One can only imagine Toronto in the late 1800’s. This was during the full swing of the Industrial Revolution in Toronto that took place during the years 1850 to 1890. The railway saw its last spike planted at Eagle Pass B.C. In 1884, uniting east to west.
The Trades and Labour Congress of Canada was formed in Toronto. The poor conditions in the factories in Toronto were exposed and drew to light the women and children in the garment area earning as little as 80 cents for a 60 hour week.
Unskilled workers such as my great-grandmother Frances Knight-Ostrom and her children were most likely obliged to work in such conditions bringing barely enough to feed their little ones. Her husband Simeon worked away as a farm labourer and did not seem to contribute much to the family other than to seed more offspring.
Frances, like many other people who came to the city was forced to work in unskilled labour jobs that demanded much and provided little.
In the early 1890’s when the industrialization of Toronto was well underway many agricultural workers moved from the country to the cities to work in factories. The invention of the electric lamp allowed factory owners to demand longer hours from the workers that already worked in deplorable conditions. Safety was not a concern at the time.
It was a time when the gap between rich and poor widened. Poverty caused overcrowding and city slums. Those that could not find work were often jailed to keep them off the streets.
The population in 1890 had more than doubled in just one decade and forty percent of Ontario’s population lived in the cities.
This was probably one of the most difficult times to live in Toronto. Sanitation was poor and disease rampant. It was not until the 1900’s that major outbreaks of typhoid, cholera and smallpox were beginning to be addressed in a more responsible manner. Once science began to understand what caused disease, they found ways to deal with it. The first smallpox vaccine in Ontario was produced in 1886.
Clean water and pasteurization of milk as well as sanitary handling of food undertaken and by the early 1900’s by-laws were introduced to regulate these areas.
It was not until 1900 that the real concern for public health and hygiene took root in Ontario.