Essay: The Empire of the St. Lawrence by Donald Creighton
The book takes us back to the British conquest of Quebec, a time when the development of the St. Lawrence riverine region was proceeding much as it had been since Europeans came to Canada.
The river in the mid- to late-18th century, as it had been doing for decades, served as a conduit into the interior of the country for business and dreams of wealth. Montreal grew up as a centre for channeling this commerce and the wealth it produced, serving to route the basic goods produced in the frontier region to other parts of the country and the world. But this dominance of Montreal in the area, and the importance of furs to the regional economy, was beginning to shift by the late 18th century and certainly by the first decades of the 19th century. The Hudson’s Bay Trading Company was proving to be a serious rival to Montreal and the St. Lawrence – and there were fewer and fewer furs coming in from the frontier.
However, Montreal and the St. Lawrence – and the empire of trade and money that grew up around this city and this river – still had a good deal of life in them yet, and the empire of commerce that Creighton describes would come to define Canadian economic activity, and indeed in many ways Canadian identity, in ways that are still felt today – once we understand their source.
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