This article aims to examine the development trajectory of a local innovation system in a rural region, namely La Pocatière, Québec (Canada), from an extended historical perspective (1830–2005). More specifically, its objective is to identify and analyse historical factors that give us a better understanding of the main determinants of the special heritage of this innovation system and of the institutional context in which it emerged and evolved. In short, the relation between the dynamics of innovation and institutional change is examined over time. Historical documents are analysed and the research provides a description and contextualization of the development of this innovation system, and of its spread, particularly in the farming and agricultural‐science sector initially, and subsequently in technological and industrial areas (physical technologies and the transport equipment industry). Four main periods are described, corresponding to changes in types of institutional behaviour in relation to innovation: a phase of setting up pioneering institutions and innovations (1827–1911), a phase of growth and influence of the agricultural‐science institutions (1911–62), a phase of rupture, economic diversification and development of the technological cluster (1962–97), and a phase of redeployment and growing complexity of the elements of the innovation system (1997–2005).