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Historical Context

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Pictou County


The McQueen family letters document the experiences of a farm family living in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was an exciting time for the McQueen children to come of age. In this period, coal-rich Pictou County experienced an industrial revolution and mining communities mushroomed within a few kilometers of the McQueen's Sutherland's River farm.

Pictou County was not alone in experiencing the great transformation from commercial to industrial society. In 1867 Nova Scotia had become part of a Confederated Canada and, within four years, the nation's boundaries extended across the Prairies and into British Columbia. By 1885 the Canadian Pacific Railroad spanned the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Montreal and Toronto had begun to dominate the nation's industrial development under the protection of the National Policy tariff of 1879. The industrial growth of Pictou County would eventually be blunted by the centralization of industry in the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes heartland but not before local entrepreneurs put Pictou County on the map by developing the nation's first integrated steel industry.

As the letters attest, the horizons for the McQueens and other Pictou County families extended beyond Canada. Many young people in the province sought jobs south of the border as the United States went from strength to strength in its economic and social development. The McQueen children were keenly aware of the opportunities opening up around them and, like many Pictou County children, saw education as their key to success.