Could seigneurial tenure have mattered?

This paper is intended as a conference paper. It encompasses an earlier article we have already submitted (on living standards in Lower Canada in 1831). However, it considers the question we (myself and my co-authors) thought the most relevant: did seigneurial tenure in Canada have an important impact?

The peculiarities of seigneurial tenure as a land tenure system were unique to Canada and, we argue, create barriers to economic activity. While we are not the first to consider this channel to explain Canada’s poorer economic performance (more precisely, the French part of Canada), we are the first to ask the question if it did matter using empirical estimates. Numerous scholars have claimed that while it may not have helped, the impact of seigneurial would have been – at best – limited. Using wages and prices from across the colony in the census year of 1831, we can isolate the effects of institutional differences on real wages. When we control for environmental factors and access to markets, we find that non-seigneurial areas enjoyed a wage advantage over seigneurial areas ranging between 29% to 39%. We argue that, while the channels through which those differences would have emerged are manifold and thus would require individual studies, it is clear that seigneurial tenure did matter.

The paper will be presented at the Economic and Business History Society meeting in Montreal (may 2016). The paper is available here. 


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