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The North American Shelter Business, 1860–1920: A Study of a Canadian Real Estate and Property Management Agency

  • Michael Doucet (a1) and John Weaver (a2)


In this article, Professors Doucet and Weaver examine the North American shelter business between 1860 and 1920. Drawing upon the business records of the Hamilton, Ontario, real estate firm of Moore and Davis, they analyze the construction, ownership, and management of the North American shelter staple—the single-family detached dwelling. Since these activities had significant effects on the everyday lives of urban dwellers, they reveal significant social as well as business patterns. Doucet and Weaver conclude that this firm, and by implication the industry as a whole, preferred the prudent and routine to the innovative and daring, suggesting, in contrast to the work of recent scholars, that continuity rather than change typified urban development during these decades.



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1 Zunz, Olivier, The Changing Face of Inequality: Urbanization, Industrial Development, and Immigrants in Detroit, 1880–1920 (Chicago, 1982), 400.

2 Barrows, Robert G., “Beyond the Tenement: Patterns of American Urban Housing, 1870–1930,” Journal of Urban History 9 (1983): 395420.

3 Doucet, Michael J., “Urban Land Development in Nineteenth-Century North America: Themes in the Literature,” Journal of Urban History 8 (1982): 327–31.

4 Davies, Pearl J., Real Estate in American History (Washington, 1958), 1821, 36.

5 Ibid., 39.

6 The inventory of Moore and Davis's records includes 22 volumes of letterbooks, 9 rent ledgers, 1 mortgage ledger, 12 general ledger books, and 7 estate books.

7 Weaver, John C., Hamilton: An Illustrated History (Toronto, 1982), 196–98.

8 Moore and Davis (hereafter M&D) to Joseph Sudborough, 13 September 1862, Moore and Davis's Letterbooks (hereafter Letterbooks), vol. 1. The Letterbooks are part of the Hamilton Collection in the Hamilton Public Library.

9 M & D to James McLlennan, 19 September 1865; M & D to the Reverend John Irvine, 6 December 1867; both in Letterbooks, vol. 3.

10 M & D to Mrs. H. Jagoe, 7 May 1891, Letterbooks, vol. 11.

11 M & D to W.R. Whately, deputy chief, Hamilton police, 17 July 1914, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

12 W.P. Moore to A.A. McKillop, 18 February 1887, Letterbooks, vol. 9.

13 W.P. Moore to N.A. Awrey, 24 March 1887, Letterbooks, vol. 9.

14 W.P. Moore to N.A. Awrey, 31 March 1891, Letterbooks, vol. 11.

15 M & D to S.J. Vankoughnet, 1 May 1862, Letterbooks, vol. 1.

16 John Fox to M & D, 30 September 1870, Letterbooks, vol. 5.

17 Fox's offer was rejected. The two lots in question were sold to a William Lemon in 1873 for $1,000.

18 For example, see M & D to Richard Bull, 13 July 1869, Letterbooks, vol. 4.

19 M & D to D.F. Duncombe, 25 October 1867, Letterbooks, vol. 3.

20 M & D to Alex McNale, 14 September 1872; M & D to Charles A. Blyth, 25 June 1877; both in Letterbooks, vol. 5.

21 Moore and Davis Mortgage Ledgers, Estate of Gilbert F. Davis. For more on Hamilton mortgages during this period see Katz, Michael B., Doucet, Michael J., and Stern, Mark B., The Social Organization of Early Industrial Capitalism (Cambridge, Mass., 1982), chapter 4, and Doucet, Michael J., “Building the Victorian City: The Process of Land Development in Hamilton, Ontario, 1847–1881,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1977), chapter 6.

22 Stewart, Walter, Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks (Toronto, 1982), chapter 6.

23 Warner, Sam Bass Jr, Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870–1900 (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), 118; Bodner, John, Simon, Roger, and Weber, Michael P., Lives of Their Own: Blacks, Italians, and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900–1960 (Urbana, 1982), 161–70; Barrows, “Beyond the Tenement,” 415–18.

24 Doucet, “Building the Victorian City,” chapter 6.

25 Katz, Doucet, and Stern, The Social Organization, chapter 4.

26 M & D to Toronto Dwellings, 5 June 1914, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

27 Moore and Davis Collection, pamphlet folder, Advice to Tenants by Patterson Bros., The Builders of Homes (n.p., n.d.).

28 Weaver, John C., “From Land Assembly to Social Maturity: The Suburban Life of Westdale (Hamilton), Ontario, 1911–1951,” Histoire sociale/Social History 11 (1978), 411–40.

29 Warner, Streetcar Suburbs, 119–20.

30 Weaver, Hamilton, table 4, 197.

31 12 December 1912, to 10 September 1914, passim, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

32 M & D to E.D. Cahill, K.C., 14 January 1914, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

33 For a discussion of similar occurences in a U.S. city, see Zunz, The Changing Face of Inequality.

34 Lorimer, James, The Developers (Toronto, 1978).

35 Moore and Davis, vertical file box labeled Mountain, Central, Norway. In keeping with the image of merchant builders as businessmen who kept their records on the backs of envelopes, the estimates and running totals on actual costs were penciled on the backs of envelopes. On minimalist design, see Wright, Gwendolyn, Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Conflict in Chicago, 1873–1913 (Chicago, 1980).

36 See for example Flatt, W.D., The Trail of Love: An Appreciation of Canadian Pioneers and Pioneer Life (Toronto, 1916). Flatt was a Hamilton lumber baron with holdings in Michigan. He spread his business into building materials and real estate subdivision. According to the 1871 manuscript census, the largest building firm in Hamilton was that of C.W. and T.H. Kempster, which also was a manufacturer of sashes, doors, and window blinds.

37 For a candid, inside discussion of merchant builders' practices in the 1950s, see Eichler, Ned, The Merchant Builders (Cambridge, Mass., 1982).

38 Doucet, “Urban Land Development,” 300–302.

39 Barrows, “Beyond the Tenement,” 395–97.

40 Harvey, David, Social Justice and the City (Baltimore, 1975), 171.

41 M & D to Samuel Green, 5 June 1913 and 8 September 1913, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

42 M & D to H. Burch, 5 May 1913, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

43 Harvey, Social Justice and the City, 170.

44 M & D to Ellen Heyes, II August 1913, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

45 M & D to James Storie, 21 July 1891, Letterbooks, vol. 11.

46 M & D to Dr. G. Morton, 30 July 1891, Letterbooks, vol. 11.

47 M & D to James Bennett, 9 February 1893, Letterbooks, vol. 11.

48 M & D to Guardian Trust Company, 19 August 1914, Letterbooks, vol. 16; M & D to Messrs. Cohen and Sugarman, 10 September 1914, Letterbooks, vol. 11.

49 M & D to M.J. Cashman, 28 February 1913, Letterbooks, vol. 16.

50 Rose, Albert, Canadian Housing Policies 1935–1980 (Toronto, 1980), 12.

51 Wright, Moralism and the Model Home.


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