Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Geopolitics, State-Formation and Economic Development in Quebec and Ontario

Document type Thesis
Author Gheller, Frantz
Degree Ph.D., Political Science
Publisher York University; Toronto
Date 2016
Pages 344 pages


This dissertation challenges the prevailing periodization of Quebec and Ontario’s economic development in Canadian historiography by contrasting the specificity of capitalist social relations with the non-capitalist forms of social reproduction belonging to French Canadian peasants and Upper Canadian farmers in the colonial period. With a few notable exceptions, existing historical interpretations assume that capitalism was there, at least in embryo, from the colony’s very beginning in the guise of the fur trade, manufacturing, or a local bourgeoisie. By contrast, this thesis brings together, through a comparative perspective, different pieces of the interconnected histories of France, Britain, the United States, Ontario, and Quebec in order to show that capitalism did not arrive on the shores of the St. Lawrence River with the first settlers. The dissertation also brings together pieces of the uneven intra-regional histories of these regions, and provides a general reflection on how to systematically integrate the geopolitical dimension of social change into historical sociology, political economy, and comparative politics. As such, the question with which the thesis is concerned is not exclusively that of the transition to capitalism in Quebec or in Ontario, but more broadly the interrelated questions of state-formation and ‘late development’ in north-eastern North America. One of the main findings of the dissertation is that only with the development of industrial capitalism in the north-eastern United States were the conditions for the emergence of capital-intensive types of agriculture in rural areas of Quebec and Ontario put in place. American breakthroughs toward industrial capitalism irrevocably transformed the system-wide conditions under which subsequent agricultural evolution took place in neighbouring regions, generating a new geopolitical configuration in which customary peasant production continued to persist in Quebec alongside petty-commodity farmers in Upper Canada and the development of industrial capitalism in urban areas such as Montreal. These findings bring to the fore the need to directly address the ‘peasant question’ in order to understand the impact of the continued existence of a large peasantry on state-formation and the long-term economic development of Quebec during the period when industrial capitalism was emerging as a dominant feature of the North American economy.