The first settlers had to clear land in order to build their homes and farms. They had to provide their own food and clothing. A family's survival required undertaking a wide range of daily tasks in order to meet their farm and household needs. In order for a family to succeed, it was necessary for each member of the family to contribute.
In the early days of settlement, it was not uncommon for women and children to help with the heavy tasks of clearing land, planting and harvesting crops. At the same time, a woman was expected to provide the basic needs of food and clothing for her family. The farmer had to concentrate his energy on accumulating more cleared land, building needed farm buildings, and tending to livestock. A practical division of labour occurred that followed traditional roles: men toiled in the fields and women provided the basic family needs. The more help provided by children, the more productive the family. Sharing of household and farm chores also provided children with a chance to acquire the skills and knowledge which they would need as adults. These responsibilities also served as a disincentive for children to attend school or pursue other interests.
By the mid-1800s, both local and more distant markets for surplus farm products were well developed. However, this development did not occur evenly throughout Upper Canada. Those areas with a larger population, more prosperous farms, and better access to improved transportation tended to develop more rapidly. At first, surplus products were traded or sold for goods and services that the family could not provide for themselves. For example, butter may have been traded for sugar, or a portion of wool taken to the local woollen mill to be carded was left as payment. The availability of these goods and services made life easier for the settler, expanding the range of available foodstuffs and merchandise available. It also freed the family from less productive, time consuming tasks, allowing more time for production of items for which there was a market, and creating opportunities for leisure activities.