D. Ritchie and Co., a company later bought by Imperial Tobacco.

This poster reminds us that during the second half of the 19th century the tobacco industry flourished in Canada, particularly in Quebec. While tobacco was grown here, production was insufficient to meet the needs of manufacturers, especially for cigars. It was necessary to import tobacco from the United States and elsewhere.

Sugar bowl

This sugar bowl depicts the Oriawenrak Falls on the Kabir Kouba River in the Quebec City suburb of Wendake.

While it represents a site in Quebec, this object was manufactured in the 19th century in Glasgow, Scotland. The manufacturer produced a series called « Canadiana », reserved exclusively for the Canadian market. This sugar bowl evokes the importation of manufactured goods from England and the United States that continues to this day. It also represents another import: that of unrefined sugar from the West Indies.

Grindstone

This tool, consisting of a grinding stone, a gear mechanism, a tightening lever, an adjustable vice as well as a fixed vice, was used to sharpen scythe blades.

Made in the 19th century, it came from Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. It illustrates another type of significant import at that time: machinery from England and the United States.

Objects associated with exports

Anse-au-Foulon shipyards

This photograph, dating from 1878, illustrates a major economic activity of that time: the lumber trade. You can see the square log booms (squared-off tree trunks debarked with an axe and then joined to make huge rafts).

By the beginning of the 19th century, this industry was the most important one in the country. But while it was mainly squared-off wood that dominated the market at the beginning of the century (with England being the principal buyer), this trade began to decline by 1850. It was gradually replaced with construction wood (planks and beams), the demand coming mainly from the United States. Thus lumber products constituted one of the principal Canadian exports during this entire period. Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were the largest suppliers.

Wheat

This postcard entitled A wheat field near Edmonton represents the importance of the wheat industry in this country. Not long after the Conquest, the province of Quebec sold wheat to the British West Indies, then to England. Upper Canada soon specialized in this crop.

After Confederation, Manitoba founded its economy on wheat thanks to the construction of the railway, the hike in world prices and the development of new and better-adapted varieties. By the end of the 19th century, prairie wheat became one of Canada’s principal exports. England and Europe were the main clients.

Butter churn

This butter churn is built mainly with sheet iron. On top is a gear mechanism turned with a crank that activates the lower mechanism, consisting of paddles attached to the end of a rod. Of course this machine is used to turn cream into butter.

During the second half of the 19th century, Quebec and Ontario produced a great quantity of butter and cheese. These goods were bought mainly by England and, along with lumber and fish, were two of the principal exports of Canada.

Sculpture

This sculpture depicts a spotted cow, standing on a platform of green and yellow grass. It was carved in the 19th or 20th century by Jean-Baptiste Côté, an artist from Quebec City.

It represents two important commodities Quebec exported to the United States around 1875: forage and cattle.

Shoes These leather shoes were manufactured towards the end of the 19th century in a factory in Quebec. They remind us that at that time Canadian industries such as the textile and shoe industries launched their creations on the international market. During this era, the value of manufactured products took second place to the value of other exports from Quebec.

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Learning Objectives

To identify the main imports and exports in Canada during the second half of the 19th century.

Association with Québec Education Programs:
1. Students in Secondary School Education, Cycle One: Social Sciences, Geography, History and Citizenship Education. Program content: Industrialization, an economic and social revolution. Competency targeted in the Quebec Education Program: Ability to identify social realities within an historical perspective.
2. Students in Secondary 4 - History of Quebec and Canada. Pedagogical program objective: Demonstrate the main effects of North-American economic growth on Quebec and Canada from 1896 to 1929.
3. Students of Secondary 5 - The 20th Century - History and Civilization. Pedagogical program objective: Demonstrate the economic influence of the United States on Quebec and Canada.

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