IN 1891, THERE WERE 61,127 PAGANS IN CANADA, ONLY THREE OF WHOM LIVED IN NOVA SCOTIA & OTHER FACTS & FOIBLES FROM OUR FAMILY ALBUM
Once every 10 years, Canada sits for a family portrait at the hands of the census takers, who form us up in ranks, sort us out, check our pockets, and snap the shutter. The results appear in the Canada Year Book, census reports and statistical summaries that dribble out weeks later. This month, the statisticians are huddling over figures gathered June 1 in our eleventh decennial census — a century of portraying the Canadian people. While we wait for the prints to dry, this is a good time to flip back through our family album for snapshots, taken at 20-year intervals, showing how we looked when we were growing up.
The ladies wore small hats, bodices and, from the waist down, a kind of birdcage over which were draped gowns and petticoats beyond counting. City gentlemen wore light waistcoats, dark tail-
coats and plug hats, while the country folk wore homespun. Men of all classes wore their hair shaggy, and sported a wide variety of moustaches, beards and sideburns. They spat a lot, owing to the chaw of tobacco customarily tucked in one cheek.
In the newly opening land, oxen were still a major source of power, and Vancouver, where this picture was taken near what is now the corner of Burrard and Pender streets, was still mostly forest. Actually, it wasn’t even Vancouver, officially. The place was established as an urban settlement when Granville was founded in 1874, and did not receive its proper name until 1886. The town promptly burned down — or at least most of it did — and had to be hastily rebuilt.
Canada was only four years old, and reached the western sea this very year with the entry of British Columbia into Confederation (Manitoba had joined in 1870, Prince Edward Island would come in on July 1, 1873). The population of the new Dominion stood at 3,689,257, of whom 2,110,502 were of British origin, 1,082,940 of French and 495,815 Other (mainly of remote Dutch and German stock).
We were moving away from pioneer days and, although 81.7% of our people still lived in rural areas, scattered along boggy mud or brutal corduroy roads, respectable towns and even cities were springing up. Montreal’s population was 129,822 and Toronto’s 59,000. Every town had its villas and
mansions stuffed with fringed sofas, embroidered stools, marble fireplaces and gold-framed mirrors. Most houses were lit by kerosene, although a few had gas.
Despite the increasing sophistication it was, withal, a simple age. The Dominion revenues were $19,335,660 in 1871, about one third of what Montreal receives today for water rates, and expenditures were a black-inked $15,623,081, about one thousandth of this year’s Canadian budget. The average tax per capita was $4.64.
It was a merry time; the Canada Temperance Act was still seven merciful years in the offing and in 1871 Canadians guzzled 4.31 gallons of beer, wine and spirits for every man, woman and child in the country. The favorite social events were dances, picnics, regattas and toboggan and skating parties; the favorite sports were cricket, lacrosse, soccer football and curling, with bonspiels for such heady prizes as a barrel of oatmeal.
In 1871 Canadians churned 74,190,584 pounds of butter, none of which would melt in the mouth of Sir John A. Macdonald, our Prime Minister. It was our age of innocence.
This was the year of Sir John A.
Macdonald’s last stand, his victory in the Reciprocity election, during which he lashed out at the “veiled treason” of those who wanted to remove U.S.-Canadian
trade barriers. Macdonald needed a galvanizing issue, for the nation, still only 24 years old, was in trouble. The population had grown since 1871 by less than 1.5 million to a total of 4,833,239 (against a predicted 8,825,000). Natural increase should have come to more than that, and the answer lay in the more than one million people who had slipped over the border to the U.S. during the preceding decade.
Who could blame them? Jobs were short and soup lines long. In one Toronto food depot, volunteer ladies were ladling out 70 gallons of soup per day to the destitute. Industries had sprung up behind the tariff barriers of Macdonald’s National Policy, but it was a lucky worker who brought home $350 a year, hardly enough, even when butter was 21 cents a pound, eggs 21 cents a dozen and chickens 45 cents a pair.
Electric lights and even streetcars were luring people to the cities, but we were still 71.3% rural. In the snooty language of the Year Book, “No particulars of origin were taken in 1891, and very wisely too, as they were of no specially instructive value and only tended to perpetuate distinctions.” The same Year Book noted that “persons of Mongolian or Chinese” race were excluded from voting. (The 215 MPs were paid $10 a day, but the member who ducked out for a day was docked eight dollars.)
We were moving away from our primitive beginnings, and when a threshing gang on the
Easson farm near Keene, Ontario, gathered for a formal portrait to signal the end of their labors they formed up around an impressively large, noisily cranking threshing machine. Farm workers such as these were well fed and their conditions were normally hard but fair. In the cities, however, inhumane conditions were common. Wage rates were depressed and often laborers found their pittance withheld or paid off in kind. A royal commissioner commented in 1889, “There seems to be no idea of any obligation existing between the employer and his operatives ... To obtain a very large percentage of work with the smallest possible outlay of wages appears to be the one fixed and dominant idea.”
Statistical analyses were getting complex enough to pick up such gloomy notes as the fact that there were 36 suicides in 1891, that lung disease was the most frequent killing illness and that in Hull, a cold and muddy town, 239 out of 339 deaths that year were among children aged five or younger.
The census uncovered 61,127 pagans in Canada, only three of whom were found in Nova Scotia. There is no record of what happened to those rascals when the word got out.
Canada, at last, was beginning to stretch and grow. The filling up of the American West and a boom wheat market (in 1911 we exported 45,802,115 bushels) brought immigrants pouring into
the Prairies, hurried on by the aggressive salesmanship of Clifford Sifton and the expanding railways of Mackenzie and Mann. Alberta and Saskatchewan had come into being in 1905, and already Saskatchewan’s population was pushing the half-million mark. Between the census of 1901 and that of 1911, 1,867,651 immigrants flooded into Canada, and the total population stood at 7,206,643.
We were, alas, not equally divided. There were 3,821,995 males and 3,384,648 females, or 130 more males among every 1,000 Canadians than females, “the deficiency being greater,” as the 1912 Year Book noted sadly, “than probably any other country.”
We welcomed most, but not all, comers. Regulations provided that “Chinese of the laboring classes . . . pay a head tax of $50.” The provision was not only discriminatory but profitable; the head tax returned $2,262,052 in 1911. By that time the census showed 27,774 Chinese in Canada, 19,568 of them in fast-growing BC, whose population had shot from 98,173 to 392,480 in two decades.
Under the impetus of inrushing settlers, towns sprang up in what was once an empty wilderness. When Saskatoon was organized as a village in 1902,
the legalizing ordinance called for 20 houses within a square mile. As the local storekeeper later recalled, “By counting all the shacks we managed it.” In 1903, the village became a town, although
there was again a difficulty — finding nine councillors who had the qualification of a year in residence. But by 1905 Saskatoon received a city charter, by 1910 it had a population of 12,000 and a university was being built. Life was much more settled in the east, of course, where all the swells turned out for the Toronto Canoe Club regatta pictured above.
We were becoming increasingly urban, with 45.4% of our people in cities and towns, and Montreal’s population stood at 490,504. The census takers had gone back to sorting us by ethnic groups and found, as in 1871, almost twice as many Canadians of British (3,999,081) as French (2,061,719) descent. And, merciful heavens, the number of pagans had dropped to 11,840.
Wages were still low — the average pay was about $460 annually — and, not surprisingly, labor unions were gathering recruits. There were 133,100 unionized Canadians.
The first rumblings of war were beginning to be heard in Europe and, in Canada, this was the year of another Reciprocity election. Once again, Canadians turned down free trade with the U.S. and defeated Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
When the time came for Canada’s seventh census, we had been through a major war together and the soaring giddiness of the 1920s, and we were an independent power in the world. But our
growing self-confidence staggered under the hammer blows of the Depression, which began in 1929, and there were few takers for such bargains as the 1932 McLaughlin-Buick at $1,290. Out of a 1931 population of 10,376,786, there were 475,000 jobless— 17% of the work force.
The drift to the cities had accelerated and for the first time the urban population exceeded the rural, although agriculture was still our largest industry. We were still moving west. PEI’s population had dropped from 109,078 in 1891 to 88,038, while Manitoba’s had multiplied by more than four times in the same period, from 152,506 to 700,139.
It was the swollen urban working class who bore the brunt of the Depression and formed the soup lines in eastern Canada, while in the West farmers, hit by drought, hail and low prices, were the chief sufferers. The national net farm income plunged from $417 million in 1929 to $109 million four years later.
The 1931 census should have shown a Canadian population of 11.5 million by natural increase alone; the missing one million were, once again, those who had struck out for the U.S. Another disturbing trend showed that while there were 2,997,990 Canadians of French origin and 5,381,071 of British, nearly seven million Canadians spoke only English and fewer than two million spoke only French. Obviously the 1,322,370 who spoke both languages were
mainly of French origin.
Canada’s increasing diversification appeared in figures on the growth of religious denominations. For the first time, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Mennonites showed up in appreciable numbers, although Roman Catholics still formed 40% of the religious and the new United Church stood second. Despite continuing attempts to shut out Asians — the head tax went as high as $500 at intervals — the census turned up 15,874 Buddhists and 24,087 Confucians. For the first time, Eskimos were surveyed, with interesting results. One enumeration interview went like this:
Q: What is your name?
A: Why, you know my name.
Q: Yes, I do, but you must say it, for the man with the stripes on his trousers must hear the sounds clearly if he is to write them in a book.
A: My name is Ooblariak.
Q: Where were you born?
A: In a whale boat.
Q: Close to where?
A: The whaling ship Active.
It was an uncertain year all round.
This was the year Abbott and Costello met the Invisible Man, having already encountered Frankenstein (1948), the Killer (1949) and the Foreign Legion (1950).
We were in the era of mass enter-
tainment, and mass American entertainment at that. Television had not yet arrived in Canada, but we had already bought 40,000 sets in anticipation.
We had come through World War II relatively unscathed, prosperous and ready to settle down to the serious business of raising babies. The 1951 census showed the postwar baby boom, with the population soaring to 14,009,429 (a gain in 20 years of more than Canada’s original population) aided by the addition of Newfoundland’s 361,416 people in 1949.
It was a good country to join. Prosperity showed in the purchase of domestic appliances (more than 90% of homes had radios, more than 20% had refrigerators), in wage rates (Vancouver bricklayers earned $1.88 an hour, laborers $1.16), and, inevitably, in rising food prices. A week’s food for a family of four cost $21, up from $15.50 in 1948, and things got so bad that a Sudbury, Ontario, café jumped the price of its five-cent dinner to a dime (for soup with vegetables and dumplings and your fill of bread and butter).
We were no longer an agricultural nation; there were 382,000 more workers in manufacturing than on the farms, and the demand for labor was bringing
women into industry, where there were three times as many as there had been in 1941.
The year was a watershed in our age makeup. From the time of Confederation, the median age (the balance point: half the population is below the median age
and half above) had been rising. In 1881 it was 20.1 years, in 1951 it reached 27.8. It would go no higher; by 1956 it had dropped to 27.4, by 1961 to 26.5; today more than half the population is under 25.
More than 60% of the people were in cities and towns. Montreal’s population was 1,021,520, Toronto’s 675,754 and Vancouver had become our third city, with 344,833. The flight from the farms had cut Saskatchewan’s population from 921,785 to 831,728 in two decades.
It was a time of change; while the last bread and milk wagons still rolled through Toronto streets, downtown the subway was abuilding to the sound of steam hammers and naysayers who were sure it was impractical. The big bands were still swinging, and drape pants were still in style. The Financial Times of London called Canada “the envy of the world,” and we agreed.
However, an ominous new trend was beginning to show on statistical charts. American direct investment in Canada totaled $5.89 billion in 1949; it would almost double in the next six years, and more than double again by 1970.
In prosperous 1951, the influx was much applauded.
This year’s census will show that we have come a long way in a century. The population will nudge 21.3 million, more than five times the Canadian total of 1871; the province of Ontario alone con-
tains more than twice as many people as the nation held 100 years ago.
We have become a modern industrial state, on the way to post-industrialism, with only 457,000 out of a work force of 8,336,000 still employed in agriculture. The Canadian Gross National Product has soared to an annual rate of $84 billion, more than double the $37 billion of a decade ago, and personal incomes are about $3,000 per capita, up from $1,563 in 1961.
Prices are much higher than in earlier times but so are wages. A century ago, a suit of clothes cost less than $10, Eaton’s was advertising “Light - Colored Grenadines at $2.38 the full dress of 14 yards,” butter was 20 cents a pound, eggs 18 cents a dozen and pork 15 cents a pound. You could rent a modest house in Toronto for $12 a month, or buy a 10-room dwelling with well, outbuildings and “an excellent garden on the premises” in Orillia, Ont., for $3,500. But at that time a laborer made 60 cents a day, a schoolteacher $200 a year. Francis Abbott, foreman of the staff for general repairs on the Carleton and Grenville Canal, pulled down a princely two dollars a day. In terms of the work it takes to supply food, clothing and shelter, ordinary people in Canada are far better off than they
were when the first census was taken. James Cassidy, laborer, with 19 years and six months seniority, drew six cents an hour for his 10-hour day a century ago; at that rate it took him 150
minutes to earn the price of a pound of pork. Today’s laborer, at $4.05 an hour, can have 79-cent pork chops in 11 minutes and 42 seconds. Cassidy could have purchased a nine-dollar suit for 150 hours of work; a laborer today can buy an $89 suit for just under 22 hours. Foreman Abbott could cover $12-amonth rent with six days’ work; a Regina plumber, at $5.17 an hour, can cover $248.76 rental in the same period. A sampling of wages and prices across the century shows the same constant improvement. In 1891, a stonemason labored 36 minutes for the price of a dozen eggs; today’s bricklayer can have them for six minutes’ work. When sirloin steak cost 28 cents a pound in 1931, it took a 65-cent-an-hour tradesman 27 minutes to earn it; today’s six-dollars-an-hour tradesman can have it in 12 minutes.
We have acquired a whole new set of problems, from pollution to drugs, and carried over many of the old ones, from friction between our two founding races to worries about the Americans. But as a family we have grown, matured, filled out; we are stronger, healthier, more prosperous and better educated than we were a century ago and, compared to most nations, have many blessings to count at census time. ■