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1867-1914 - Old Age and Poverty 1915-1927 - Our First Old Age Pension 1928-1951 - Demanding More 1952-1967 - Reducing Poverty 1968-1989 - Reaching More Canadians 1990-2000 - Pensions on Solid Ground 2000 on - A Secure Future

1915-1927 Our First Old Age Pension

Daily Life

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Because of continued industrialization and urbanization, the period between the outbreak of the First World War and the passage of theOld Age Pensions Actwas characterized by a growth in the number of seniors in Canada, and a continuation of the decline in economic status for increasing numbers of older people.

The First World War itself brought about many important changes in Canadian society. The war required unprecedented levels of production of munitions and other war supplies, and this need helped speed up the process of industrialization. When the war ended, many wartime factories were kept open and began to produce household appliances and new luxury items such as automobiles.

Industrialization revolutionized the way in which goods were produced. One effect of this was a decrease in opportunities for older people to take part in the new production process. As heavy machinery did more and more of the work that had previously been done by people, the less physically demanding tasks that were traditionally given to older workers began to disappear.

After the First World War, the problems faced by the elderly poor became more visible. The sharp increase in urban factories contributed to the continual migration of people to cities. By the early 1920s, the number of people living in cities began to outnumber those living in the country for the first time. Because of both immigration and, especially, increased life expectancy, Canada's population also grew quickly in this period. As more people lived longer lives, but resided in cities where jobs for seniors were disappearing, the likelihood of falling into severe poverty in old age increased considerably.

Population of Canada increased from 2,436,297 in 1851 to 31,187,906 in 2000

(F.H. Lacey, ed., Historical Statistics of Canada, 2nd Edition (Ottawa, 1983), Series As-14)

This situation was further complicated by the fact that the Government Annuities program established in 1908 did not accomplish its intended purpose of providing a means by which large numbers of people would put enough money into savings to support themselves in their old age. Although the program offered the incentive of higher interest rates, by the 1920s it had become clear that those most in need of assistance in old age did not have any extra money with which to purchase these investments, regardless of the advantages they offered.

By the mid-1920s, Canada's economy had recovered from a post-war recession caused by a sharp decrease in the production of war supplies combined with the large national debt accumulated in the war years. As prosperity spread to many parts of the country, the contrast between the aged poor and other members of society became more noticeable.

All of these factors contributed to a growing realization that seniors needed assistance on a much larger scale. This realization contributed to the creation of the Old Age Pensions Act in 1927.