Wartime Housing and Boarding: A Case Study of the Catharine Street North Area of Hamilton, Ontario

By Dunkerson, Jennifer | Urban History Review, October 1991 | Go to article overview
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Wartime Housing and Boarding: A Case Study of the Catharine Street North Area of Hamilton, Ontario

Dunkerson, Jennifer, Urban History Review


In this study of boarding during World War II, new primary source material is used to reveal a tendency for necessary boarding arrangements in overcrowded, industrial, urban areas. The names, occupations and marital status of boarders were included in the tax assessment rolls for the city of Hamilton in the years spanning 1939 to 1951. Based on contemporary housing studies and more recent analyses of housing and boarding in our industrial past, a correlation may be found between the existence of boarders in a specific area of Hamilton and the nationwide trends of housing shortage, family formation, and wartime production.


Cette etude du logement en pension pendant la Deuxieme guerre mondiale, basee sur de nouveaux documents de premiere importance, revele que des arrangements pour le logement en pension sont necessaires dans les regions industrielles urbaines surpeuplees. Le nom, la profession et la situation de famille des pensionnaires figuraient sur les roles d'evaluation de la ville de Hamilton, entre les annees 1939 et 1951. En se basant sur des etudes de logement de l'epoque, et sur de plus recentes analyses de l'hebergement et du logement en pension au cours des annees industrielles, il est possible d'etablir une correlation entre la presence de pensionnaires dans un quartier precis de Hamilton et la penurie de logements, la composition des familles et la production en temps de guerre, a l'echelle nationale.


Undoubtedly one of the more significant events of Canadian urban growth was the outbreak of World War II. In six years, the war brought about monumental changes in urbanization and industrialization. The effects of a wartime economy were reflected in housing and living arrangements in the burgeoning cities. More specifically, the inability of housing construction and conversion to keep up with the demand in the cities is evidenced by the alleged widespread recourse to boarding and lodging. This paper attempts to analyze the existence of boarding in Canada during World War II, with particular reference to an area of the city of Hamilton, Ontario as a case in point. Fully aware of the tendency for some individuals and families to board voluntarily, this study suggests a greater incidence of unintentional or necessary boarding among those who dwelled in the Catharine Street 'neighbourhood.'

Boarding, or lodging, (1) was not a product of industrialization. Studies show that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries boarding was a business for most families offering rooms and a "social institution" to fulfil the needs of migrants. John Modell and Tamara K. Hareven in their study on boarding in America, claim that the 19th century family was "accommodating and flexible" as it had been for a long time and that lodging was easily incorporated into the family institution on the basis of "economic and service exchange." (2) Similarly, Robert F. Harney in his study of immigration and boarding in Canada, emphasizes that while kinship and community ties were important in establishing a lodge-family arrangement, the economic practicality of the situation was the most important thing for both parties. (3) Whether as a function of family "accommodation and flexibility" or as a business enterprise, boarding was considered accommodation for the young, single, male migrant.

Modell and Hareven argue that boarding was a North American 'phenomenon' based on internal migration, not foreign immigration. (4) Their conclusions reveal that the host family provided an environment for reorientation into a new culture. (5) The authors contend that boarding was determined by the life cycle: lodgers were primarily single, working in the downtown core of a city, and in between living with their parents and establishing their own households. Those who took in lodgers were generally established householders in their 40s with security of tenure in their dwellings, and had an extra room vacated by the absence of a young adult who had migrated elsewhere in his search for independence.

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Wartime Housing and Boarding: A Case Study of the Catharine Street North Area of Hamilton, Ontario


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