Brantford in the 1920s - Post 15


After the First World War, civic enthusiasm was great and there was a sense that prosperous times and growth would continue, employment would grow, and the number of people on relief would diminish. Local industry retooled for a post war boom and the city reviewed their list of civic projects put on hold during the war.

The Dominion Bureau of Statistics reported as of 1918 that Brantford ranked fourth in the country in the export of manufactured goods, eighth in the amount of salaries and wages paid, and eleventh in the number of employees.

Brantford boomed after the war because the city’s Industrial Commission aggressively pursued new businesses. The following companies set up operations after the war: Robbins & Myers, Bluebird Appliances, S.C. Johnson Company, Holstein Friesen Company, and A.C. Spark Plug Company, and Slingsby’s announced an expansion. By the end of 1920, although the unemployment rate was negligible, those requiring relief was increasing, likely caused by workers moving into the city because of the prospects of jobs only to find few available. As orders that flowed into the city’s factories slowed, the companies were expecting an economic slowdown and indeed in 1921 it happened. As relief rolls swelled, the city undertook relief work projects constructing sidewalks and sewers in Eagle Place and the reconstruction of the Murray Street bridge. In 1920, Buck Stove Works was sold to the McClary Company of London, Ont. The company continued to expand in the 1920s but was closed down entirely in 1931. Brandon Shoe Company never rebuilt after its fire in March of 1923. Canadian Machine Telephone Company closed, and the Wm. Patterson Company was forced into bankruptcy, it reorganised and reopened and then was sold to George Weston by the end of the decade. This factory remained in operation until 1976.

In 1925 the economic situation started to improve, unemployment declined and the relief rolls grew smaller. By 1927 Harding Carpets, E.A. Gunther Company, and the Huron Cordage Company began operations. Orders for manufactured goods were increasing. Expansions were underway at the Dominion Flour Mills, Verity Works, and Niagara Silk. Tariffs on agricultural implements were lowered a few times during the decade making business tougher for this sector of industry, but they successfully adapted.

City Changes

The Lorne Bridge was a safety concern to the city yet council continued to put off any action to rebuild or replace the bridge. When a road roller crossed the bridge, all traffic had to be stopped so the roller was the sole occupant of the bridge. Money for a new bridge was approved by ratepayers in 1920 but inaction continued because of concerns regarding the cost and the type of bridge to be built, iron or concrete. Finally in 1922 council approved the construction of a new reinforced concrete bridge. Port Arthur Construction won the contract in March 1923. The bridge was largely completed by January 1924 and opened to traffic. The official opening occurred on 11-August-1924, with Lieutenant-Governor Harry Cockshutt cutting the ribbon.

The city saw little boundary expansion since 1891. In 1908, the portion of Holmedale west of Morrell Street and south of Dufferin Avenue, including Waterworks Park and in 1914 Westmount Boulevard were annexed. In 1920, the Parkdale (the area south of Aberdeen Avenue and west of Erie Avenue) and Bellview (south of Emilie Street between Erie Avenue and Mohawk Street) areas of Eagle Place were annexed. The folks in the Grandview district, centred around Grandview School on North Park St, resisted annexation and did not become part of the city until 1954.

The debate regarding what to do with City Hall and the Market Square continued to rage after the war and throughout the 1920s. Even though City Hall was voted the City’s greatest eyesore, no progress on these two files were made.

On 28-December-1918 the Brantford Courier, the voice of the Conservative party in Brantford, ceased publication. The paper began in 1833 as The Sentinel.

Horse drawn cabs and livery stables began to disappear. The automobile had clearly taken hold. The popularity of the Saturday Night Parade, which saw a crush of people descend on the downtown, was joined by increasing automobile traffic.

A housing shortage continued in Brantford throughout the 1920s. It followed the ups and downs of the industrial economic cycle. Factories experienced difficulties attracting new workers as they expanded and new ones were built. Building apartment buildings to alleviate the shortage was not welcomed for fear they would turn into overcrowded tenement slums. However by the end of the 1920s apartment buildings started to appear.

Brantford’s immigrant population, i.e. non-British immigrants, continued to remain a convenient target for blame when the occasion arose. They were seen as competitors for jobs. The city police commissioners wanted these “enemy aliens” in the city deported. Although nothing came of the matter, their request was endorsed by city council.

Although prohibition was repealed federally in 1919, it continued in Ontario. A number of referendums were held in the early 1920s and all were defeated in Brantford. In May-1925 the Liquor Control Act was passed in the provincial parliament and local hotels started selling beer again.

On 10-June-1925 the United Church of Canada was created with the merger of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches.

The City agonized whether to adopt daylight savings time. It was not popular with the citizens of Brantford. Every time this issue appeared on the ballot it was defeated but it was continually resurrected. In 1929 the motion was finally approved.


After the war, two toll roads in the area remained. In 1918, the Paris Road and then in 1920 the Cockshutt Road became public roads.

The first manually operated traffic control signals were installed on Market Street at Dalhousie Street and Colborne Street in 1920. In 1927 automated signals were installed. Stop signs were introduced in 1925.

As automobile use dramatically increased, improved road links with surrounding municipalities resumed after being stalled during the war years. In July 1921 the province began work to build a new road to Hamilton. This concrete highway was completed in August 1922. In December 1923 a new concrete highway was completed to Paris. These roads, once known as Highway 2, have since been bypassed by Highway 403. The bow string bridge over Fairchild Creek along Highway 2 was built in 1931 and is still in service. It was rehabilitated rather than replaced in 2006.

Street Railway

The street railway expanded to meet the demands of passengers. Service was extended to Terrace Hill, a new loop was built in Eagle Place, the Holmedale line was extended, and service was reintroduced to West Brant over the new Lorne Bridge to replace the bus service that replaced the street cars over the old, failing Lorne Bridge. Even though the system was expanded ridership declined during the economic downturn at the beginning of the decade. Increased automobile registration and a growing number of taxi cabs operating in the city had a negative impact on ridership. Compounding the problem was that the system grew too big in size which adversely impacted passenger’s travel times. The street railway was never able to recover its operating costs, even after wage and staff reductions were implemented. Brantford Transit deals with similar problems today.

Map showing the Street Railway System. The system reached 51 of 57 factories in the city.

Map showing the Street Railway System. The system reached 51 of 57 factories in the city.


Brantford’s first airport, or air harbour as it was called then, was developed on 85 acres of land on what was then called the St George Rd, now known as King George Road, in 1929. The facility was located where the Home Hardware and Fairview School are now. The facility was officially opened on the weekend of June 6 and 7, 1930. On 16-May-1932 passenger air service between Windsor and Toronto was inaugurated. Canadian Airways Limited, flying a seven passenger Fairchild 71 monoplane provided daily service, except Sunday. The newly formed Brant-Norfolk Aero Club provided pilot training and held small meets. It struggled through the depression but it survived.

War Memorial

A priority for the city was the creation of some form of memorial to commemorate the over 600 soldiers and nurses who died in the war. In 1921 a War Memorial Association was formed to plan the building of a memorial. Their task was to consider the form, location, and financing of the memorial. A hospital, a new City Hall, and a monument were all considered. In 1923 a memorial was proposed on land near the Armoury that would include park land and a provision for a future City Hall, financed by a fundraising campaign. Given the state of the economy at this time, the plan was placed on hold. Instead a small cenotaph was provided by the Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.) in the Armouries Gore Park across from the Armoury. This memorial now resides in Tom Thumb Park, a block to the west, in order to make room for the Brantford Walk of Fame. In 1927, with an improving economy, the fundraising campaign for the memorial was launched and Canadian sculptor W.S. (Walter) Allward was commissioned to design the Brant County War Memorial. Allward designed the Bell Memorial and the Vimy Ridge monument. The memorial was dedicated in 1933. The Memorial Gallery surrounding the war memorial was dedicated on 2-July-1954. The figures representing the men and women who served was unveiled on 12-Sep-1992.


Civic elections occurred yearly. Mayors typically served for only two terms. When Morrison Mann MacBride tried to secure a fourth consecutive term in 1921 The Expositor launched an all-out campaign against MacBride. The newspaper’s position was that “The Brantford mayoralty should not be made a life job for any man”. MacBridge was reelected as mayor in 1925.

In 1921, city industrialist Harry Cockshutt was appointed the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, a position he filled until 1927. Harry brought informality to the position and travelled extensively around the province promoting unity within the province, the county, and the Empire. Cockshutt revolutionised the office in Ontario. Regarding his tenure, The Globe wrote, “Col. Cockshutt has broadened that function materially and most acceptably…Old prejudices have been broken and new interest created in the other fellow’s problems.”

Public Health

On the health front, the city lived with an overtaxed hospital. This was most noticeable when flu outbreaks struck the city. Although no major expansion of the hospital occurred, an x-ray department was installed in 1923 and a crippled children’s wing opened in 1927. The stock market crash in 1929 scuttled expansion plans the hospital’s Board of Governors were contemplating.

Two contentious public health issues of the day were smallpox vaccinations for school children and pasteurisation of milk. Both were rejected by the citizens. Parents saw vaccinations as an assault against their defenceless children. The Medical Officer of Health saw it as a solution to minimise the outbreak of the disease among school children. The pasteurisation question was solved in 1921 when the city ordered that all milk sold in the city had to be pasteurised or be fresh milk from tuberculin-tested cows.


Overcrowding at schools was common throughout this period. It was particularly acute at Brantford Collegiate Institute. In the early 1920s the province increased the age a student had to be before they could leave school. This resulted in enrolment at BCI going from 565 in 1920 to over 900 in 1923. Overflow space was opened up in Grace Anglican Church, St Jude’s Anglican Church and Central School. In 1924 a new wing was opened at BCI with eight classrooms and two woodworking shops. A technical wing and an improved auditorium opened in 1929 and the school could now accommodate 1,500 students.

Conditions at elementary schools were such that in 1919 the system could not accommodate 153 children. To rectify this situation Major Ballachey School on Rawdon Street opened in 1919, Graham Bell School on Grand Street opened in 1923, and Riverview Public School on Wade Avenue opened in 1924. Major Ballachey and Graham Bell are still in operation. Riverview closed in 2006. The Catholic Board opened St. Ann’s School on Pearl St. in 1923. St. Ann’s closed, along with St. Basil’s (1910), in 1978. Health and schools became more closely aligned in the 1920s as more extensive medical inspections of school children began to be conducted in schools.


The Temple Theatre, a 1,600 seat theatre, designed by Thomas Lamb, a New York architect, opened on 22-December-1919. The theatre offered a programme of vaudeville and silent films. In 1929 Famous Players purchased the theatre and made it one of the first theatres in Ontario wired for sound. It was renamed the Capital in 1931. The City purchased the theatre in 1986 and on 11-December-1989 it was renamed the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts.

A municipal swimming pool opened in 1923, at the location of where Waterworks Park is today. In 1929 it was named Earl Haig Park. This provided a safer alternative to the Grand River. The park also had a merry-go-round, a dance pavilion, and games of chance. The YMCA, built in 1912, contained an indoor swimming pool. Also in 1923 development started on Arrowdale Golf Course on Stanley and Elgin Streets. The golf course opened in 1927. Improvements continued to be made to Mohawk Park that focused on picnickers and tourist campers. A dance pavilion and boathouse were constructed and the sports fields where upgraded but the park never regained its pre-war prominence.

Arctic Arena

Brantford’s first artificial ice surface was built by Ellston Cooper, owner of the Arctic Ice Company. The Arctic Arena opened on 27-Dec-1926. It sat 3,500.The arena was located at the bottom of the West Street hill, across from Harris Street. Until this arena opened, Brantford only had the natural ice surface of the Alfred Street Arena, which opened in 1912. The Arctic Arena was demolished in May-1968 after the Brantford & District Civic Centre opened on 25-March-1967.


In 1922, Tom Brown received an amateur experimental broadcast licence and started his radio broadcast experiments over station 3TP. In 1926 Brown began broadcasting as an amateur station under the call sign 10BQ. 10BQ was known as the “Little Station on the ‘ill”, and was located at 12 Terrace Hill Street kitty-corner from the hospital. 10BQ remained on the air until June-1934 when its licence was suddenly cancelled by the Canadian Radio Commission.

Brantford’s first commercial radio station CFGC began broadcasting on 17-March-1926, out of a studio in the Hotel Kerby. Due to financial difficulties the station’s final day of broadcast was 5-June-1927. CFGC stood for Canada’s Finest Growing City.

CKCR started broadcasting from the home of owner John D Paterson in St. George in March 1926. A studio was then established above the Bank of Montreal on Main St. In January-1928 a fire destroyed the studio and shortly thereafter it moved to the 4th floor of the Arcade Building in Brantford, at the corner of Colborne and Queen Streets. The station continually experiencedtrouble finding sponsors and advertisers in Brantford so in 1929 the station was sold to Kitchener interest and on 22-July-1929 began broadcasting from Kitchener. In 1965 CKCR became CHYM, and in 1992 CKGL.

In 1923, Wallace Russ began broadcasting from his living room in Preston, Ontario. This was the beginning of CKPC. In 1927 Cyrus Dolph bought the station and continued broadcasting from Preston. In 1933 Dolph sold the station to his daughter Florence Buchanan and she moved the station to Brantford. CKPC began broadcasting from the old CKCR studios in the Arcade Building on 29-Dec-1933. The PC of CKPC stands for Preston, Canada. CKPC stills operates today from its studios on West Street, although the station is no longer locally owned.

The 1920s were a period of growth and optimism for Brantford but the city’s star position as one of largest industrial centres with respect to manufacturing exports started to diminish, superseded by other cities in the country.