The Staples Thesis

Newfoundland and the Maritime Colonies

The Canadas and the Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence

British Columbia

Rupert's Land and the Northwestern Interior

The Political Economy of British North America

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Assignment for Topic 4: British North America (1776-1867) (Use your understanding of the material covered in this topic.) 

The consolidation of British power in North America following the conquest of New France in the 1760s was short-lived for, within a decade, British North America disintegrated as a result of the successful declaration of independence by the 13 colonies which became the nucleus of the new United States of America. The residue of British North America was a loose collection of colonies comprising Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Rupert's Land (controlled by the Hudson's Bay Company), and a vast, largely unorganized, territory stretching north and westward to the Pacific and the Arctic Ocean. What common bonds connected these disparate components of the British Empire included the reluctance of their residents, for whatever reasons, to become part of the United States and their consequential dependence -- politically, economically, and in most, but not all cases culturally, on the British imperial connection. 

The nature of this complex state of dependency was brilliantly conceptualized in what we know as the "staples thesis". This set of ideas -- for better or, in the opinion of some, for worse -- dominated the writing of Canadian history from the 1920s to the 1960s. Although some who have lamented its influence might wish us to forego reference to it in any new survey of the subject, for present purposes it seems wrong to do so. One reason is that the staples thesis (or "approach")  still serves well as a framework on which to hang a summary overview of the pre-Confederation British North American political economy. Another is that it has so permeated thinking about the nature of the Canadian situation, anyone unfamiliar with its implications is apt to become its unwitting captive, letting it influence understanding of later periods in Canadian development to which it is inapplicable.

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