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.
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