City of Calgary Municipal Manual
Currently on display on the 4th floor of the Central Library
“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least amount of hissing.” Jean Baptiste Colbert, 1619-1683
City Council is meeting this week to discuss the next budget and it looks like our taxes may be going up again. Governments have to get their money somewhere, and taxation and fees are generally the way they go about it. This topic came up when I was talking to the students at King George School. They will be doing a project to celebrate their school’s centennial and I wanted to tell them what life was like in Calgary in 1913. I consulted the Municipal Manual for that year (we have a complete collection of the manuals in the Local History Room at the Central Library) to find out general facts about the city and found some of the fees and taxes charged in 1913. Things were not much different then, we paid taxes based on a mill rate which was based on the assessed value of the house. Citizens could challenge their assessments if they felt they were out of line. We were charged for water, fees for taxis were set out as were fees that chimney sweeps could charge. What is a little different was how these fees were calculated. For example, annual water rates were calculated first by the number of rooms in the dwelling starting at $5.00 for five rooms and going up $10.00 for 15 rooms with 50 cents charged for each additional room. Added to the base rate were charges for each “additional convenience” such as a sink, toilet or bathtub ($1.00 for each of these). You were also charged $1.00 for a lawn and $1.00 for the first horse or cow and 50 cents for each additional animal. There were separate rates for commercial customers, hotels, churches and other concerns ($40.00 for a public skating rink for example)
The city government also raised money by charging for licenses. To hold a circus on a public holiday or during exhibition week, the license cost $500. At other times of the year it w as $200 unless the daily entrance fee was under 25 cents, for which the license was only $100. It was $4 to register your female dog, $2 for a male. Junk stores (remember those?) had to pay a license fee of $50 while a rag and bottle man paid only $5.
These fees are only meaningful if we have a look at what other things cost at the time. A lot in Capitol Hill was listed at $400 while a lot on 13th Avenue W (a much tonier neighbourhood) was $2200. A seven room bungalow-style house in Mount Royal, on a 53 foot lot, was listed at $8500 (and even then the lot was advertised as being very good site for an apartment block) while homes in the Ogden district were selling for $1600 to $2000. The going rate for a general, all-round servant was about $30 a month and employment in the new field of movie projectionist would net you about $25 a week. A good man’s suit could be had for $15 and a pair of ladies Radium brand stockings sold for 50 cents. Twenty pounds of sugar cost $1.10 while a pound of English coffee (don’t know, I’ve had coffee in England and that isn’t a recommendation but…) was 24 cents.
1913 was the beginning of the end of one of Calgary’s famous booms. Land speculators who had pinned their hopes on the expansion of the city to the north of the Bow would sell their land at bargain basement prices and growth would be stalled. Fees didn’t go down, though, and new ones were added ($25 a year for a gumball machine license in 1916). Then, in 1917 a temporary measure was introduced to help finance Canada’s part in the First World War – the income tax – and we are still waiting for that one to be revoked.
Eighth Avenue Looking East, ca 1913
Postcards from the Past, PC 50