On the farm, in the Town, and in the City: Nineteenth-Century Networks and Spaces in Rural Middlesex County, Southwestern Ontario

Van Allen, Nicholas T.
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University of Guelph

Between 1850 and the 1890s, farmers in Middlesex County participated in and experienced the growth of the City of London, Ontario, as it diversified economically and became a regional industrial hub. In doing so, agriculturalists shaped and reshaped their social and economic networks to take advantage of the city’s offerings, in turn enhancing their own neighbourhoods and communities. Using an HGIS (historical geographic information system), this dissertation uncovers the rural/urban relationship by examining the networks of the county’s farm families via the diaries of the Errington, Glen, and Adams families of southern Middlesex. It discusses three types of farmers’ networks: two that were local, which are termed “neighbourhood” and “community” networks, and another that was “distant,” which involved interaction with urban centres, in particular the City of London. By looking at the alterations that rural people made to their social and economic lives, this thesis shows that it was at the daily level that families experienced, encouraged, and negotiated the North American urban phenomenon. It argues that local networks did not suffer at the expense of distant networks. Producing for distant networks actually helped develop and maintain local networks of production, exchange, and sociability. The analysis follows the lead of a number of historians who have highlighted the relationships between nineteenth-century rural and urban centres. My study’s close, family-level focus allows for the mapping of farmers’ daily patterns of local production and exchange. It considers their adoption of innovative agricultural technologies and use of improved transportation infrastructure, and it analyzes all this information within the context of changes in the families’ life cycles and their growing participation in urban-oriented trade networks. This thesis finds that though the contexts of trade changed and the frequency of interaction with cities increased, the pattern of rural production and urban buying and selling did not. Into the 1890s, farmers continued producing goods in the countryside within their local networks and trading with cities via their distant networks. Similarly, farmers’ social networks incorporated new developments, but remained relatively persistent in their emphasis on home and church-based association throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

Canadian history, Historical geography, Rural history, Rural markets, Urban/rural relations, Diaries, Farm diaries, History, Ontario history, Middlesex County, Southwestern Ontario, Nineteenth Century, Rural sociability, Post Offices, Canadian Post Office, Petitions