Living_Standards_in_Lower_Canada_1831

Living_Standards_in_Lower_Canada_1831 - LIVING STANDARDS IN...

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LIVING STANDARDS IN LOWER CANADA, 1831 Vincent Geloso (London School of Economics and HEC Montréal) Vadim Kufenko (University of Hohenheim) Remy Villeneuve (Geoprosys) PRELIMINARY VERSION: DO NOT QUOTE Abstract: This paper uses the price and wage data contained in the census of 1831 of Lower Canada to provide regional estimates of disparities in living standards within Quebec in 1831. Combining this data with price data for the colony as a whole, we can compare living standards in Quebec with those of numerous American and Canadian cities at the same point in time. The results show that Quebec was overall poorer. However, there are some regions which compared favorably – notably areas under free and common soccage as opposed to areas under seigneurial tenure. As a whole, Quebec was significantly poorer than the United States at the same time.
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In 1760, the French forces in Canada capitulated to the invading British Army and the official concession of Canada to the British was finalized in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. Up until the formation of Confederation in 1867, little is known about living standards in Canada. One school of thought argues that the colony of Lower Canada (known today as Quebec – we will use both names interchangeably) experienced a prolonged agricultural crisis which translated into declining living standards (Ouellet 1966; 1972; 1980). Another school of thought argues that growth was positive (Paquet and Wallot 2007; Bédard and Geloso 2014). Some have blamed the maintenance of French land tenure laws of seigneurialism by the British after the Conquest (Phillips 1974). In addition to uncertainties about the rate of growth, there are uncertainties as to the level of income. Some (Egnal 1996; 1998) believe that in 1760, the French inhabitants of Canada enjoyed similar living standards as the Americans. Others (Geloso forthcoming) believe that around 1760, the French Canadians were considerably poorer than the Americans. In this paper, we use the censuses of 1831 and 1842 to provide the first wide-ranging estimate of living standards in Quebec – then the largest British colony in North America – that is comparable with the United States. Thanks to these censuses’ information about wheat prices and wages in different areas, we can measure “grain-wages” across regions. In addition, we can also disaggregate the data according to the land tenure system in place in each area. In 1791, the British decided to forbid the settlement of new lands under the French seigneurial land tenure system while all lands settled prior 1791 continued to operate under that system. Thanks to the census data, this is the first time that a wide comparisons of living standards across institutional lines is possible. Our results show that a) within the colony, there were important variations in real wages and b) areas under seigneurial land tenure are substantially poorer in spite of factors that should help them c) real wages were below those observed in the American states to the south.
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