Peterborough during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Peterborough, Ontario during the First World War 1914 - 1918.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Peterborough in 1914

Times (London, UK) Newspaper Headline - 5 August 1914

Every year in late August, news agencies and radio stations across Canada and the United States discuss the latest edition of the Beloit College Mindset List. The list consists of a comparison between the world that new university students (roughly 17 – 18 years old) grew up in, compared to our generation. Basically, it’s a study that makes everyone over the age of 18 feel ancient and irrelevant. For example: the study might say: “New students in 2012 never knew who shot JR on Dallas” or “Students going into university this year never had to change a typewriter ribbon.” 

With that spirit in mind, I am going to attempt to show what life was like in Peterborough in 1914 before the outbreak of war.

1. Price of an automobile in 1914 was roughly $550 -$ 1050. Some automobiles cost as much as $4,000  Average Canadian wage for a worker in 1914? $417. 

2. Transportation: Many residents in Peterborough got around town in streetcars (yes, we had tracks down main thoroughfares), train or bicycle. Some die-hard citizens still used horses to get around, mostly in the country side. There was also a daily horse drawn buggies that would commute back and forth from Ennismore to Peterborough, and Havelock every day.

3. The city of Peterborough only had the population of 18,360. Today, our population is 

4. Peterborough was known as the Electric City, thanks in part due to the large General Electric factory that employed roughly 2000 people. The pride of Peterborough, our Lift lock was only 10 years old in 1914.

5. Women in Peterborough could not vote. Women fought for suffrage and liquor/alcohol prohibition in the years leading up to the Great War. The Prohibition movement had taken a foothold in the Peterborough area; many Women’s Institutes advertised meetings on prohibition in the local papers in 1914.

6. Our Prime Minister was the dapper mustached Conservative Robert Borden.  Peterborough was a Blue Tory city. Both ridings of Peterborough East and West elected Conservatives in the 1911 federal election. The results were not surprising, given Peterborough’s close proximity to the town of Lindsay, Ontario, home of the popular fire-brand  Orange Order conservative and Minister of Militia Sam Hughes.

7. Peterborough was in the throes of a deep economic recession from 1913. The Peterborough examiner of 1914 attests to the unemployment problem, with many reports of ‘vagrants’ and ‘delinquents’ on the court docket. One advertisement in an April 1914 edition of the Examiner mentions that the Salvation Army was looking for donations for the 4,000 families in Peterborough that were in need of 'relief'

8. Workman’s Compensation Act was enacted in 1914. Workplace injury was very common in 1914. The Peterborough Examiner is filled with reports of workers losing limbs in factory machines, and reports of men falling to death at the Quaker Oats Factory at the grain elevator.

9. Divorce – was next to impossible in 1914 to get a divorce in Peterborough. Couples needed to petition to Parliament for a statutory divorce. The most couples that sought separation prior to WWI simply deserted their spouse or filed for legal separation.  There was no such thing as Child support.

10. Residents did not pay income tax in Peterborough in 1914. The “temporary” income tax was introduced in 1917 by Finance minister Thomas White. 

11. School children in Peterborough would sing Rule Britannia, God Save the King, and Maple Leaf Forever in schools. Children of Peterborough were often reminded that they were a part of the world’s largest empire, ruled by King George V  in 1914. Popular children's books in 1914 included the Boy's Own series, Chums, and books by the author Ralph Connor. Novels by Ralph Connor sold like hot cakes in Canada, which often exposed young Canadian boys to the ideal of a 'masculine Christianity.'  

12. Infrastructure in Peterborough: many areas of Peterborough still had dirt roads in 1914 (and you think driving on the washboard on Charlotte Street now is bad…) and city council was still debating the cost and merit of installing electricity to all areas of the city in 1914. Prior to the Great War, only major roads in downtown Peterborough were paved. Maps and Pictures from 1913 show only the roads from Aylmer to Hunter as paved. Charlotte Street was only paved in 1915.

13. Mass communication in Peterborough: Want to send e-mail in 1914? Forget it. The closest thing to instant communication was the telegram. Want to call a friend in 1914? Pick up the phone and dial three numbers to connect to the operator. Don’t forget to tell the operator which residence you wished to be connected with. According to records, only a 1000 people in Peterborough had phones in 1914.

14. Movies and Music: Forget Ipods, Itunes, and Radios. Peterborough had 3 record stores in 1914. If you want to hear the newest version of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary before buying it, you had to go into the store and sit in the booth to hear the song. Remember, radio was still in it infancy in 1914, radio stations only began to receive licences in 1919. Wanted to go to the movies in 1914?  Peterborough had 2 moving picture shows in 1914. In June 1916 the Peterborough Examiner advertised two films:  a Charlie Chaplin film called the Floorwalker, or the British propaganda film entitled Britain Prepared. Remember, they were silent films.

15. Canada in 1914:  In 1914, we had roughly 7.8 million people. If you walked in almost any street in Canada in 1914, you would have heard a foreign accent. In the period between 1900 - 1914, 2.9 million immigrants came to Canada. That means that 37.75% of Canada's population had arrived in Canada in the previous 14 years leading up to the Great War. Amazing.

16. Immigration: Canada had accepted 2.9 million new immigrants to Canada in the period between 1900 - 1914, but that is not to say that we were a tolerant society in 1914. Immigrants of British/Anglo-Saxon heritage were preferred. Immigrants from Asia were almost excluded to Canada with the enactment of the Chinese Head Tax in 1903 (it cost roughly $500 to come to Canada, an astronomical sum for Asian immigrants). In the summer of 1914, as Europe stood on the brink of war, the politicians in British Columbia were busy with the Komagata Maru affair. In 1914, a ship from India carrying mostly Sikh immigrants tried to dock in Vancouver, after a heated standoff, the ship of 376 potential Indian immigrants were sent back to India.

No comments:

Post a Comment