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Frontier movement and economic development in northeastern Ontario, 1850-1914 Watson, Denis McLean


This study is an examination of frontier movement and economic development in a portion of the Canadian Shield--Northeastern Ontario--in the period from 1850 to 1914. The process of frontier advance is examined with reference to five key elements: (1) the nature and distribution of resources; (2) external economic and cultural forces; (3) technological change, with emphasis on transportation developments; (4) public policy; and (5) entrepreneurship. The interrelationships of these factors are analysed to explain the spatial distribution of settlement and frontier-core interaction in the Nipissing Lowlands, the Algoma-Sudbury district, and the Timiskaming area. Significant changes occurred in both the process and pattern of frontier advance. The direction of movement in the nineteenth century was foreshadowed by the earlier fur trade, which was followed in some areas by logging and subsidiary agriculture. Inward movements of people and frontier-core interaction were oriented toward Montreal via the Ottawa Valley transportation linkages. In the twentieth century, northward extension of the railway system from southern Ontario gave rise to a dynamic mining frontier. A strong north-south interaction emerged, contrasting with the earlier east-west pattern. Northeastern Ontario, at first almost wholly within the sphere of influence of Montreal, had become part of the economic and cultural hinterland of Toronto by 1914. By 1914 there was established a pattern of land occupance which is still strongly in evidence at present. It was characterized by a high degree of nucleation and a linear orientation of settlement along transportation corridors. The distribution of population and the location of economic activity were usually influenced by the distribution of resources, ease of access, and the presence or absence of government stimulus, entrepreneurial skill, and capital. Economic development was (and still is) based predominantly on the extraction and processing of natural resources for consumption outside the region. Frontier-core interaction was characterized by outbound movements of commodities such as furs, minerals, and wood, either unprocessed or in various stages of manufacture. The introduction of resource-processing industries depended on whether there was less cost to the external consuming area, and to some extent on public policy.

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