The long road to modernization: transforming agriculture in Nova Scotia, 1867-1960

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University of New Brunswick


"The Long Road to Modernization: Transforming Agriculture in Nova Scotia, 1867-1960" examines Nova Scotia’s agricultural economy, focusing particularly on the role of the provincial state and its allies in the struggle to ensure farming adapted to the challenges of the modern era. In the late nineteenth century, in response to a precipitous decline in farming brought on by industrialization, Halifax began investing heavily, both in money and human resources, to create an agricultural sector that was scientific, efficient, productive, and market oriented. It promoted agricultural co-operatives, established the Nova Scotia Agricultural College at Truro, and sponsored the Nova Scotia Farmers’ Association and the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia, organizations that shared the government’s agenda for educating farm people in agricultural modernization. Moulding agriculture to modern economic practices engaged people from the premier to farm families. Whereas state-aided modernization of the fishery and forestry sectors took place largely in the wake of the Second World War, agricultural modernization began in earnest in the 1880s and reached full maturation in the years that followed 1945. The state deemed agriculture a fundamental sector of the provincial economy, and invested heavily in its improvement, consistent with long standing efforts to improve the provincial economy. Their efforts were not only economic, but were also geared towards preserving a viable rural society based around farming. Farming and rural life were viewed as the bulwark of a society’s democratic traditions, and the guardians of its customs, culture and morals. The perceived threat industrial modernity posed to farmers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries prompted an aggressive state effort to help the farmers adapt to the new environment. Examining this effort and the ideology that underwrote it provides a window to reveal the larger social transformations being wrought through the advent of modernity shaped by industrial capitalism and urbanization. The rise of government as a more proactive economic force, the coalescence of liberalism as the dominant economic and political ideology, and the expansion of educational infrastructure all shaped the course of modernity in Nova Scotia Agriculture. We can also view a hitherto unappreciated facet of the myriad state efforts to boost Nova Scotia’s long struggling economy, promoting modern farming. The primary story of this study is the struggle of government to assist farmers in adapting their age-old craft, one laden with tacit knowledge, folk traditions, and family sustenance to the modern age. Unfortunately, only those farmers who commanded sufficient capital and resources to bear the financial burden of modern farming could survive.