Getting Down to Business: Canada, 1896-1919
Duncan McDowall, Carleton University



At the dawn of the twentieth century, Canada becomes a modern industrial nation. By 1919, the general stores, local foundries and small-scale manufacturing plants of the previous century have given way to department stores, blast furnaces and assembly lines. An integrated national economy now extends from coast to coast.

Canada continues to be a trading nation. After two decades of worldwide stagnation, the global demand for primary and manufactured materials climbs dramatically. Where furs and fish once dominated, Canada now offers the world new exports like wheat, newsprint, gold, chemicals, tractors and processed food. Along with other 'new world' economies like Australia, Canada becomes a breadbasket for Europe. Between 1896 and 1919, 3.5 million immigrants arrive to till the soil and man the mines, factories and forest camps. As the nation's population surges to 8.3 million, Canadians become urban-industrial consumers, snapping up the necessities of life and acquiring an appetite for luxuries like candy and cigarettes.

Protected by tariffs designed to block cheap foreign goods, Canadian manufacturing expands both in size and in the variety of goods produced. Canadian factories now produce aluminium, automobiles and textiles. Foreign investment and technology quicken the pace. Three transcontinental railways stretch from sea to sea. So do Canada's banks, stock markets and telegraphs. Electricity powers the expansion, fuelling everything from streetcars to elevators.

Consumption is stimulated by advertising, business education and industrial research-the handmaidens of modern enterprise. Mass circulation newspapers praise profits and consumption. Overseeing this great industrial boom are the captains of industry, men who proudly wear the badge of 'capitalist.' They bring capital and technology to new Canadian ventures and orchestrate mergers of existing enterprises. Their grand houses in Montreal and Toronto advertise their success as producers of national wealth. Workers, meanwhile, crowd into company towns and urban suburbs.

When war breaks out in 1914, Canada harnesses its industries to patriotic purposes. Gun shells, gunpowder, flour and bacon pour out of its factories en route to Europe. So great is the demand that women appear on factory floors. By the time peace returns in 1918, Canadians have industrial muscle and their dream of 'Canada's century.'