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100 Years of Change

January 16, 2011

I once heard that each generation lives approximately three years longer than the last.  I favour my mother’s side of the family, so I should, by my calculations, live to see 100 (my maternal grandmother died at 94, which means my mother – who will be 93 next month – is likely to live to 97 … you do the math from there).  Provided I remain (mentally and physically) healthy, that would actually be okay with me – I have a lot of things I still want to do, and since I left a significant number of them until late in life to start, I may well need another forty-odd years to accomplish them all.  However, I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like in 2053.  Clearly, things will be different!

Finch-Noyes House

Finch-Noyes house, circa 1910

The true magnitude of ‘one hundred years’ really struck me this week when I was doing a little research (not originally related to anything I was writing).  In my living room is a framed drawing of a house that stood across the street from where I lived when I was very young. My only recollection of the house is that it was fantastically large, and had been, sadly, uninhabited and abandoned for years (it was finally torn down around 1960, and a trio of truly ugly apartment buildings were built on the property).  So, having nothing better to do on a snowy Saturday afternoon, I went online to dig up some more information about the house – and ended up spending several hours engrossed in the history of the neighbourhood (‘Olde Oakville’) where I grew up. It provided a startling look at the changes that take place over a hundred years.

Let’s start with a few statistics. 

Allan Street, 1913

$4000 Allan St. Houses, 1913

In 1911, there were 2,372 people living in the town of Oakville.  The average annual (individual) income was $417 for ‘production’ workers and $994 for ‘management / supervisory’ jobs.  A month’s worth of typical household goods cost $100 (actually, the government didn’t start tracking the cost of living until 1914, but I think we can safely assume that there wasn’t much difference in prices between 1911 and 1914).  A (brand new) house on Allan Street (in the ‘Brantwood Survey’) was priced at $4,000.

Allan Street 1963

Outside our Allan St. house, 1963

Fifty years later, in 1961, Oakville had a population of 10,366.  Incomes had risen to $3,761 a year for ‘production’ workers and $5,249 for ‘managers’.  The basic cost of living had risen 157% (since 1911), so what $100 would buy in 1911 now cost $275.38.  A house on Allan Street sold for approximately $17,500 (my parents bought a house on Allan at Palmer in 1963).  (It is interesting to note that while the actual cost of living went up 157% in 50 years, salaries and the cost of housing rose as much as 500%). 

Current Home on Allan Street

For sale - on Allan St. - $1.3million

Skip forward to 2011 (well, 2010 actually, since those are the most recent statistics available).  Oakville now boasts a population of over 166,000 people.  Annual incomes are $31,500 for ‘production’ workers and $51,950 for ‘managers’.  The cost of living has increased 1826% since 1911 (648% since 1961); a month’s worth of household goods will now set you back $1,926.23.  And a house on Allan Street?  There’s one currently listed for sale at $1.3 million (the cheapest house I could find in the ‘Brantwood Survey’ was a small Cape Cod going for for $898,000 – it’s quite similar to a house I once owned in that area.  I bought it in 1972 for $27,000 and sold it seven years later for $75,000; in 1984, the new owners sold it for $349,000; five years ago an identical house down the street was priced at $749,000. If only I’d known!!!!! ) 

Downtown Oakville, 1930s

Downtown Oakville, 1930s

Now, I can’t speak personally as to what life was like in Oakville in 1911 but the Oakville Historical Society has some absolutely fascinating information (complete with pictures) on their web site that can give you some idea of how ‘primitive’ things were back then.  I honestly don’t think too much must have changed in the first thirty or forty years of the twentieth century – I have a videotape (converted from an old 8mm movie) showing my mother and her best friend pushing prams along the ‘main street’ in 1942 – it’s a two lane dirt road and the horse-drawn garbage wagon can clearly be seen in the background!

Colborne Street, Oakville

Colborne Street, 1940s

I can tell you that in 1961 our family was living in a house at the corner of Colborne Street (later renamed Lakeshore Road East) and Allan (the ‘eastern edge’ of downtown).  Officially ‘Highway 2’, the main street wasn’t nearly as busy as it is now (I doubt a dozen cars went by in an hour).  Almost everyone in town knew everyone else; few mothers worked; no one had more than one car in the driveway, or one (black and white) TV. Phone numbers were a combination of letters and numbers (Victor 42871, for example, became VI42871 which, when dialled on the rotary style phone translated to 84-42871). Kids rode their bikes or roller skated (unsupervised) on the street; the playground at the nearby school was always occupied by kids playing on the swings, teeter-totters, and monkey-bars; and the Wallace Park tennis courts were flooded each winter by someone from the parks and rec department to provide free skating for the locals. 

Downtown Oakville, 1960s

Downtown Oakville, 1960s

You walked to the grocery store (Loblaws), the pharmacy (Brian’s or Rexall – which had a snack bar featuring giant milkshakes and sodas for only twenty-five cents), the Library (adult books upstairs, children’s downstairs), the movie theatre (the Odeon – with its single screen, balcony, and twenty-five cent matinees), and the bank (there was an imposing bank building on just about every corner – the Royal Bank, the Bank of Montreal, the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Imperial, and the Toronto Dominion – and only the very wealthy were given credit; credit cards weren’t even invented until 1975).  Downtown also had a Woolworth’s, a Kresge’s, Broadbent’s (new and second hand) Furniture, a variety of family restaurants (including the White Oak, which remains exactly as it was back then) where you couldn’t get an alcoholic beverage with your meal, and several hotels (the Halton, the Oakville House, the Murray House) where you could (and where ‘Ladies with Escorts’ had their own entrances).   

Children attended Brantwood School (which closed last year) on Allan Street through Grade 4, then moved on to Central for Grades 5 through 8 (the original school was on the northwest corner of Navy Street, where the ‘new’ Library now stands; New Central was built on Balsam Street in the mid sixties), and finally to Oakville Trafalgar High School (the original section of the school is still standing, although it’s been boarded up for years; my father went to high school there in the 1930s).  We learned to print with big fat red pencils and – in grade four or five – penmanship using nib pens (with sculpted red wooden handles) dipped into India ink (which sat in inkwells cut into the top corner of every desk).

In 1961 we spent our third summer at a rented cottage just outside town where there was no running water (we had an outhouse and had to fetch water for cooking, drinking, and washing from taps in a nearby park).  We watched Saturday morning cartoons, swam in the lake (yes, you could swim in Lake Ontario back then), and fed stale bread to the ducks (the bread man came every day; we also had a milkman who left two quarts of milk on the doorstep every morning). Popsicles were a nickel; a can of pop, a chocolate bar, or a bag of potato chips cost a dime each – or you could fill a small paper bag with ‘penny candy’ for the same amount (many of the items – blackballs, liquorice strings, Double Bubble, MoJos, salt water taffy – were three for a penny or two for a penny). 

Downtown Oakville Today

Downtown Oakville Today

Fast forward fifty years.  Pretty much everyone goes everywhere by car (and most families have at least two); generally both parents work; kids don’t walk to school, play outside, or spend time at the library any more. Cell phones are in every pocket and you don‘t even need to memorize the number – the phone does it for you.  We can eat and drink (alcohol) in the same establishments; we have our choice of several movies playing on a dozen different screens in movie theatres – or we can stay home and entertain ourselves by flipping through two hundred channels on one of several (LCD, HD, 3D) TVs.  We can order just about anything online and have it delivered in a matter of days; learning is done with computers, the Internet, and YouTube.  ‘Technology’ pretty much rules our lives.

Nothing costs a penny any more (it’s no wonder they’re considering scraping it), and you’d be hard pressed to find much of anything to snack on for under a dollar (the ubiquitous ‘dollar stores’ are nothing more than a modern version of what used to be called ‘five and dimes’).  We bank online, and almost everyone has a credit card (or two, or three) in their wallets; you don’t even have to be earning an income to be allowed to borrow from the banks.

People who go to ‘cottages’ for vacation expect not only running water, but a microwave, satellite TV, and a Jacuzzi tub.  Or better yet, they hop on a plane and travel to the four corners of the earth without giving the distance (or cost) a second thought.  We don’t have to work quite so hard to earn a whole lot more money, and we can spend it on thousands more products (and bigger houses, flashier cars, more extensive wardrobes) than ever before.

A hundred years – a century, ten decades, several generations, a lifetime.  What changes does the future hold?  Considering everything that’s taken place in the past hundred years, I can only imagine.  Maybe we’ll be like ‘The Jetsons’.  Or maybe we’ll have over-consumed to the point where we’ll have reverted back to the time of ‘The Flintstones’.  Either way – or maybe somewhere in between – I’ll be keeping an eye on things and writing all about it here from … the other side of 55.

The Jetsons and the Flinstones

Who will rule by the middle of this century? The Jetsons or the Flinstones? Only time will tell!

  1. May 13, 2015 9:56 pm

    Thanks Margo. What a great story. And thanks Bill for posting it. So many facts that were unknown
    to me.

    • May 14, 2015 9:22 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Please pass my thanks to ‘Bill’ who, I gather, is the one who linked to the article from Facebook; I’ve had hundreds of views on this post in the last week.

  2. Jane Hughes-Watt permalink
    May 29, 2014 5:40 pm

    That was absolutely lovely, brought back so many memories. I lived on Robinson Street growing up so certainly recognized everything you mentioned. I remember your Dad, the best mayor we never had!

    • May 29, 2014 7:13 pm

      So pleased to get your comment! I’ve had have hundreds of views sent to the post from Facebook – can you tell whoever posted the link ‘Thanks’ for me? I have a lot of fond memories of my growing up years in Oakville; it sure has changed; when I drive through, I hardly recognize parts of it! Dad would have been tickled pink by your comment (he passed away in 2008). Thanks for commenting.

      • William Mewes permalink
        May 29, 2014 11:06 pm

        That was a lovely description of growing up in Oakville – Thank You – I wasn’t born in Oakville but have lived here for over 30 years the last 28 on Reynolds. I look out of my apartment windows and see the old High School. Oakville is the home town I wish I had grown up in.

      • May 30, 2014 8:31 am

        I’m glad I grew up there – it was a wonderful experience. I live ‘down the road’ now (in Burlington) but visit Oakville occasionally and am shocked at all the changes its undergone in the last 20 of so years – its grown so much (especially in the north). At least most of the downtown and ‘Olde Oakville’ areas are still (semi) recognizable. I’m still a bit nostalgic about the ‘good old days’ there.

  3. Richard Shiell permalink
    January 31, 2011 6:17 pm

    Lovely article Margo and amazing how almost all of it applied to far-off Australia where I live. The main difference was that we got rid of our one and two cent coins about 15 years ago and are thinking of scrapping the 5 cent ones now as they are quite worthless and kids won’t even pick them up off the floor of the Supermarket. Apart from that wages and prices are about the same as yours and our Aussi dollar is fluctuating around 99c relative to the US greenback.
    Keep up the great articles
    Richard Shiell

    • January 31, 2011 6:23 pm

      I appreciate your comments, Richard. It’s fascinating to know that Canada and Australia are similar in so many ways.
      Take care,
      Margo Karolyi

  4. January 17, 2011 10:01 am

    Hi Margo,
    This is a great article!!! Rod and I have been going down memory road lately with other Oakvillites who were born/raised in Oakville in the 40’s and 50’s. Actually a friend of mine is researching info on SANTALAND – do you have any info/pics on this? I’m going to forward this link to him.
    Have a great one and thanks for the memories.


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