Most Canadians in 1867 did not "retire". Canada was then a largely pre-industrial, agricultural society. Most people lived and worked on farms well into their old age. When they were physically unable to work, they were supported by their families on the farm.
Those without family support had few options. Many turned to local charities or public "poor relief" for help. However, these forms of assistance were often difficult to obtain. For example, unless they had a medical certificate excusing them from work, recipients of public assistance could be required to saw cordwood or break rock as a condition for receiving help. Even then, many poor seniors had to beg for additional help because the assistance they received was so minimal.
By the early 20th century, industrialization greatly changed the Canadian way of life. Across Canada, the migration of people from rural communities to cities and towns had a huge impact on the lives of older people. Farm life and the family support system were dissolved, and many elderly poor lived the rest of their lives in poorhouses.
Other industrialized countries became convinced that the elderly poor should receive special assistance. Although Canadian social reformers called for a national old age pension, in 1908 the Dominion government adopted instead a program of Government Annuities. The problem, however, was that few Canadians could afford to buy them.
The Canadian Government Annuities Act of 1908 was one of the earliest significant pieces of social legislation in Canada. Its purpose was to encourage Canadians to prepare financially for their retirement through the purchase of a government annuity.
The Act allowed for the purchase of various annuities for different amounts and lengths of time. At a specified age, the recipient would begin to receive fixed yearly benefits. The government guaranteed these benefits and assumed all the costs to administer them.
The first annuities issued were to a married couple from Quebec City.