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Graduate Students

Nash-Chambers, Debra - M.A

Guelph, Canada West in 1861. Family, Residence and Wealth in a Frontier Commercial City - Dr. Gilbert Stelter, advisor

         On April 23, 1827, John Galt founded the town of Guelph on behalf of the Canada Land Company's Board of Directors. Drawing largely on his study of the Holland Land Company's Pulteny Estate in New York State, Galt carefully formulated a town plan and devised a variety of schemes to ensure the future prosperity of the new settlement. Planted on the fringe of settlement in the Upper Canadian agricultural frontier, Guelph was intended to be more than just a market and supply centre for the immediate wheat-producing area. Guelph was founded in the hope that it would function as a company administrative and service centre from which company officials could supervise the opening up of their extensive holdings in the Huron Tract. By 1861, Guelph only faintly resembled its early origins as an entrepot primarily inhabited by Scottish artisans and their families. At mid-century, Guelph's socio-economic and spatial configuration readily identified it as a commercial city. Natural increase gave the town a 46 percent native born component by 1861. However, since English, Protestant household heads outnumbered all other ethnic groups at a rate of two to one Guelph was, for all intents and purposes, an English town on Canadian soil.
         In an attempt to determine which aspects of Guelph's 1861 demographic and spatial patterns were typical of most commercial towns and which features were products of the town's land locked, Canadian frontier locale, small size or its unusual beginnings, the Guelph study was designed to add a sixth city to the Five Cities Project jointly compiled by Theodore Hershberg, Michael Katz, Stuart Blumin, Clyde Griffen and Laurence Glasco and then published in The Historical Methods Newsletter, 55 under the title "Occupation and Ethnicity in Five Nineteenth Century Cities: A Collaborative Inquiry". The Five Cities Project analysed the population and occupational characteristics of Hamilton, Canada West and four contemporary American commercial cities of varying sizes and economic orientations. Much of the Five Cities' methodology was incorporated into the Guelph study. However, the corollary went beyond the parent study in several respects. In order to analyze the relationship between gender and economic success as well as household structure, pertinent aspects of the methodology used in Michael Katz's The People of Hamilton, Canada West, Family and Class in a Nineteenth Century City were repeated. Yet, the Guelph profile also significantly differed from Katz's Hamilton Project. Instead of using SOUNDEX record linkage, an "exact match" system was used to link manuscript assessment data to manuscript census information for all Guelph household heads. Secondly, a multi-block grid square analysis of Guelph's social geography was rejected in favour of block by block analysis. This mapping technique also facilitated a detailed spatial investigation of wealth holding in mid-century Guelph.
         In 1861, Guelphites lived in a community of stark inequality where a household head's potential to amass assets, his social status, political power, free choice of residency and the structure of his household were derivatives of his age, ethnicity, gender and occupation. However, a fortuitous marriage or inheritance could augment his chances of achieving upward mobility and financial success. Although money afforded a certain amount of prestige, by 1861, entrepreneurial success was a prerequisite for securing a position in Guelph's booster-oriented, socio-political elite.
Although Guelph's low level of residential segregation and its pattern of land use made it typical of most other commercial cities, Guelph's Canadian frontier locale created subtle differences. With a mean age of 40.9 years, Guelph, like other frontier commercial cities, was a young man's town. Guelph's slow pre-1850 growth was a by-product of its land locked, relatively isolated location. As in other frontier towns, Guelph's industrial development retained its agricultural base of milling, brewing and distilling. Yet, certain aspects of Guelph's ethnic composition set it apart from frontier towns beyond the boarders of Canada West. Guelph's lack of native-born, Black and German household heads made it atypical of demographic trends in American cities.
         While Guelph's Canadian frontier locale was responsible for distinguishing Guelph from communities in older, more established areas, two features of Guelph's 1861 environment were unique. Guelph's Irish Roman Catholics were spared the necessity of settling in over-crowded, poverty ridden slums. Secondly, Guelph distinguished itself as a community of means. The Guelph workforce lacked a large labouring sector. Since 1827, the lure of plentiful employment and lucrative investment opportunities steadily bolstered the skilled trade and business segments of the labour force. Thus, by 1861, Guelph had become the decidedly middle class community conceptualized by John Galt and the Directors of the Canada Company.