A History of Nova Scotia Page


Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
(1815-1867)
Chapter 4, The Existence Of Class In The First Half Of The 19th Century

It was thought that different classes of society was normal and vital to the proper working of things. All that was needed was a harmonious dependence on the one class to the other. To be a member of a class was most often determined by the accident of birth. Farmers were attached to their landlords and labourers to their farmers who employed them. Likewise, the connection between the trading and landed aristocracy was passed from generation to generation, as for example, a son would resort to the same shops his father had frequented before him. This class system never was as prominent in Nova Scotia as it was in England.1 Indeed, many came to Nova Scotia, whether conscious of it or not, because of the depressing influence of the class system; but it existed in Nova Scotia. If you were of the ruling class, which included the high religious priests and the officers of the military class, then you considered yourself high above the labourers of the docks and fields. This class system gradually broke down as the 19th century wore on.

"Yet, in reality the world during the first half of the 19th century, as viewed from the world of to-day, was still a very slow world, and it was vastly different from ours. It was a world of great distances, of vague boundaries rich with the promise of a new and better life to be created by the new lands and the new machines. Most people lived their life out in some small corner of the world, never seeing the rest. ...
We think of its stage coaches, its blazing open fires, its Christmas hospitalities. It seems as if friendship and affection struck in its quiet soil a deeper root, and neighbourliness made life more pleasant.2
Society in Nova Scotia, particularly in Halifax, was much like the American south, in a way.
"Without a 'working-class,' it was argued, there could not be an upper class of 'gentlemen' devoted to a life of leisure, art and culture. Without these there could be no society, no continuity of national life - or rather these were society - national life - all that mattered. The Greeks disdained alike manual labour and trade and, to their own detriment, all practical application of brilliant mathematical thought. Engineering slept while gentlemen debated philosophy.
This theory of humanity, accepting a fortunate upper class as standing on the shoulders of those below, is older than history, dies hard, and is not yet dead. In our American world, in the United States and Canada, the rough and tumble of pioneer life, the rush and clatter of rising settlements, kept tending to shake all the people together like beans in a bag. The 'squire' shook down into a squatter. The immigrant boy shook up into a captain of industry.3

NEXT: [Chapter 5, The Family]

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2011

Peter Landry