During the first half of the 19th century, Montréal expanded as never before. A new type of commerce replaced the fur trade, altering the city’s economic structure. Its population, much larger now, became predominantly English-speaking. The urban territory expanded, calling for new forms of management.
A commercial metropolis
The city found itself at the centre of a rapidly expanding rural world, encompassing a vast agricultural plain with an ever-increasing French-Canadian population, and Ontario, settled by Loyalists who emigrated from the United States after the American Revolution.
Starting in 1815, an unprecedented wave of immigration from the British Isles helped stimulate and diversify the economy. Montréal exported wheat to Great Britain and imported manufactured goods. Local products would soon be distributed in rural areas. Manufacturing was primarily limited to craftsmen, but factories were beginning to appear.
Merchants founded shipping companies to manage transportation between Montréal and Ontario, and between Montréal and Québec City. They successfully lobbied the government to build canals, including the Lachine Canal in 1825. They then went on to build, in 1836, the first Canadian railroad from La Prairie to Saint-Jean. As early as 1817, the expanding trade network led these successful merchants to found the first Canadian bank, the Bank of Montréal.
After 1830, while still dependent on Great Britain and its commercial ventures, Montréal became an important link in the British Empire’s economic network.