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. 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. 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. 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).
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.
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).
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.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.
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.
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.
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." 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Figure 5: Figure 5: A "foursquare" house on Kent Street, designed by William Mahoney
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter, 1993
Figure 6: A fairly fancy version of the "gable-front" on Green Street,
designed by William Mahoney in 1906.
Source: Gilbert A. Stelter , 1993
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
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.
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.  The relationship between the location of the lines and residential development has not yet been studied.
Stelter, "The Architect and the Community: W.Frye Colwill and Turn of the Century Guelph," Historic Guelph 33 (September, 1994), pp. 5-34.