Points Bibliography: Histories of Alcohol and Tobacco in the U.S. and Canada

Editor’s Note:  These entries are part of an ongoing drug-related dissertation bibliography being compiled by Jonathon Erlen. They were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but are now periodically featured on the Points blog. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

From Farm to Firm: Canadian Tobacco c. 1860-1950

Author: McQuarrie, Jonathan Robert

Abstract: This dissertation examines the transformation of Canadian tobacco cultivation from its roots in local markets and personal consumption to a multi-million dollar concern featuring corporate plantations and multi-acre tobacco farms. It focuses on how tools of agricultural modernization— abstraction, expertise, experimentation, fertilization, government policy, land ownership, and marketing associations—produced unanticipated challenges that complicated any linear development of tobacco cultivation. The dissertation places everyday experiences of tobacco cultivation alongside the broader sweep of agricultural modernization to argue that the deployment of the tools of modernization produced new limitations over expert control of the environment and markets. The dissertation considers cultivation in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, and includes moments of rapid expansion, such as the rise of the flue-cured tobacco “New Belt” in Norfolk and Elgin counties during the late 1920s, and instances of gradual failure, like efforts to encourage commercial tobacco in the Okanagan and Sumas Valley regions of B.C. Various farmer organizations and cooperatives feature in the exploration of the responses and initiative of farmers to the evolving requirements of tobacco companies for their raw material. The role of both federal and provincial government officials also receives considerable attention, as they promoted modern, commercial-orientated tobacco cultivation while attempting to remain an intermediary force between farmers and corporations. The records of the federal Tobacco Division and various government investigations collectively demonstrate that this position was not always tenable, as the government would find itself drawn into fierce disputes over farm prices and the monopolistic character of Imperial Tobacco. These disputes illustrate how modernization produced instabilities even as it improved farm revenues. Collectively, this dissertation’s consideration of farm work, environmental change, and markets demonstrate how the possibilities of agricultural innovation produced their own tensions and limitations that are fundamental to understanding the lived experience of capitalism and modernization in rural Canada.

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