Sunday, September 26, 2010

Material World 1910


Automobile Imports from US in dollars... 1906 459,000 to 1910 1,569,000.
Typewriters, 282,000 in 1906 to 303,000 in 1910
These figures are from the Canada Yearbook 1910, a financial almanac, summing up industry in Canada. The Big Picture.


My story, Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in the pivotal 1910 era, is the small picture, one of many, many small pictures that made up the Country of Canada in that era.


Norman Nicholson, of Richmond Quebec, and my husband's great grandfather kept household accounts for 40 years. I put the accounts for 1900 on this blog.


These accounts tell a story: THE story of how a middle class family lived in 1900 Canada.


But the Big Picture has a HUGE impact on the small picture.


In this 1910 Canada yearbook, I can see why Norman Nicholson was not doing well in 1910. The pulpwood and specifically hemlock bark industries had tanked.


Now, forest products were still a major export for Canada, if not THE major export.


This yearbook sheds light on all the little stories inside my Flo in the City story: the story of where the women got their material, for one, wools and silks from Great Britain (Empire, I guess) and cotton from the United States.


It seems that men's ready made clothing was a bigger industry than women's. No surprise, women still made their clothes. The imports of sewing machines from the US had remained steady since 1905. Margaret Nicholson had an American sewing machine, a White.


Canada exported more to the UK than it imported, but it was vice versa for the US. Remember, Laurier lost his free trade election in 1911. The figures in this yearbook explain why as much as the plodding prose in history books.
Pork, a huge export to the UK, (or bacon) played a part in the Free Trade Election, if I recall. Wheat, too.

And the Story of Wheat is explained in this Yearbook as well! Yes, Margaret had to pay 5 dollars a bushel for wheat to make her prize winning breads and cakes. And that figure stayed static over the years, even though Canada's wheat production increased exponentially, which doesn't seem fair as that meant Canada had to import less wheat from the US. But the Powers That Be wanted to export the excess wheat to the UK. At least that's how I figure it.
(In Montreal, there's a huge bulding looming on the horizon, The Five Roses Flour Factory on the waterfront. It was built in 1912, to mill flour to send overseas, from what I recall reading and I think that Heritage Montreal is intent on preserving it, even if it is the ugliest thing.)

"Now began with construction of Elevator No. 1, the building of the great grain elevators that are the most obvious feature of Montreai Harbour. Their towering height, the shapeless size with no proportion to the sight or scene they occupy, make them, to the eye of art, a blot on the landscape, a disfigurement of nature's
work: In any case they mean so much to the life and industry of Canada, to the life of Imperial safety, that the eye that looks on them becomes trained to a new adjustment." Stephen Leacock in his History of Canada.


Of course, autos and automobile parts were a burgeoning industry. (Canada exported autos as well.) And that industry, I think, was the major industry throughout most of the 20th century. And then that industry, well, you know what happened.


It's kind of a circle game, isn't it?