Frontier of Opportunity: The Social Organization of Self-Employment in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1881-1901


  • David G. Burley


In the 1870s and early 1880s Winnipeg seemed a frontier of opportunity for hundreds of men seeking a future in business. This article links the manuscript census records and the credit reports of Dun, Wiman and Co. for 1881, 1891, and 1901 to evaluate the prospects of self-employed businessmen. The rate of self-employment in Winnipeg was higher in 1881 than that documented in studies of Ontario. This higher rate was not sustained past 1901, however, and was accompanied in the 1880s and 1890s by a high rate of business closures. By the beginning of the twentieth century, businesses fell under the surveillance of metropolitan credit reporters who informed lenders of their capital and credit worthiness. Credit ratings and business success became increasingly associated with capital, and those with the least capital and without credit reports had the greatest difficulty in staying in business.