Themes - Ontario Heritage Trust



  • 1 Northern Ontario's Resource Communities

    As railways, and then highways, opened up remote areas of the province to industry and settlement from the late 19th century onward, there emerged a number of communities in northern Ontario that developed around the exploitation of a single natural resource. These communities were created for the purpose of mining one of the many metals and minerals embedded in the Canadian Shield – such as gold silver nickel, copper and uranium – or logging the region’s vast boreal forests. Whether they were built around the extraction of minerals or forest products, these single-resource communities shared several common features. The communities’ economies were not diversified enough to encourage growth and they therefore remained relatively small. This was primarily due to the fact that raw materials were typically sent elsewhere for processing. Additionally, the costs of developing adjunct industries were high in these usually isolated areas. The extraction or development of the resources upon which these communities relied was usually the initiative of an outside corporation or government. The communities’ inhabitants, therefore, had little control over their own economic development and were largely excluded from decision-making processes. Key decisions were often made in the economic interests of the controlling enterprises rather than the health of the local community. Because these communities tended to arise in sparsely inhabited areas, the workforce/population was not drawn from local communities but was brought in from further abroad – often from outside the county. Therefore, pockets of ethnic groups existed within the communities – such as Poles, Ukrainians, Italians and French-Canadians – who brought with them their customs, religions and languages. Religion was typically a central aspect of their national identities and religious institutions played an integral role in helping newcomers establish themselves in Ontario. Churches were built and clergy was brought in to meet the specific needs of these ethnic groups. Unfortunately, the narrowness of their economies made these single-resource communities especially susceptible to the boom and bust of market fluctuations. Over time, many of them have diminished significantly in size or vanished altogether.

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