Re-imagining Niagara: A Spatial Study of Economic Development (1783-1812)
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The end of the American Revolution marked a turning point in the history of Niagara. In the span of three decades, this Upper Canadian district evolved as the territory of nomadic groups of Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations into the post-war settlement of approximately 15,000 white, black, and British-allied Indigenous nations. Some arrived immediately as refugees of the late war, while other families came later in hopes of securing a brighter future. Historians generally discuss this period of Niagara’s history in terms of its socio-political developments, while economic histories of the “Loyalist Era” are most often assigned a broader lens focusing on trade and commerce in Upper Canada. To fill this historiographical gap, this paper investigates the economic developments within the Niagara region from 1783-1812, using geographic information systems (GIS) to analyze the role of geography alongside human agency in commodity production and the formation of local trade networks. This thesis includes an interactive webmap used to analyze a carefully compiled geospatial database of commodity sales gathered from primary sources. Historical GIS sets this project apart from others by bringing the investigations back to the land, showing how farmers and merchants responded to natural barriers like distance, wetlands, elevation and soil type, inciting individuals to adapt according to their personal circumstances. Ultimately, this project illustrates Niagara’s post-war transition from its role as a transshipment point in a larger transatlantic trade system into a productive agrarian economy by the early 19th century. The Niagara escarpment and the region’s many creeks and rivers were the economic hubs wherein diverse groups of people converged to participate in industries that formed society’s foundational economic structures. At the same time, participation in Niagara’s economy was limited by factors of race, gender, and class. Thus, it also discusses how individuals maneuvered through their subjective socio-political positions within society in their own unique way. The re-interpretation of primary sources using spatial tools presents Niagara as an important colonial region into which the British government poured significant funds for its strategic position and market potential. Exposing its commercial development provides a tangible contribution to this part of Canadian history.