Toronto Street before 1891

Life in the 1880s

Life for Lucretia in The Unmarriable Kind is modern beyond her mother and grandmother’s imaginations in their youth.  Railways connect many of Canada’s major cities as well as connecting Ontario to the United States.  What’s more, Canada is now a nation with a population of 4.3 million.

Let’s examine what life was like in the fledgling nation.


Emily Stowe studies medicine in New York and returns to Toronto to practice.  She is the first women physician to practice in Canada.  In 1883, the Ontario Medical College for Women opens.  Three years later, the University of Toronto allows women to enroll.

People riot in Montreal after compulsory smallpox vaccines go into effect in the 1870s.  In 1885, smallpox epidemics strike Montreal and Ottawa.

By 1890, surgery was a safe, successful and sanitary medical treatment.

City vs Country

Between 1840 and 1900, the standard of living increased.  As industrial output increased, prices fell, and the dollar purchased 25 percent more.

Rent in cities was high, and jobs usually were unskilled and routine.  Factory work was brutal.  So much so, that plants had their own prisons to lock up apprentices who breeched discipline.

In the 1880s, child labor laws went into effect, although they were impossible to enforce.  Boys under the age of 12 and girls younger than 14 were prohibited from working in Ontario and Quebec.  In Nova Scotia, boys were required to be 10 before seeking work and 12 before working a 60-hour work week.

As the 19th century progressed, more people moved from the country to the city.  Annually, winter freeze-ups still caused layoffs, and an influx of workers reduced wages.


In the 1870s, homes began being built with running water connected to sewer service.  A decade later, they were built with telephones and electricity.

Ottawa’s first telephone book, published in 1882, contained 200 listings.

By 1890, large cities were a maze overhead of telephone, telegraph and electric wires.


To be Canadian in the 19th century was to create Canada.  How was the question.  Independence from the British empire was easier said than done.  Canada still needed the UK to protect it from the American threat of annexation.

A small group of Liberals wanted to be annexed to the United States, and half a million Québécois moved to New England.  In 1871, however, the Treaty of Washington settled many of the issues the United States and Canada had with one another.

Expansion West

From 1871 to 1877, a series of treaties were negotiated with First Nations’ peoples.  These were followed by surveys and the North-West Mounted Police entering the area.

Founded in 1873, the North-West Mounted Police were intended to be temporary.  Constables apprehended criminals, and officers tried them.

Multiple rebellions happened in the prairies as the region had no representation in the federal government other than the Department of the Interior. The North-West Territorial Council in Regina, Saskatchewan, handled some issues.

Buffalo herds began disappearing by the end of the 1870s.  In the span of five years, tens of millions were killed and their bones sold as fertilizer.

Ranching became a viable profession when refrigerated ships allowed for the export of meat in 1880.  In 1884, 54,000 head of live cattle were exported to the UK, a figure that doubled by the end of the century.

The government purchased land from the First Nation’s people for the construction of a transcontinental railroad.  During the winter of 1883-84, one in 10 natives died on the plains.

Where to Purchase The Unmarriable Kind

The Unmarriable Kind by Melina Druga

The Unmarriable Kind by Melina Druga

This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s historical fiction novella, The Unmarriable Kind.

Lucretia, an opinionated school teacher, wants no part of marriage. The new headmaster champions change. Will they ever see eye to eye?  Available in eBook, paperback and hardcover.  Full list of retailers.