V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > H. North America, 1789–1914 > 3. British North America, 1789–1914
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1763, Oct. 7) (See 1783–87)
3. British North America, 1789–1914
a. Overview
The period between the American Revolution and the 1880s witnessed major transformations in Canadian society. The country made the transition from a political economy shaped by British mercantilism to a new system of free trade, industrialization, and urbanization. During this period, the nation also attracted large numbers of new immigrants, moved into the western territories, and gradually brought disparate provinces into a larger national union. Significant class, regional, and racial factors nonetheless shaped the nation's history, but they did not erupt into a bloody civil war (between Europeans, as in the United States) partly because they were legally defined and institutionalized from the outset.  1
Canada's European population increased from an estimated 250,000 in 1791 to over 1.6 million in 1845. By the 1870s, the nation's population had increased to nearly 4 million. Although French-speaking Canadians outnumbered other nationality groups during the early years, by the 1840s English-speaking Canadians surpassed their French-speaking counterparts in numbers. With the repeal of the British Corn Laws (See 1846, June 26) during the 1840s and the rise of free trade policies thereafter, the Canadian economy experienced the beginnings of a fundamental reorientation toward industrialism. New manufacturing establishments slowly emerged, cities expanded, and improvements in transportation and communication proceeded apace. By the 1860s and 1870s, new urban industrial elites increasingly displaced an earlier commercial elite with close ties to agricultural production. Nonetheless, for most of this period the old commercial elite dominated the economy, society, and politics of the nation. They controlled the provincial governments and made policies that reinforced their control of the nation's resources. White workers, women, African Canadians, and Native Americans found it difficult to reverse patterns of inequality that subordinated them within the Canadian political economy. Moreover, the cleavage between French- and English-speaking Canadians persisted.  2
Despite social fragmentation, Canada experienced significant strides toward independence and sovereignty. Although it was divided between Upper Canada and Lower Canada and remained closely anchored to the British Empire following the American Revolution, it gained an expanding measure of autonomy during the 19th century. In 1840, the Union Act brought the two Canadas together in one legislature, and, following the American Civil War, the British North American Act created the Dominion of Canada. Consisting of four provinces—Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick—the nation moved toward even greater control over its domestic and foreign affairs.  3
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.