Confronting Rural Localism: The Good Roads Movement in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, 1897–1920


  • Jack Little Simon Fraser University



The Good Roads Movement originated in the United States in the early 1890s, expanding to Ontario then Quebec soon afterward. Fostered by urban interests, its original aim was to convince rural municipalities to replace seasonal dirt roads with “permanent” roads constructed either with gravel or crushed stone. The promise to farmers was that their lives would be improved by greater access to markets, churches, and schools, as well as by less wear and tear on their horses and vehicles, among other benefits. Reformers claimed that the chief obstacle they faced was the long-entrenched system of seasonal statute labour, which they wished to replace with a more centralized system of contractors under the supervision of municipal overseers. But rural ratepayers in the Eastern Townships, as elsewhere in North America, resisted paying a money tax as well as surrendering direct control over their neighbourhood roads. Many rural municipalities adhered to statute labour until the rise of the automobile shortly before the First World War motivated the provincial government to begin shifting its focus toward the construction of hard-surface routes for the use of mostly urban motorists and tourists.

Author Biography

Jack Little, Simon Fraser University

Jack Little is a Professor Emeritus in the History Department of Simon Fraser University