1902 Encyclopedia > Canada > Canada - Trade

(Part 9)

Trade of Canada. – The abstract of the value of the growth, produce, and manufactures of Canada, as shown by its exports, is called in the official returns under six principal heads, viz, the mines, the fisheries, the forest, animals and their produce, agricultural products, and manufactures. The results show, by a comparison with the earlier statistics of the country, the rapid progress it has made in a single generation.

The trade of Canada at a period not very distant was confined chiefly to the exportation of furs, seal-oil, and timber, little exceeding 100,000 pounds annually. Prior to the year 1759 when the country, with its population of 65,000 inhabitants, was transferred from the Government of France to that of England, the amount of its annual exports was 115,415 pounds. the principal trade was furs, in pursuit of which the great forests were traversed by bands of resolute adventurers. A few ships were occasionally built. Agriculture was neglected, if not actually despised.

Upon the acquisition of the country, however, by England, the cultivation of the soil attracted the attention of the settlers, and the germs of a trade sprung up which has now grown to be one of real magnitude and importance. In 1769 the exports in furs, fish &c, amounted to 355,000 pounds and the imports in British manufactured goods and West India produce, reached 27.400 pounds. this trade employed seventy vessels, about twelve vessels were at the same period engaged in the fisheries of the St Lawrence and about six were sent to the West Indies.

In 1799 and the three following years we find comparatively large exportation of grain taking place. in 1802, 1,010,000 bushels of wheat, 38,000 barrels of flour, and 32,000 cwts. of biscuit were sent abroad. The number of vessels at this period engaged in the trade of the colony was 211, the aggregate burden of which amounted to 36,000 tons. In 1809 the first steamboat appeared in the harbor of Quebec.

In 1809, and 1812, the trade of Canada, benefiting by increased duties upon Baltic timber imported into Britain, seems to have been comparatively active. In the first of these years 440 vessels, having an aggregate tonnage of 87,825 tons, arrived at Quebec. In 1810 as many as 635 vessels arrived in the St Lawrence, with an aggregate tonnage of 138,,057 tons; and in the same year 26 vessels, having a tonnage of 5836 tons, were built in the province. In 1812, 532 vessels, with a tonnage of 116,687 tons, cleared at the port, 37 of which had been built at Quebec.

The war which commenced in 1812 between the United States and Britain severely checked the commerce of the St Lawrence, which was greatly dependent upon the American. And, notwithstanding that Britain slightly relieved the import duties on wheat in favor of Canada in 1814, we find that the trade of the colony from 1810 to 1820 remained almost stationary. The aggregate tonnage which arrived at Quebec in 1820 (a more prosperous year, if shipping be taken as the criterion, than any of the proceeding ten) amounted only to 9607 tons over that of 1810. in 1810, 26 vessels had been built in the colony, and only 7 were built in 1820.

According to the old system of colonial monopoly, the St Lawrence was rigidly closed against the entrance of foreign vessels, nor was any Canadian vessel allowed to enter a foreign port. The prosperity of the colony during this period of its infancy was believed not to have been materially checked by these restrictions, as the mother country at all times afforded an outlet for its surplus produce. After the United States had achieved their independence, their vessels were excluded from the ports of the British colonies; and Canada, as a reward for it loyalty, received the exclusive privilege of supplying the West India Islands with timber and provisions.

In this manner, as the trade of Canada had been confined and shackled for the supposed benefit of the mother country, so now she was rewarded with compensating privileges to the direct injury of the sister colonies of the West Indies. The United States ports were the natural resorts of the West Indies for timber and provisions, their distance from these being about one-half less than the ports of the St. Lawrence. But the additional freight, which on such bulky articles constitutes a great proportion of the expense, was not only enhanced by this circuitous route, but the West Indies had to pay besides for transshipment upon what was supplied by the United States to Canada for the West Indian market. The West India planters were thus laid under contribution for the support of the Canadian shippers and farmers.

These regulations were, however, so far relaxed in favor of the West Indies in 1822, that the wheat and lumber of the United States were allowed to be imported directly on payment of certain duties; but at the same time duties were imposed upon agricultural produce entering the British American colonies as well as the West Indies.

The immediate result of this measure, so far as it affected Canada, was that one-half of the export trade of the St Lawrence was at once destroyed. The simultaneous abundance of the English harvest, together with the restrictions then in force upon the importation of grain into Britain, even from her own colonies, forbade any exports thither, and thus seriously aggravated the depression of Canadian commerce, and afforded another illustrated of the ruinous policy of bolstering up one class by privileges and exemptions, and shackling another by restrictions and duties.

In 1825 Britain admitted Canadian flour and wheat into her ports at a fixed duty of 5s. sterling per quarter. Meanwhile a fresh trouble had already arisen to try the vexed fortunes of Canada. Previous to 1822, American exports had to a considerable extent sought the route of the St Lawrence, as if they had been of Canadian origin, contributing very materially, of course, to the benefit of the trade of the colony. But the opening of the Erie and Champlain canals in the United States, in 1825, drew off into a different channel those American exports which had formerly sought the Atlantic by way of Quebec, and the trade of the St Lawrence was thus seriously injured.

In 1826, however, the prospects again appeared to be brightening. The American were allowed, after four years of exclusion, to export timber and ashes for the British market into Canada free of duty. The duty upon Canadian flour for the West India market was also reduced.

The trade of the colony likewise profited by the disputes between Britain and the United States, which led to the interdiction of the American export trade to the west Indies. This was reduced from 500,000 pounds in 1826 to less than 500 pounds in 1830. while the results were such to the United States, we find the trade of the St Lawrence in 1830 not only fairly recovered from the effects of the Imperial Acts of 1822, but far surpassing its position at any former period. The arrivals at Quebec in 1830 were 967 vessels, having a tonnage of 238,153 tons.

In 1831 the trade of the colony was still further favored by the action of the Home Government. The forest and agricultural products of the United States were admitted into Canada free of duty, and could be exported by the St. Lawrence, as Canadian produce, to all countries except the United Kingdom. A differential duty was also at the same time imposed upon foreign timber entering the West Indian and South American possessions, greatly to the benefit of the colony, which also profited by the scarcity of food existing in Britain at this time. the arrivals at Quebec during this favored and prosperous year, were 1016 vessels, with a tonnage of 261,218 tons; and the exports of flour and wheat by the St Lawrence were about 400,000 barrels chiefly to Britain.

Between 1831 and 1836 we find a complete reversal of the order of trade between the colony and the mother country. The crops in England during that period being unusually abundant, and a scarcity of bread stuffs existing in the United States, wheat was, in 1833, shipped from Britain to Quebec. A supply also came from Archangel. These imports from Europe to the St Lawrence amounted in 1835 and 1836 to about 800,000 bushels. The relaxation by the mother country of her protective policy in 1842 was viewed with alarm by the colonists as fraught with disastrous consequence to their interests. Up to 1842 Baltic timber had paid an English import duty of 55s. per load, while Canadian timber entered England upon payment of 10s. per load. The duty on foreign timber was now reduced to 30s. and Canadian to 1s. per load. At the same time the free importation of United States flour into the colony was stopped, and the West Indies were allowed, on the payment of a duty of 2s. per barrel, to import their flour direct from the American.

These serious blows to the trade of the St Lawrence fell upon the colony at the period of a commercial crisis, and were therefore felt more severely. The number of vessels that entered the St Lawrence in 1842, from the sea, was 377 less than during the previous year.

In 1843, Canada was allowed to import American wheat under a comparatively nominal duty, and to export it through the St Lawrence as native produce to the British market. This measure, which may be viewed as having been the first indirect blow at the English corn-laws, amounted to a virtual premium of about 6s. sterling per quarter upon American exports to Britain through the St Lawrence. The British ports were thus at once in a great measure thrown open to all the great wheat-growing countries of North America. Canadian exports were rapidly swelled in consequence; and in 1846 half a million of barrels, and as many bushels of wheat and four, were shipped by the St Lawrence. The timber trade of the colony, which was also seriously threatened in 1842 by the large reduction of the duty on Baltic timber imported into England, witnessed likewise in 1845 and 1846, not merely a revival, but a very material increase. The number of vessels that entered the St Lawrence rose to 1699 during each of these years, with an aggregate burden of over 620,000 tons, - this being a much larger amount of shipping than had ever in any previous year entered the St Lawrence.

The history of Canadian trade enters upon a new stage from 1846, when the commercial policy of England at length relaxed the old restrictive navigation laws in reference to her colonial possessions. One of the most practical evidences of its beneficial influence on Canadian trade is shown in the increase of its traffic with the United States, at the very time that its trade relations with the mother country were being annually augmented in a corresponding ratio. From 1821 to 1832, the aggregate annual traffic between the United States and Canada averaged no more than $3,257,153. from 1833 to 1845 the average increased, with the growing population , industry, and wealth of both countries to $6,313,780 per annum. But under the influence of the more liberal policy inaugurated by Great Britain in 1846, the traffic rose between that year and 1853 so rapidly that its annual average amounted to $14,230,763.

But the concessions made by the mother country in favor of the timber and corn trade of Canada were still only partial. The exportation of colonial produce from the St Lawrence could only be carried on in British vessels; and thus there grew up a class of vessels specially appropriated to this trade, which made only two voyages in the year to Quebec or Montreal; and these having a monopoly of the whole exports of the St Lawrence at privileged rates, the colony was virtually subjected to a heavy tax both on its exports and imports. Tea, coffee, sugar, and all the manufactured articles still required to be obtained from abroad were thus only obtainable through English ships; and hence the Canadian merchants was greatly restricted in the choice of the best and cheapest market. In return, however, the colonists had certain privileges accorded to them, foremost amongst which were those already referred to in connection with the import of wheat from the United States, and its export from the St Lawrence as native produce, - the Canadian merchants having an advantage thereby over their competitors in New York and other American ports.

The abolition of the British corn laws deprived Canada of the privileges thus accorded to her in the export of bread-stuffs, and seemed to threaten the trade of the St Lawrence with grievous discouragement at the very time when the transactions of the colony with the United States were in a great measure interdicted by a hostile tariff. The changed and more enlightened views, however, which entered into imperial legislation materially assisted the growing energies and intelligence of the colonists. The Imperial Government formally abandoned in 1847 all control over the customs of the colony, which immediately set itself to the task of regulating its own trade. One of the first measures of the colonial legislature was to abolish in a great degree the differential and prohibitory duties on colonial imports along the United Sates frontier; and the Americans upon the other side f the St Lawrence were by this measure placed, as regards matters of trade, upon an equal footing with England. The beneficial effects of this measure showed itself at once in increased commercial activity and prosperity over the whole of Canada.

On the 1st of January 1850, England completed her free trade measure by relieving the colonies from the injurious effects of the British navigation laws. The value of the more enlightened views which thus entered into both imperial and colonial legislation has since been most satisfactorily tested in the growing wealth and prosperity which have attended the progress of the colony. The same year is memorable for other events affecting Canadian progress. It was in 1850 that gold was first discovered in British Columbia, and coal at Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island; and so the steps were accelerated which led to the organization of the first province of the Dominion on the Pacific. The same year was marked by the organization of the opposition to ecclesiastical endowments, as well as to other exclusive rights and privileges, which resulted in 1854 in the final settlement of the vexed question of the clergy reserves and seigniorial tenures in Upper and Lower Canada.

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