In this paper I propose to examine the placement policies of Canadian life insurance companies, and the campanies' place in the Canadian capital market, during the period of rapid agricultural and industrial development which preceded the First World War. It is no longer possible to maintain, as Buckley could maintain in his study of capital formation, that before the War Canada had a very undeveloped domestic capital market. McIvor's recent work has increased our knowledge of Canadian financial history, a subject strangely neglected since the work of Shortt and Breckenridge some sixty years ago. Kilbourn's study of the Steel Company of Canada has provided valuable evidence on the early stirrings of our capital market. I have argued elsewhere that these stirrings were both vigorous and significant for Canadian economic development before 1914, and that particularly in the field of government finance they cannot sensibly be ignored. The following pages discuss selected aspects of the financial history of this most interesting period. I shall try to show not only what the life insurance companies were doing with their funds but why they were doing what they did. The paper concludes with some reflections on the social rationality of their investment policies.
First, some description of the Canadian life insurance companies themselves. By 1895 they already bulked large on the domestic scene, though not so large as the chartered banks. Their assets were valued at $32,000,000 in 1895, and their annual premium income then amounted to $5,703,000 from domestic business and $595,000 from foreign business. By 1914 the companies' assets were worth $257,800,000, their annual domestic premium income was $26,047,000, and their foreign premium income was $12,680,000. Throughout this period they faced vigorous competition from British and especially from American firms, which collected 45 per cent of the total Canadian life insurance premia in 1895 and 40 per cent in 1914.