Academic journal article Urban History Review

Apartment Housing in Canadian Cities, 1900-1940

Academic journal article Urban History Review

Apartment Housing in Canadian Cities, 1900-1940

Article excerpt


Apartment houses may be considered as a deviation from the North American ideal of single-family, owner-occupied homes. Unsurprisingly, therefore, they attracted substantial criticism when first erected in Canadian cities, especially in Toronto where anti-apartment bylaws were introduced in 1912. They were condemned as insanitary, anti-family, and a threat to established property values, undermining "cities of homes" both morally and economically. But they were also evidence of modernity and cosmopolitan sophistication, praised for their efficiency and appropriateness for new types of households leading new lifestyles. Hence their appearance in new cities in the Canadian West, especially in the 1910s, and their increasing popularity through the 1920s.

Focusing primarily but not exclusively on Toronto, this paper discusses the history and geography of Canadian apartment housing during pre-World War I and interwar building booms; the ways in which apartments were advertised and represented; and the diversity of building types, from luxury downtown apartment hotels to suburban walk-up efficiency apartments and even a few semi-philanthropic blocks. It concludes with some observations on the still under-researched questions of how apartment buildings were financed and who owned them.


On peut considerer les immeubles d'habitation comme une deviation par rapport a l'ideal nord-americain de la maison unifamiliale habitee par son proprietaire. Il n'est donc pas etonnant qu'ils aient fait l'objet de maintes critiques des leur apparition dans les villes canadiennes, en particulier a Toronto qui presenta, en 1912, des reglements visant a contrer leur construction. On accusait les immeubles d'habitation d'etre insalubres et contraires aux valeurs familiales, de menacer la valeur des proprietes etablies et d'attaquer les fondements moraux et economiques des villes ou la maison unifamiliale representait le summum du <>. Cependant, ils temoignaient egalement du fait que les villes devenaient de plus en plus modernes et cosmopolites. On vantait leur efficacite et leur compatibilite avec les nouveaux modes de vie des menages, eux-memes en mutation. De la l'apparition de nouvelles villes, basees sur ce type de construction, dans l'Ouest canadien, en particulier dans les annees 1910, et leur popularite croissante tout au long des annees 1920.

Ce document traite principalement mais non exclusivement de Toronto. Il etudie l'histoire et la geographie des immeubles d'habitation au Canada durant les booms de construction d'avant la Premiere Guerre mondiale et de l'entre-deux guerres, les modes de representation et de publicite se rapportant aux appartements et la diversite des types de construction: luxueux hotels d'habitation du centre-ville, immeubles de studios sans ascenseur en banlieue et meme quelques immeubles d'habitation partiellement subventionnes par des oeuvres de charite. L'article se termine par des observations sur des themes qui n'ont pas encore fait l'objet de beaucoup de recherches: le financement et la propriete des immeubles d'habitation.

Apartment houses in Canadian cities, at least prior to the 1960s, may be thought of as little more than a curious footnote to the expansion of suburban homeownership. Quantitatively, they made only a modest contribution to the extension of the housing stock. Yet they are important for several reasons. Firstly, debates about their desirability provide a window into wider discussions about morality, privacy and family life in a rapidly urbanising society. They indicate the ambivalence of Canadians towards trends in nearby American cities, horrified by the vice and squalor associated with New York and Chicago, but also envious of their opulence and sophistication. Secondly, apartments were one part of the rental housing market which attracted investors at times when private renting was in decline, when landlords were selling houses into owner-occupation and converting rents into mortgages, if not into capital to be invested outside the housing market. …

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