By Andrew Holman
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Additional resources for A Sense of Their Duty: Middle-Class Formation in Victorian Ontario Towns
There is, perhaps, no error more common, in relation to Canada than the supposition that no social differences or distinctions are recognized among her population," one English emigrant reported back to his countrymen in 1875. It is unquestionably true that in almost every phase of Canadian life, democratic tendencies exhibit themselves ... but it must not be supposed that this principle is incompatible with the existence of those conditions and relationships necessary to the constitution of what, in England, we call good society.
But the whole community, Agricultural, Mechanical, and Professional, have many invaluable interests staked upon the course which the men who set themselves up as the exchangers of commodities may choose to take. Huron Signal, 2 February 1854 The businessmen of small-town Ontario — merchants, manufacturers, and master artisans — were the most numerous, the most prominent, and arguably the most representative members of the middle class in the late nineteenth century. Enterprise was the lifeblood of local communities, and, in the minds of many contemporaries, the state of local production and commerce reflected the character of the community as a whole.
Charity needed to be distributed, but judiciously, and then only in exchange for work. Prolonged assistance or bare "give-outs" helped no one in the end, many believed. 3 As notable to contemporary commentators were the self-fashioned "gentry" in mid-nineteenth-century North America, those viewed at once both as threats to the social order and as living anachronisms in the new democracy. 4 Critics, however, were far more numerous. The pursuit of wealth tended to come at the cost of honesty and honour, some moralists held, and with a jettisoning of the work ethic.
A Sense of Their Duty: Middle-Class Formation in Victorian Ontario Towns by Andrew Holman