Timber, Farm and Dairy Industries

Questions to ask yourself:

Did the lives of people in the 19th Century get better or worse?
How did Industrialization change society?

What you will be able to do:

Explain how industrialization changed the timber industry.

Indicate the main areas of the timber industry on a map.

Explain how industrialization changed the farming industry.

Explain the impacts of industrialization and urbanization on the dairy industry.

Colonization of Quebec Regions

"After the 1850’s, colonisation began in several peripheral regions. Slowly, French-Canadians began to farm in the Laurentians, the Saguenay-Lake St-John, the Lower St. Lawrence and the Matapedia Valley, certain forested or unexploited areas of the Ottawa Valley and the Eastern Townships, and, eventually as far north as the Temiscaming. In the last quarter of the 19th century, French Canadians would also begin to emigrate to Eastern Ontario, and, in smaller numbers, to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta."

Text and Map Source: French Canadian Emigration to the United States 1840-1930 Damien-Claude and Claude Bélanger. Map originally from: Les Frères Maristes, Atlas-Géographie. Étude physique - Politique, Économique du Canada et de la Province de Québec , Montréal, Granger Frères Ltée, 1930 [1923], p. 49 (Copyright presumed expired.)

Activity: Characterize the regions and their early development

Characterize the regions and their early development by mapping key places in specific areas and describing routes to the areas, as well as mapping the location of forests, early mills, etc. Use selections from the first sets of document pages in our collection, which begin by highlighting key areas that developed further because of colonization, the availability of timber, and the ease of access to it due to its location (rivers in particular !). Then further characterize the period by explaining why these specific locations were chosen. (i.e. you are beginning to indicate the changes due to industrialization which influenced settlement even in these early years.)

A mapping organizer such as “Quebec Regional Mapping -- Where & Why ex. Quebec Regions for Timber” could be used. Alternatively, this blank Cartograf map could be used and is available to be copied and edited as needed.

Timber Industry: Overview of situation, continuities and changes

In the 1800s there were a few key timber industry regions in Quebec, which were also new areas of colonization. One area was north of the St. Lawrence in the Mauricie, another around Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, and another in western Quebec and up the Ottawa Valley, in Ontario and Quebec on both sides of the Ottawa River. One of the areas where the timber industry dominated the economy was where the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers met in Hull (present day Gatineau).

The developments that occurred in the timber industry show elements of both continuity and change. An example of an element of continuity (things staying the same) was the life of the men who worked in the logging camps, namely in the lumber shanties, or “jobber” shanties managed by the small subcontractors where the living conditions were poor. Just like in the early 1800's they worked in the wintertime and much of the process of cutting and felling the trees and bringing the logs down the river maintained its traditional aspect - they still use axes, they used hand saws, they used carts to pull the logs and they floated the logs down the river in the springtime.

However, there was also change that was occuring in the timber industry. The Ottawa River was an industrialized river on both sides of the provincial border. Sawmills and later pulp and paper factories, all linked to the timber industry, dotted the riverbanks around Hull and Ottawa. The location of the Ottawa River was important because it was a place where logs could be floated down from the hinterland, and also it was where a source for hydraulic power and later hydroelectric power, in particular at the Chaudière Falls, which could be used to power the mills.

Later on, came steam power. This sort of “heavy industrialization of the river” extended the timber industry. To the west there were now sawmills at Deschênes and then around Aylmer, but also east towards Montreal, where you could find many more sawmills sprouting up, and even more pulp and paper plants.

Pulp and paper did not replace the sawmill process, or the sawmill industry. Instead, it augmented it. This was due to an increase in demand for paper products both in Canada and the United States. One of the benefits of locating mills and plants in this area was the transportation networks that were being expanded or newly created at this time. Apart from the obvious presence of waterways and canals, railways were now being built that linked regions like Ottawa to markets in the United States, which allowed for the various products to be exported there cheaply and easily.

Timber rafts by Parliament Buildings, 1882. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-008364 via Wikipedia
Booth lumber camp Aylen Lake Ontario 1895.
Source: Library and Archives Canada / C-075266 via Wikipedia
Perley and Pattee's Sawmill, Chaudière Falls near Ottawa. Source: Library and Archives Canada Copy negative: C-000020

Activity: Determine causes and consequences, changes and continuities

Students read the appropriate documents from the first sets of document pages in our collection and use a suggested graphic organizer to respond to questions like:

  • What aspects of industrialization impacted on the timber industry?

  • What specific elements of the timber industry changed?

(i.e. Consider the different new tools, technologies, methods, transportation, people, location, markets, etc.)


One of the final areas of industrialization occurred on farms. The agricultural situation in Lower Canada was not very good during this time period. (See Demographic Situation in L.C.). There was over farming of the land, which in turn became less and less fertile. Another issue was that that the seigneurial system remained, and the actual farmers or censitaire did not have ownership of the farms; they merely rented it from the Seigneurs.

However, beginning even as early as the 1840s (note that the seigneurial system was abolished only in 1854) seigneurs with large seigneuries, who were linked to the Catholic Church, began to give their renters (i.e. the censitaires) the ability to be freeholders, or in other words many habitants were given title to their own land, allowing them to buy and even sell it.

The rise of machinery through the agricultural revolution: a threshing machine in 1881 https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Révolution_agricole


As well there was a shift in the types of products that were being grown on the farms. There was a shift away from wheat farming and towards dairy farming, and people also began to raise other forms of livestock.

Especially in the Eastern Townships area, the dairy industry really started to grow. Not only were milk products being made there, but cheese became one of larger agricultural exports from Quebec, and butter was made, sold and shipped too. And just like with the timber industry this was largely due to the proximity to the American market and the ability to easily ship goods on the railway. In fact, by the turn of the 19th century the dairy industry had become the most important agricultural endeavour in the greater economy of Quebec.

These changes also went hand in hand with the beginnings of mechanization on farms. So, while in some of the northern areas of colonization a lot of the farming was still done in a very traditional way, in the south and on the old seigneuries more and more people began to use new machines, and a more industrial process for farming had taken root.

All texts by Matt Russell © LEARN under CC license BY-NC-ND unless indicated otherwise.

Activity: What were the impacts of industrialization and urbanization on the dairy industry?

Various documents and a student task on how the milk industry developed in the 19th century, and on connections to the themes of urbanization and industrialization, are available here.

Documents and activities

Below are the documents, media and activities ideas we are collecting for this time period. They are also available directly here ➦

1840-1896 (#5) Changes in Timber, Farm and Dairy Industries