The cost of living in 1900 in Owen Sound may seem great, but when you take into consideration other factors, things were perhaps not all that wonderful.
Today, as always, the question of taxation in this area is a hot topic. I suspect that it was also an important issue more than a century ago. In 1900 the taxes collected in Owen Sound totaled $54,007.04. Fifty years later, in 1950, the total tax bill in the city amounted to $859,550.
In 1900 the general assessment on which taxes were levied was $2,602,679. The rate for public school supporters was 21 mills and for separate school supporters the rate was 21.25 mills.
The taxes collected from public school supporters were divided into three general categories: General purposes (13.25 mills) $34,485.50; public schools (5.75 mills) $14,364.04; and the collegiate (2 mills) $5,157.50.
Before you get excited about the low taxes in 1900 and wonder why the same circumstance does not exist today, here are a few other pieces of information about the economy (cost of living) of that era in this area.
The usual rate of pay for an unskilled worker was on average $1.00 per day. A skilled mechanic might be able to command a salary of $1.50 a day. The maximum weekly pay in an exceptional circumstances might total $10. But this was earned in a six-day, 60-hour work week. The CPR, which was one of the largest employers in the area with a staff numbering between 200 and 300, paid its employees 10 cents an hour. Very few women were part of the workforce. But those who were employed earned on average about $3.00 per week.
Prices on the Owen Sound market in 1900 give a general view of what the cost of living was at that time. Wheat was sold in October for 64 to 66 cents a bushel. This was up from 56 cents earlier that year. Oats were 32 cents a bushel and barley was 40 cents. Potatoes sold for 45 to 50 cents a bag and hay sold for $9.00 a ton. Earlier in the year, hay was available at between $6.50 and $7.00 a ton.
Live weight prices for cattle were between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 cents per pound. Hogs sold at 5 1/4 and 5 1/2 cents per pound live weight. Butter sold for 15 to 16 cents per pound and eggs were 13 cents a dozen.
Gas prices were a non-factor as there were no cars or trucks, and no one used gas or oil to heat their homes. Instead, a few homes used coal, but most houses, and even some industries, used wood as a source of heat. Dry long wood sold for $3.50 a cord and short wood sold at $4.00 a cord. Green long wood could be purchased for $2.50 a cord, and short green wood cost $3.00 per cord.
There were only between 300 and 400 telephones in service in Owen Sound, and it would be another decade before rural residents were able to have telephone services. There was no rural postal delivery. Instead, mail was sent to rural post offices via the various stages which carried passengers to other area destinations. Once the mail arrived at the rural post office it was up to the area residents to travel there to see if they had received any mail.
Although the tax rates in 1900 are very appealing some of the other circumstances of that era make me just as happy to be living in the year 2021.
The information used in this article came from documents held in the Grey County Archives.
A version of “The Cost of Living in 1900 in Owen Sound” originally appeared in my Local History column in the Friday, August 24, 2001 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.
More Great Information Pages
About Owen Sound
12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy’s experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.
In the 1920s, Owen Sound got New Elevators. After losing the CPR elevators to fire, the community fought hard to get new elevators for their harbour and improve the community’s economy.
The 1930s Were Not All Bad there were some successes in the Owen Sound area and there was one natural phenomenon, that was unusual to the region that occurred.
The 1944-1945 Grey North By-Election would surprise Prime Minister King and all of Canada as the Grey North electorate refused to be dictated to by Ottawas political elites.
The were 1950s a Decade of Change in the Owen Sound area. A local boy starred in the NHL; there was a significant industrial change; schools were standing to experience the baby boom.
1960s: Owen Sound’s Education Expansion: 1960s Owen Sound was a period of growth and one result of this was a need for the expansion of education services for the growing population.
1960s Owen Sound marked a period of change and new growth to the commercial and industrial life that would impact the citizens of Owen Sound and change the patterns of doing business.
The Bible was the Law in the 1840s in this region because the region was unrepresented by the government peace and justice were community responsibilities.
Blazes! Fires were a problem in the early years in the Owen Sound area, buildings were often made of wood and firefighting equipment water sources were inadequate were.
Brooke: A brief history of an important, yet distinctly different, community that became a key element in Owen Sound’s development as a important Georgian Bay port city.
Charles Rankin, I Presume: October 7, 1840 marked the meeting of Land Agent John Telfer and surveyor Charles Rankin on the banks of the Sydenham River and the founding of Owen Sound.
The cost of living in 1900 in Owen Sound may seem great, but when you take into consideration other factors, things were perhaps not all that wonderful.
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Black History: Emancipation Day celebrates the abolition of slavery and it continues to be an annual celebration in many locations that were in some way, or another touched by the impact of slavery.
Black History of Owen Sound: Version 2: There is some debate about the first black citizen in the Owen Sound area. Here is more information for your consideration.
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Billy Bishop: Owen Sound Hero earned national and international fame as a World War One Fighter pilot and used his high profile to aid in the World War Two effort.
John Harrison – A Tough Owen Sound Pioneer whose grit and determination created a prosperous life for himself and his family in a new community.
William Harrison, The Source of John Harrison’s Grit: details the influence of John’s father, William Harrison, on John and his siblings.
John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.
Black Clawson Kennedy: An Iconic Owen Sound Industry provided income for area residents and economic development for the community for almost 150 years.
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Canada’ First Pharmacy Chain Store: The Owen Sound-based drug store chain of Parker and Cattle is credited with being the first pharmacy chain store enterprise in Canada.
DC Taylor: Owen Sound Entrepreneur was not only progressive businessman, he was also an important contributor to the social and cultural fabric of his community.
Jimmy Grant was a high wire walker who was a fearless athlete who faced all challenges without a worry of the possible fatal consequences of his daredevil actions.
Newspapers hold a special place in the history of any community, and the Owen Sound Sun Times, and its predecessors, beginning with the Comet, are no exception.
Owen Sound Businesses: 1920s were owned and operated by families whose deep roots in the community and their efforts had created the backbone of the community and brought success to the port city.
Owen Sound’s centennial celebrations in 1957 brought the community together for events such big name entertainers, sports competitions, street dances and much more in honour of the community’s past and projecting the city’s bright future.
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Owen Sound 1840 Onward! From a clearing in the Georgian Bay wilderness to a booming port city the 1800s were a time of growth and prosperity.
Owen Sound’s First Newspaper: The Comet came into existence a mere 10 years after the first settlers braved the wilderness that would become the Grey and Bruce region.
Owen Sound’s First Town Council was created to develop the necessary infrastructure for a pioneer community to grow and prosper.
Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.
Owen Sound’s 1857 Bylaw: Dog Control illustrated how a pioneer town controlled dogs in the community, sometimes even using harsh measures.
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Owen Sound CPR Link began with a bang, suffered a setback, and ended with a whimper.
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Owen Sound 1920s: Optimism abounded in the port city as a new decade began, The town was becoming a city and the economic outlook seemed bright.
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Owen Sound Stories: On the Attack! Throughout the history of the community, citizens were not afraid to go on the attack to promote the needs of their town.
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O.S.C.V.I.: the History of an Owen Sound High School details from the very beginning the establishment of a high school in the community.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 Owen Sound details life in the last wilderness in Upper Canada in the 1840s.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 (Part 2) continues the memories of Elizabeth Byth as she encountered life in the Upper Canada wilderness that became Owen Sound.
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Pioneer industry: William Kennedy William Kennedy’s efforts to build an important foundry and machine shop on the banks of Owen Sound’s harbour.
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Owen Sound Ontario: A Unique Perspective: Book provides a unique and humorous perspective about this Georgian Bay port and hockey hotbed.
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Owen Sound, located on beautiful Georgian Bay offers a wide variety of entertainment and shopping delights for visitors of all ages. The city and its surrounding area has a rich history, parks and other natural areas for bird watchers, hikers, cross country skiers, etc.