The Limits of Rural Capitalism: Family, Culture, and Markets in Montcalm, Manitoba, 1870-1940


280 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8347-1
DDC 971.27'4




Reviewed by Frits Pannekoek

Frits Pannekoek is an associate professor of heritage studies, director
of information resources at the University of Calgary, and the author of
A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance of


Canada has few historiographical milestones in the last decade.
Particularly deficient has been local history. Sylvester offers the
field hope. He has linked financial, legal, and social data in a way
that both illuminates and poses questions of the West’s early
agricultural past. Sylvester argues that family was the primary social
and economic construct of the first wave of settlement. He also argues
that even as modern “capitalism” inexorably drew in the community,
its impact was shaped by family and social choice, not external economic

Sylvester admits that increased credit along with the intrusion of
banks and the machine companies did shape responses, but that the
responses were tempered by family considerations. New machines were
often purchased by families. When money was needed, it was often
borrowed from within the community. Kin also remained the primary source
of labor, thereby constraining the development of a local market. And
the strong desire to leave the land to the next generation prevented the
accumulation of wealth except in a few cases. The move to Winnipeg, when
it occurred, which was not often, was a difficult one, and when it did
happen successfully it was aided by family. The world of high
agricultural finance, Sylvester argues, had little real impact on
Montcalm in the period under study. Does this mean that all those
histories focusing on the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Winnipeg
Grain Exchange will have to be rethought? Well, at least in part. This
book is a plea for archives to maintain and accumulate local records,
which are so fragile and are being lost at an incredible rate.

What the reader will appreciate in The Limits of Rural Capitalism is
the economy and clarity of Sylvester’s prose. It is easy to see how
this study might be replicated again and again for other ethnic and
economic groups. Would it be valid for the Ukrainian settlements of
Eastern Alberta, for example, or was Franco Manitoba unusual?


Sylvester, Kenneth Michael., “The Limits of Rural Capitalism: Family, Culture, and Markets in Montcalm, Manitoba, 1870-1940,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,