Cities in an Era of Growth and Reform,
1900-1920, by G.A. Stelter

Outline of Module 10

1. Urban Growth and its Consequences
2. Edwardian Guelph
3. Suggested Research Topics
4. Assigned Reading
5. Discussion Questions


1. Urban Growth and its Consequences

a. The nature of urban growth.

The scale of urban growth increased dramatically in the early 20th century and we will examine several aspects of this phenomenon.

First, these were the decades of the great city - the metropolis. At the turn of the century the largest cities in the world were Greater London with about six million residents and New York with about five million.[1] By 1920, New York had become the largest at eight and a half million, with London at seven million. In Canada scholars have not yet explored the implications for this country and its cities of being so closely associated with the largest and most powerful cities in the world. Canada's largest cities were not in the same league in terms of size and power, but the pattern of the largest cities taking up much of the total population growth did apply. Montreal, Canada's first metropolis, grew from 267,000 to 618,000 during these two decades; Toronto from 200,000 to 522,000. As well, by 1921, western cities such as Winnipeg with 179,000 and Vancouver with 163,000 had become established as sub-metropolitan centres in their own right.

Why did the largest cities grow more quickly than their rivals during this period? Several factors can only be suggested for this question has not been thoroughly studied as yet.[2] The concentration of industry in the largest places appears to have been based on the economies of scale and the immediate proximity to a large market. The growth of consumer industries and the service sector led to the employment of larger numbers of semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The office functions based on white collar workers also concentrated in larger cities and led to the development of specialized central business districts.[3] The improved technology of transportation appears to have accelerated the process of centralizing economic power at the same time as decentralizing where people lived within the metropolis.

Second, as the general world-wide trend continued toward a higher proportion of a country's population living in urban places, the largest cities captured a disproportionate share of this increase. In Canada, in the forty year period from 1891 to 1931, the urban proportion (based on those living in places of 1,000 or over) rose from about 32% to 54%. Another way of describing this trend - about one of three Canadians lived in urban places in 1891; by 1931, more than one of two lived in urban places. This urban growth was not spread evenly over the spectrum of urban sizes for the growth was strongest at the top of the urban hierarchy. The population of the cities in the 100,000 and over range became increasingly important in terms of numbers. Between 1891 and 1931, their proportion of the country's total population rose from 8% to 22%. That is, in 1891 about one in twelve Canadians lived in the largest places; by 1931 it had risen to almost one in four. See the detailed table illustrating these changes.

Third, a kind of giantism was introduced into the physical scale of downtown development in large North American cities, in contrast to European cities like London and Paris which limited the height of buildings for aesthetic reasons. Although the skyscraper was invented in Chicago, the first real concentration of these new forms took place in New York during these decades with examples such as the Flatiron Building (1902), the Metropolitan Building (1909) and the Woolworth Building (1913).

image Figure 1a: The Flatiron Building in New York (1902).Designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, this twenty-one storey building was the tallest in the world when completed in 1902. Its triangular shape reflected its location at the diagonal intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street, then the heart of Manhattan. Source: G.A.Stelter, 1997.

image Figure 1b: The tower of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Building, New York (1909)This addition to an 1893 building, on Madison Square, near the Flatiron, replaced the Flatiron as the world's tallest. Source: G.A.Stelter, 1997.

In Canada, the first "tall" office building was the eight storey New York Insurance Company Building (1888), in Montreal, shown in Module Two. But Toronto took up the New York approach more enthusiastically in the early 20th century, with the Trader's Bank Building (1906) and the Canadian Pacific Building (1911), both fifteen storeys. These were followed by the twenty storey Royal Bank Building (1914).

image Figure 1: Toronto's first phase of skyscraper building. The main buildings are nicely lined up along Yonge Street, from King to Colborne Streets. The Royal Bank is at the left, the Canadian Pacific in the middle, and the Trader's on the right.
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter

Throughout North America's largest cities, these new structures created a new urban silhouette replacing that of earlier eras which had been dominated by church spires. The new cityscapes also demonstrated the way in which the corporate world appropriated the tower as an expression of corporate power through "corporate verticality", in contrast to the "horizontal" orientation of public buildings such as libraries, concert halls and city halls.[4]For a major interpretation of these developments see Carol Willis, Form Follows Function:Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago (1995). Her title is a take-off on Louis Sullivan's oft-quoted "form follows function". Willis views the city and skyscrapers from the perspective of commercial speculation, as well as that of artistic design. To her, skyscrapers are the product of local economic forces that control city-building: real-estate speculation, construction techniques, and office requirements..

Fourth, the giantism of the tall building was paralleled by the scale of suburban land development, made possible by the rapid expansion of the streetcar system and the increased use of the automobile. Railway companies were in the forefront of some of the major projects across Canada. Perhaps the most ambitious was the Canadian Pacific's 6,000 acre site in the southern part of Vancouver in the late 19th century. Other examples were the Canadian Northern's model town of Mount Royal in Montreal, begun about 1911, and its new town of Leaside, on the edge of Toronto, incorporated in 1913. Other large projects by groups of entrepreneurs or individuals included Maisonneauve, an industrial suburb on the eastern edge of Montreal, and Robert Home Smith's Humber Valley Estates on the edge of Toronto. Edmonton was a good example of the over-development that characterized this period, for aggressive developers laid out subdivisions far in advance of actual demand, culminating in a land market bust of major proportions.[5]

Fifth, the migration of people to the city in ever larger numbers, both from the rural areas and from abroad. The biggest source seems to have been the farms of North America - it is estimated that by 1910, one fifth of all American city dwellers had been born on a farm. The other major source is easier to document - foreign immigration. During the 19th century, Canadian immigration tended to be from Britain which was not really regarded as "foreign", although there were obvious distinctions between those of English, Irish, or Scottish origin. After the turn of the century a new source of immigration from Europe, and especially Eastern Europe became significant in cities of Ontario, and in Western cities such as Winnipeg. In Winnipeg, the proportion of those of British origin dropped from 74 to 62% in the first decade of the century; in Toronto, the most British of Canadian cities at the turn of the century, the change was less noticeable but small enclaves of Jews, Italians, Chinese, Ukrainians and Macedonians made their appearance. While these new groups often lived in appalling conditions, they managed to create viable neighbourhoods with their own versions of the marketplace, the house yard, and the town square.[6]

b. An urban consciousness.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, many North Americans believed that urban growth posed a threat to established values. Solutions to the "urban problem" included initiatives in the areas of social reform, in municipal government, and in urban planning, which we will examine in more depth here. Two basic approaches to creating a new sense of order in the city became popular - the City Beautiful Movement, and the Garden City Movement. The first was led by architects who wanted to make the visually unattractive North American cities more like European cities, and especially like Paris, which had recently been transformed by the renowned Baron Haussmann. The Canadian version followed the American, with the obligatory span of about ten years, as most cities drew up elaborate plans for civic centres, grand diagonal avenues, and series of connected parks. The public, and especially the local elites, were very much involved in this process, but the costs proved to be insurmountable in most cases. Some significant results should be mentioned, however, for most of the literature stresses the failures of this movement. Ottawa, Montreal, Regina, and Vancouver all saw considerable development along these lines, but the coming of the First World War effectively turned the country's attention away from city planning.[7] The second approach, the Garden City Movement, emphasized the failures and the supposedly mistaken priorities of the first, stressing the need for addressing the problems of poverty and housing. The influence here was British and officially arrived in 1914 with the appointment of the noted British planner, Thomas Adams, as a federal government advisor in the area of town planning.[8] While the idea was to build new towns, based on both residence and industry, the movement tended to influence primarily the character of suburban planning. Both approaches stressed the segregation of various urban functions - residential, commercial, industrial, institutional - and this segregation became the planning orthodoxy of the twentieth century.For an important collection of articles by participants in these movements, see the anthology compiled by John Reps, Urban Planning, 1794-1918

In the three dimensional world of building and architecture, the early twentieth century was characterized by a rejection of the romantic Victorian approaches and a return to the ordered world of classical styles, often referred to as Edwardian Classicism. This classicism was the predominant style of the world's most influential school of architecture, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. While the skyscraper represented the corporate world, the great new public buildings were designed by architects trained in the Beaux-Arts tradition. An example was Union Station in Toronto, designed by John Lyle in 1915-1920, in a fashion similar to the two great New York railway stations of the time, Pennsylvania and Grand Central.[9]

image Figure 2: The monumental facade of Union Station, on Front Street, Toronto, designed to act as the symbolic entryway to the city. Also impressive is the interior, the majestic Great Hall with far flung destinations to other parts of the country etched in stone high above the waiting passengers.
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter

In housing, the trend away from Victorian styles also prevailed, with a new emphasis on interior practicality and efficiency rather than exterior decoration. The two most common house types were the "foursquare", a two storey, hipped roof house with a variety of porches (most with classical columns); and the "gable- front", a simpler type built in large numbers for "the working man."[10] The upper middle class in places like Vancouver and Toronto also built in the "English cottage " style, perhaps emphasizing their "Englishness" at a time when their cities were obviously becoming less so.[11]


2. Edwardian Guelph

a. Growth rates.

Guelph did not share in the phenomenal growth rates experienced by many other cities such as Toronto or the new cities of the west during the early decades of the 20th century. While it had been the major city of the Upper Grand River Valley during the Victorian era, it was overtaken by Berlin\Kitchener by 1911 when its population had grown to only 15,175. Kitchener was eventually to become twice as large for Guelph continued to stagnate, especially during the 1920s and 1930s.

Why did Guelph fall behind during this time period? The answers are not yet clear, but may not include a lack of leadership. Guelph's leaders seemed to make every effort to get the town to grow and even changed the structure of municipal government several times in an effort to put together a winning combination.[12] High on my list of possible reasons is the incredible attraction of a nearby, growing urban powerhouse like Toronto which literally "sucked up" industries from smaller, surrounding communities such as St. Catharines, Brantford, Galt, Belleville, Cobourg, Port Hope, and others as well as Guelph and Galt. Why Kitchener was not affected as drastically remains to be studied. Perhaps its German language orientation made it less vulnerable to Toronto's centripedal pull.

b. Population characteristics.

Guelph was not strongly affected by the new immigration of the early 20th century, for Guelph continued to be, as it had been in the Victorian era, a British Protestant community. While the Canadian born portion of the population had risen to 75% by 1921, most of the immigrants were British born (21.6% of the total population), while those of other European countries made up only 3% of the total. See table 2.

In terms of ethnic origin (which included many born in Canada), those of British origin continued to dominate, making up 88% of the population in 1921. Within this British group, those of English background were as numerous as those of Irish and Scottish background combined. Those of continental European background were more important than in preceding decades (11.6% by 1921), with those of German background (4.3%), and those of Italian background (3.2%), the most significant by 1921. See table 3.

Religiously, Guelph was still heavily Protestant (77% in 1921), led by the Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Methodists in that order. The Roman Catholic proportion continued to rise, standing at just over 20% during these decades. See table 4.

c. Building and architecture.

Compared to Guelph's Victorian heyday, building activity in the early 20th century was relatively weak and often meant additions or improvements rather than new buildings. Nevertheless, a substantial number of public buildings were constructed before the First World War, including the Provincial Winter Fair Buildings (1909), the enlargement of the Federal Post Office and Custom's House (1903), the Federal Government's Armoury (1905), the Provincial Reformatory (1909), and the MacDonald Buildings at the campus of the Ontario Agricultural College (1902). All of these were designed by outside architects although local architects like Louis Wideman or William Mahoney were sometimes appointed Clerk of the Works, that is, the local supervising architect.

image Figure 3: The enlarged Federal Post Office and Custom's House, as it appeared about 1908. It was designed by the Dominion Architect, David Ewart, the son of a builder in Edinburgh. Local architect/builder Louis Wideman supervised the work. This building became the major symbolic representation of Guelph, with many different views on postcards.
Source: Guelph Civic Museum.

The Carnegie Library (1902-1905) was the only major public building of the period put up by a local architect. The career of the young designer, W. Frye Colwill, is detailed in an article accompanying this module. This library, and the MacDonald Institute Building at O.A.C. were the finest local examples of the Beaux-Arts approach then sweeping the continent.

image Figure 4: A view of the front of the MacDonald Institute Building, designed by Toronto architect George M. Miller, in 1902.
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter, 1992

As for domestic architecture, the national trend to a more practical approach was reflected in Guelph with a strong emphasis on the "foursquare" and "gable- front houses, with an occasional "English Cottage" example.

image Figure 5: Figure 5: A "foursquare" house on Kent Street, designed by William Mahoney in 1913.
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter, 1993

image Figure 6: A fairly fancy version of the "gable-front" on Green Street, designed by William Mahoney in 1906.
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter , 1993

image Figure 7: William A. Mahoney, 1871-1952. Shown here as a young man, Mahoney was Guelph's most prominent architect in the first half of the 20th century. Born into a Guelph family of building contractors, he apprenticed with the Hamilton architect Stewart McPhee. His best known works included a number of Carnegie libraries across Ontario, including the Fergus Library shown below, which he designed in 1908.
Source: Mahoney Family Papers, Private Collection

image Figure 8: Fergus Carnegie Library
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter, 1993

A good place to start research on buildings in Guelph during this period is "The Building Database for Guelph, 1902-1913," by A.V. Bloomfield, located in the University of Guelph Archives.

d . A new suburb.

Although Guelph did not expand much during this period, some new industrial and residential growth took place in St. Patrick's Ward, now simply referred to locally as "The Ward." This development was largely the brainchild of one aggressive entrepreneur, J.W. Lyon, who apparently made his money at publishing in Guelph, and with land purchases in places like Winnipeg. Lyon developed large portions of St. Patrick's Ward, beginning in 1906, by granting free factory sites to some eight companies and by surveying and selling hundreds of small residential lots to workers in these factories. [13] Lyon's planning methods went against the prevailing planning conventions which dictated a strict segregation of industrial and residential functions, for in the Ward factories and homes were built next to each other. The Ward became the original location of the early Italian and other European immigrants who came to work in Gilson's Manufacturing, the International Malleable Iron Company (the notorious IMICO), the Guelph Stove Company, and others. The area retains much of its original character and deserves a good deal more study.[14]

Even in small cities like Guelph, spatial expansion was affected by the introduction of the streetcar system. An early line ran to the Ward, another up to the Ontario Agricultural College. [15] The relationship between the location of the lines and residential development has not yet been studied.


3. Suggested Research Topics


4. Assigned Reading

Chapters by Artibise, Rutherford and Weaver in The Canadian City.

Stelter, "The Architect and the Community: W.Frye Colwill and Turn of the Century Guelph," Historic Guelph 33 (September, 1994), pp. 5-34.


5. Discussion Questions

a. To what extent was the ethnic composition of Winnipeg's population typical of North American cities at the turn of the century?
b. Compare the interpretations of urban reform in the Rutherford and Weaver articles.
c. Is the concept of "aesthetic metropolitanism" relevant to the spread of architectural styles from large to small cities?
d. What does the popularity of classical styles tell us about the culture of Edwardian Guelph and other North American cities?
e. Were the "big city" problems of poverty, disease and poor housing also the problems of "small cities"?


Students are reminded that they can e-mail questions on any aspect of the course, directly to Professor Stelter
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[ Last updated: Oct. 4, 1997 ]