Canada’s early-19th-century economy emphasized the production of staples. A staple has come to mean a natural-resource product that requires little initial processing, is easily transportable, and is in demand in external centres of industrial production. Canada’s heavy involvement in a staples-based economy was engendered by the nation’s rich inventory of natural resources, accommodated by the Laurentian-Great Lakes system of transportation, and articulated by a metropolitan-based system of trade and finance.
The milling of timber into lumber increased during the first half of the 19th century, responding to the shift in emphasis in the export trade from timber to various lumber products. The expansion of shipbuilding – especially in Lower Canada and the Maritimes – was also nurtured by a demand for carriers in the staples trade. Other manufacturing tended to be diverse and small in scale, reflecting the widespread demand for products and services, many of which required only water power and, therefore, river locations.
Whereas the Canadian share of Britain’s demand for timber had amounted to less than 1% in 1800, it exploded to an all-time high of 81% in 1820, and maintained about a 75% share of the British market until the reduction of the protective tariffs against Baltic timber products in 1842. By the 1830s and 1840s exports of timber and lumber accounted for some 40% of all exports from British North America, although they were not sustained at this level. Initially dominated by the production of the New Brunswick forests, the forest industry expanded into the St Lawrence and Great Lakes watershed.
In 1842, in response to the call for free trade in its economic arrangements and a redefinition of empire in its political grand design, Britain commenced the dismemberment of imperial preferences. The reaction throughout British North America was threefold: the encouragement of free trade between the several component parts of British North America; the imposition of duties on imports for the protection of Canadian industry; and the search for replacement markets in the neighbouring United States.
Learn more about the late 20th century forestry in Atlantic Canada , the Boreal Shield and in British Columbia