The growth of commercial agriculture around St. John's, 1800-1935 : a study of local trade in response to urban demand

MacKinnon, Robert Alexander (1981) The growth of commercial agriculture around St. John's, 1800-1935 : a study of local trade in response to urban demand. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

Since World War Two, and particularly since confederation in 1949, the city of St. John's has witnessed considerable change. From a small urban area of about 8,000 families physically encompassing no more than 1½ by ½ miles in 1935, the city has spread deep into the countryside, especially along the old roads out of town. Prior to this recent expansion, the area had been occupied by small family farms, dispersed unevenly along the roads, sometimes for distances of up to ten miles. The roots of this community extend back to the late eighteenth century when the first commercial farms were formed close to St. John's for the explicit purpose of providing fresh food to its inhabitants. Between roughly 1800 and 1840, close to 400 farms were established largely by poor Irish immigrants with some English and a few Scots. -- The natural endowment was anything but encouraging for large scale commercial agriculture. Soils were thin, highly leached, acidic, rocky and usually poorly drained. Cultivating the land was back breaking; it involved clearing scrub timber, removing countless rock fragments and applying large amounts of natural fertilizers to the land. Cool, wet summers and a relatively short growing season made crop types of the old world such as wheat and barley impossible to grow commercially. These conditions were only amenable to pastoral grasses and cool weather arable crops like potatoes, cabbage and turnips. Yet these settlers and their descendants managed to strike deep roots in the area, raising large families from the meagre profits wrested from the land. In the past two or three decades, this traditional farm community has been bulldozed virtually into oblivion. Suburban streets, a university and C.M.H.C. housing now occupy former fields and farmsteads but here and there along the edge of the city a few farmers continue to work the land. -- This thesis is an attempt to reconstruct the evolution and development of this traditional farm settlement from its inception to its dissolution. It focuses particularly on the commercial farm economy, seeking to understand the kinds of trading links that were established between the country and the town. Research involved both archival and field investigation. An assessment of archival sources is contained in a bibliographic note. Field work involved a series of interviews supplemented by a reading of the relict agricultural landscape. Interviews were conducted among thirty older residents who lived in the study area most of their lives. Since the dissolution of the community, however, most have been dislodged from their farms. This created some difficulty in tracing informants. Yet, twenty large and small scale farms were reconstructed in detail, supplemented by several other farms for certain other aspects of the study. Information on the formation and evolution of the farm, its location, size, number of acres improved, crops under cultivation, types of livestock, the farming system and, most importantly, the methods of marketing surplus produce were obtained. This information was coupled with material of a quantitative and documentary nature available in the archives to build up as accurate a picture as possible of the 400 farms which existed during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wherever possible, sketches, maps and photographs have been used to illustrate aspects of specific farms, as well as spatially delimit the extent of the agrarian hinterland.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7694
Item ID: 7694
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 93-101.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Geography
Date: 1981
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Avalon Peninsula--St. John's
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Agriculture--Newfoundland and Labrador--St. John's--History; Land settlement--Newfoundland and Labrador--St. John's; St. John's (N.L.)--Historical geography

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