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Toronto in the 1890's : a decade of challenge and response Carter-Edwards, Dennis

Abstract

This thesis examines the response of the city of Toronto at the close of the nineteenth century, to problems associated with its status as a major metropolitan centre. As the largest and most populous city of Ontario, these problems posed a more serious challenge in Toronto than in any other city of the province. The years 1890-1900 were chosen because it was during this period that these problems first began to attract widespread public attention. Three specific problems were selected for intensive examination; aid for the poor, municipal reform, and public ownership. Each of these issues present a different aspect of Toronto's 'coming of age' and the response of citizens to challenges which accompanied this growth. This response of concerned citizens provides an opportunity of observing how a Canadian community tried to deal with these problems and the underlying attitudes which motivated the various sections of the community which took part. The question of providing assistance for the city's poor which followed the revelation of widespread poverty in Toronto, prompted a discussion on the best means of discriminating between worthy and unworthy applicants. With the persistence of this hardship and its extension into the ranks of the middle class, public attention shifted from the charity problem to the employment problem. Through a variety of schemes, citizens attempted to ease the employment crisis in the city and the demoralization of industrious, respectable men. It was the revival in business that accompanied the Laurier boom, rather than any specific action on the part of those interested in the problem, which helped ease the situation. However their efforts did contribute towards the development of expertise in the field of relief and helped lay the basis for a professional approach to social welfare. At the beginning of the decade, Toronto was saddled with a cumbersome and outdated system of civic government. The importance of City Council in directing the affairs of the city prompted concerned citizens and aldermen to try and adapt the municipal system to the needs of a modern city. This reform movement was hindered by a lack of co-operation among interested groups and the lethargy of City Council. When a set of common objectives was finally agreed upon, the provincial government emasculated the scheme. This dependent position of the city was clearly demonstrated when the provincial government, on its own initiative, later introduced a new system of municipal government. This system incorporated the general reform demands for a division of executive and legislative functions. No detailed discussion is presented on the influence of party politics in civic affairs. The absence of private papers, for the mayors of this period limits the possibility of such a discussion. Also, the campaign for municipal reform was based on the premise that city government was business rather than politics. The debate on municipal ownership presents another area where citizens attempted to deal with the problems of a large city. The provision of inexpensive services was a basic need for businessmen and citizens alike. Discussion of municipal ownership centred on whether private companies or City Council could best fulfill this need. Support for civic operation of civic franchises was first confined to a small group of reformers who held progressive views on such issues. However, growing dissatisfaction among the business community with the private corporations operating in the city, broadened the support for municipal ownership. Although an unfavourable combination of factors prevented the successful implementation of several plans for civic operation of municipal services, growing support among all sections of the community was clearly in evidence by the end of the decade. This established a basis for future advances in this area. Thus, during the 1890's, Toronto attempted to respond to the problems associated with its status as an important urban community. Not all of these attempts were successful, but the discussion which these issues provoked, drew public attention to these questions and laid a firm basis for future action on them.

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