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GEORGEEMERYandJOSl IGARTUA DavidGagan's 'The"Critical Years" in Rural Canada West': a Critique oftheMethodology and Model IN'Land,Population, andSocial Change:the"Critical Years"in Rural CanadaWest'(cI-IR, I•IX,3, •978, 293-3•8), DavidGaganuses a wide rangeofdataonPeelCountytoexaminethesocio-economic climate of the third quarter of the nineteenthcenturyin rural Ontario and to shedsome lightonthepolitical developments oftheperiod.According toGagan,theperiodfrom •851to 1871wasmarkedin PeelCountyby the culminationof a demographiccrisison the Malthusianmodel. Because of ahighfertilityrate,population grewfasterthanthesupply ofland.The crisis occurred because farmersstrove toprovide fortheir childrenin thesamewaytheirfathershadprovidedfor them- bythe acquisition of sufficientquantitiesof cultivable land to allowthemto liveindependently of theirparents.Insteadoflowering theirexpectations , the farmers of Peel County resolvedtheir crisisthrough emigration, bymarryinglaterandthusbegetting fewerchildren,and byresorting tonewformsof bequest. Thustheyattempted atonceto maintainthe familyfarm asa productiveunit to providefor those children who would have to earn their livelihood elsewhere. The thesis isattractive: itsuggests whypoliticians likeGeorgeBrown appeared totouchsuchresonant chordsin UpperCanadainthe 185OS and •86oswhentheyhammeredatthethemeof westward expansion. Its scope isambitious, and itsdemonstration requiresthe methodical marshalling of evidencefrom sources that do not always containthe idealinformation.Unfortunately,Gagan's modelisbuiltonquestionableassumptions and it is testedwith datathat are ambiguous and statistical toolsthat are mishandled. Moreover,the readeris given insufficient informationto interprettheresults clearly. We offer the followingcomments in the beliefthat Gaganfailsto make his case,and that he doesso for reasonswhichmay not be Canadian Historical Review, I•XiI,5, 1981 ooo83755 /81/o6oo-o 186$o1.•5/o¸UniversityofTorontoPress A CRITIQUE OF GAGAN 187 apparentto readerswho are unfamiliar with statistical theory and analysis. More importantly,our commentsare intendedto demonstratethat practitioners of 'quantitative history,'or, moreaccurately, those whousequantitative methods in historical analysis, bearthesame responsibility totheiraudience asdoall historians. They mustmaster thetechniques theyuse,andtheymustpresent theirresearch methods and resultsas clearlyand preciselyas possible, so that even the non-specialist canreadilyassess the qualityof their analysis. In our view, these researchstandardsare particularlyimportant in the context of Canadianhistoriography, wherethelegitimacy of quantitativeanalysis isonlybeginning tobeaccepted. The first problemwith Gagan'smodelconcerns the useof Peel Countyastheunitof analysis. The countyistreatedasaclosed system in whichpopulationpressure on the land wasgeneratedinternally (296),andwhereresidents eitheradapted tothesystem imperatives or, the author suggests, left the province.Yet surely Peel County's proximitytoToronto,theprovincial metropolis, shaped itspatterns of landuse,farm size,andmigration- in otherwords,a majorsource of changewasexternal to the countysystem.Moreover,PeelCounty residents presumably achieved somerelief from locallandconditions throughout-migration toothersouthern Ontariocounties whichwere less,or later, affectedby the land crisis.Giventhe absence of intraprovincialmigrationin his model, Gagan must assumethat land conditions in PeelCountywerecommon tosouthern Ontariogenerally ,andhence thatout-migration afforded norelief. •Unfortunately, he givesno documentation for this notion. Evenwithin PeelCounty, moreover, onewouldexpect thatlandconditions variedacross space as wellasthroughtime,withdemographic pressures on landresources developing initiallyin ruralareasneartheprovincial metropolis, and thenspreading tooutlying areas? Gaganperhapsshouldhavemade the townshiprather than the countyhisunit of analysis. Buildingon the notionthatdemographic pressure on the land diffusedoutwardsfrom Toronto,onecanrank PeelCountytownships (inordinalscale) according totheirproximityto PeelCountyisdescribed (295)asrepresentative of 'those countrydistricts over which"ageneral gloom[hung]likea pall"bythe •86os.' Thisisakintosaying that PeelCountyisanacceptable surrogate for places likePeelCounty.Despite this circumvention of therepresentivity issue, moreover, theauthorgeneralizes freely aboutthenatureof ruralsociety in Ontarioonthebasis of thePeelCountycase study(3•3ff)ß An introduction tospatial models isavailable in PeterHaggett,Locational Analysis inHumanGeography (London•965)andRichard J. ChorleyandPeterHaggett,eds., Models in Geography (London•967).Formodels of agricultural landusesee MichaelChisholm, RuralSettlement andLandUse: anEssay inLocation (London•962). 188 THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL REVIEW the provincialmetroplis.The analystthen can testthe theorythat variation in situation (land conditions)and behaviour (reduction of family size, choice of inheritancesystem)will correlatewith the townshipscale.With the townshipasthe unit of analysis, the Peel Countysystem is dynamicin spatialaswell astemporalterms.Peel Countyalsobecomes an opensystem in whichanexternalinfluencetheprovincial metropolis-helped shape bothsituation andbehaviour; thisopensystem, moreover,doesnotportrayPeelCountyresidents as beingtrappedin their localityandforcedeithertoadaptor leavethe province. Evenif PeelCountyisconsidered acceptable astheunitof analysis, Gagan'smodel is flawed by relianceupon dubiousassumptions, imprecision, andalackofcongruence between themodelandthedata presented.His startingpoint is cultural.The 'cultureof the farm family,'we are told, dictatedunchangingnormsin farming,inheritance ,and demographicpractices. This 'culture'wasthe productof the 'values and expectations instilledin successive generations of farm children'(297; emphasis added)overa 'half centuryof rural life in Upper Canada'(3o3).It isdifficultto accept thisportrayalof a static rural culturein Upper Canada.One maysimplyaskwhatproportion of the farm familiesof Peel County had lived there, or indeed elsewhere in Upper Canada,formorethantwogenerations? Howlong hadlastedthe 'earlier,perhapsbetter,time'(3• •) duringwhichthe culturaltemplatehadbeencut?Whendid thefarmersof PeelCounty havethetimetoacquirethementalrigidityof 'essentially conservative men who could not, or would not, accommodate themselvesto the implications of a necessary andvitaltransition in thenatureofhuman experiencein a familiar environment...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 186-196
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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