Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Keeping Up With Change

Imagine living through the late 19th century and trying to keep up with changing technology! Now, we think it’s a challenge to have our smart phone out of date when the latest model comes out, but
how challenging would it have been to adjust to the actual technology of telephone service for the first time. And electricity! Some people actually preferred sticking with their candles and oil lamps. That is the situation encountered by the characters in my most recent book, Torn in Toronto.

Some things were probably easy to adopt, such as plumbing.

The City of Toronto had a public water system in place as early as 1872, but many homes in the city were not connected to it. Some residents still used well water or shared an outdoor city water faucet with neighbours. Backyard privies were still commonplace, and when they leaked or overflowed, they contaminated water in nearby wells. Some houses had no toilet facilities at all and residents simply threw the contents of their chamber pots into street gutters or their yard. (Ew!)

 The first two medical officers of health, Dr. William Canniff and Dr. Charles Sheard, understood that many diseases can be transmitted by bacteria-contaminated water. They had a strong influence on the development of a clean water supply and wastewater disposal system for Toronto. Both doctors wanted wells and privies eliminated, and all buildings connected to new city water mains and sewers.

By 1900, most of this work was completed, improving living conditions for many people.

This was a fantastic development. Except so much of the downtown area was already built! Imagine trying to hook up this new system to an established house/neighborhood?

What about electricity?

Toronto emerged from the shadows thanks to the pioneering efforts of its first electricity company and its leading light, J. J. Wright.

Electricity was rare in the late 1870s, but it wasn't a total novelty in Toronto - it had been employed years earlier for sending telegraphs and powering telephone lines. Without a generator or a central supply network, the messaging companies, including the Toronto Telephone Despatch Co., the producers of the city's first phone book, relied on simple batteries.

A few years later, in 1881, John Joseph Wright built the first Canadian-made generator in a spare room at his father-in-law's box factory. Wright installed his generator near King and Yonge and sold the piercing light of the early bulbs to Eaton's department store and a handful of other local businesses keen to appear technologically advanced. In doing so, Wright became the first person to generate and sell electricity commercially in Toronto.

Providing light to the city became a competitive business as various companies vied for contracts to light the streets. As electricity became more common in residences, there also became available household “High-tech” products for the ‘families that kept no servants,’ as the company advertised. Things such as electric irons, toasters, waffle irons, coffee urns, cooking ranges, and vacuum cleaners.

Read more about how this type of thing affected people in my latest book, Torn in Toronto.

Could love be the greatest adventure of all?

Caitlyn Doherty wanted more adventure than her proper life in upper class Toronto allowed. It took a struggle against her parents’ restrictive views for her to be able to accept a position as telephone operator. She wanted to experience more than just finding a rich husband to marry.

Connor Dalton was too busy overcoming his childhood of poverty by becoming a fabulously wealthy businessman to even consider starting a family. But he feels so drawn to his telephone operator, it puts him in a very awkward position.

When Caitlyn’s mother pushes her toward Connor’s business rival, Connor and Caitlyn must both decide what they value most.

If you like sweet, swoony love stories set in the adventurous, late 19th century, then you’ll enjoy every minute of reading Torn in Toronto.

Get it on Amazon - click here.

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1 comment:

  1. Wendy, what a fascinating account of technological developments in Toronto! Thanks for sharing your research. I visited Toronto for only a few hours several years ago and was awestruck by the city. I'd love to go back and stay longer someday.


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