For the majority of her reign Queen Victoria was in mourning for her dearly departed Albert; shebecame a recluse after his death. Edward VII, her son, who succeeded her in 1901, was the complete opposite. Edward was a pleasure seeker, leading the commonwealth into a new, lively age of art, fashion, and travel.
Canada celebrated the first decade of the 20th-century with an abundance of wealth unmatched in the country’s brief history. In little more than 70 years Brantford evolved from a rugged backwater community where living conditions were harsh to a socially and economically diverse city of the industrial age.
The years between the 1901 and the start of the Great War saw a sustained period of industrial growth. The fiscal caution of the 1890s was replaced by confidence and the city moved rapidly forward garnering a national and international reputation for manufacturing excellence. During this period there were recessions and labour disputes but the city’s workforce and roster of companies grew.
In the first few years of the 20th-century Brantford Cordage started up and major additions were completed at Pratt and Letchworth, Brantford Carriage Works and Verity Plow. Cockshutt completed their new factory on Mohawk Street and Buck Stove Works moved to a new and larger location. Ham & Nott, Waterous Engine Works, and Massey-Harris announced expansion plans. By 1903 4,000 people, in a city of 18,000 were employed in the manufacturing sector. In mid-decade Barber-Ellis, Canada Glue, and American Radiator set up operations in Brantford.
The first slow down occurred in 1907, a world-wide phenomenon. The economy improved in 1908 and in the next few years Canadian Machine Telephone, Brandon Shoe, Crown Electric, and Brantford Computing Scale started up. Cockshutt and Brantford Carriage both made large additions. This continued growth however never reached the heights of growth of the first years of the new century.
A pressing issue of this era was who should provide the services the growing city needed. Was municipal ownership of public utilities to be expanded? Private operators were commonly under capitalised and constantly struggled trying to keep up with demand. The small size of the local market prevented operators from earning adequate returns to improve and the expand service. In 1905 city run garbage collection began, replacing private contractors. Ownership of companies providing telephone service, electricity, gas, and the street railway were constant sources of debate.
It is interesting to note that by the turn of the 20th-century the City Hall on Market Square was deemed to be an eyesore and an embarrassment to the city yet it would remain in place and in use for another 63 years.
During this period three more railways were built. The Grand Valley Railway began operating to Paris in 1903 and to Galt in 1904. The Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway commenced service to Hamilton in 1908 making 18 rounds trip a day. Service continued on this line until 1931. The Lake Erie & Northern travelled south to Waterford, Simcoe, and Port Dover and to Galt and north to Kitchener and Waterloo via the Grand River Railway beginning in 1916. Passenger service on the LE & N ended in 1955.
In 1905 the Grand Trunk Railway’s mainline was diverted to run through Brantford, 51 years after the Great Western bypassed Brantford because the city refused to pay a bonus to the railway to put its line through Brantford. The main streets in Brantford began to be paved in 1908 in response to the expansion in use of the automobile.
In 1908 the Brant Historical Society was organised, dedicated to researching the history and archaeology of the County and to “excite a greater appreciation of the efforts of the early settlers”.
The constant growth in manufacturing was such that the Post Office on George and Dalhousie Streets, now Laurier Brantford’s Post House, could no longer handle the municipal and federal business in Brantford. A new Federal Building commenced construction in 1913. Today this once important local symbol of the federal government has been deemed surplus to the government’s needs and is to be sold off.
The winter of 1913-1914 saw the return of hard times. The economic slowdown combined with patriotic commitment to England meant many men were available to enlist for the war after Great Britain declared war on Germany. However, fewin Brant were aware of the issues and circumstances that provoked the war. War was seen, and sold, as an adventure and a gallant pursuit, rather than the horror it truly was. As the war progressed and the stories of the terror and suffering reached Brant, fewer and fewer men were willing to commit to the cause. However demand for war supplies and equipment soon provided the factories of Brantford with scores of contracts.
As American influence began to exert itself in Canada, efforts to strengthen ties with England, the mother land, increased. Some considered it inevitable that Canada would join the American Union. The on-going debate about whether to remain committed to England or form a closer relationship with America culminated with the Reciprocity Treaty (a free trade agreement) the Laurier government negotiated with the United States. Local industrialists thrived in the high tariff environment that existed and were not anxious to see their American competitors invade Canada and steal away their markets. Farmers were hopeful for an agreement but industry and urban forces against the Treaty led to the defeat of the Laurier government in the 1911 elections. Free trade with America would prove elusive until 1987 when the Mulroney government signed the Free Trade Agreement.