Toronto Then & Now
Every five years, Canadians are invited to participate in the census to help paint a portrait of Canada’s diverse population and the places where we live. The Census of Population provides high-quality information on key socioeconomic trends and analysis that helps Ontario and the City of Toronto to make important decisions that affect our families, our neighbourhoods and our businesses.
The 2021 Census of Population was Canada’s 23rd national census. It collected information on the demographic, social and economic situation of people across Canada, as well as on the dwellings they lived in. The data for the 2021 Census was primarily collected online, which was supplemented by phone calls and some in-person visits. One hundred years before, the 1921 Census was a far different animal. It marked the sixth regularly scheduled collection of national statistics. It officially began on June 1, 1921 with most of the information on population demographics collected by one of 12,000 enumerators across Canada.
The 1921 Census captured the city of Toronto as it was in transition from its colonial roots to becoming Canada’s currently largest and most multiculturally diverse urban centre. Although 62 per cent of all residents had been born in Canada and nearly three out of ten had been born in the United Kingdom, the city was beginning to see immigration from other parts of Europe and from other continents. The 1921 Census indicated that Toronto’s population was more than half a million (growing from 375,000 in the 1911 Census) and suburban growth had already started in York, East York and Forest Hill.
This infographic celebrates the release of Toronto’s 2021 Census data by comparing our labour force of today with what it looked like 100 years ago.
Gender & Industry Occupational Categories
Click on image for a larger view.
This chart shows the top six industries for the Toronto workforce with employment by gender for 1921 and 2021. The immediately apparent difference is in the composition of employment by gender. In 1921, the top six industries and total workforce were dominated by men who generally comprised two-thirds to three-quarters of the workforce. By 2021, women were nearly half of the total workforce and were more than half of the workforce in each of the top six industries except the Trades where nine-in-ten workers are men.
Manufacturing dropped from first to sixth over the century, and Finance moved from sixth to second. Transportation dropped out of the top six while Social Services (including education) and Health became some of the biggest industries in Toronto by total employment. Some of these jobs would have been included in the “unspecified” category in 1921.
Top Industries for 1921 (largest first)
Top Industries for 2021 (largest first)
- Sales & Service
- Education, Law & Social Services
- Health Occupations
The Five Largest Private Employers In Toronto
This chart lists the top employers and number of employees in Toronto in 1921 and 2021. While not surprising that the list has changed over the past century, what is surprising is how dominant the largest employer (Eaton’s) was in 1921. With over twelve thousand employees in 1921, Eaton’s was ten-times the size of the next largest (Massey-Harris at twelve hundred) and would be the third largest employer in Toronto in 2021. While Finance leads the list in 2021, no single employer dominates.
Top Employers for 1921 (largest first)
- Eaton’s (retail)
- Massey-Harris (tractors)
- Canada Foundry Company (steam boilers)
- Kodak (film)
- Goodyear (tires)
Top Employers for 2021 (largest first)
- CIBC (finance)
- Scotiabank (finance)
- Magna (auto parts)
- Rogers (telecom)
- BMO/Bank of Montreal (finance)
Average Salary By Occupation
This chart shows the average salary (also by gender) for ten select occupations in Toronto in 1921 and 2021. The chart shows the 1921 average in 1921 dollars and in 2021 dollars (based on Bank of Canada inflation rates). It shows the 2021 average wage in 2021 dollars.
The increase in wages over the past century has greatly outpaced inflation. In 1921, a male Accountant averaged about 2,200 (1921$) or 34,000 (2021$) which is roughly what a female Transit Driver was making in 2021 while male Accountants were pulling in an average salary of 140,000 (2021$), which is over four times the inflation-adjusted salary.
This chart reveals changes in the relative positioning of average wages over the century and differences in the wage disparity between men and women. While Accountants, Teachers, Lawyers and Physicians comprised the top tier of jobs in 1921, by 2021 female Accountants and all Teachers no longer receive the highest average salaries. Jobs with lower average wages in 1921 (Bricklayer, Cook, Electrician, Machinist, Retail Sales, Transit Driver) still had lower than average wages in 2021 but have greater separation from the higher wage jobs.
Also worth noting is the change in the difference in average wage by gender between 1921 and 2021. While in 2021 the higher wage jobs still have large average wage differences between men and women, the difference is not a great as it was in 1921, except for Accountants. For lower wage jobs, the differences between average wages for men and women became much smaller by 2021, except for Retail Sales, which doesn’t show a large difference in either 1921 or 2021. Although the differences were reduced, in 2021 men still showed higher than average wages for all of these occupations.
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This chart shows the average highest level of school among the population for 1921, 1971 and 2021. 1971 was added to show the change over the past fifty years.
In 1921 only about 5% of the population had completed post-secondary education. That rose to 12% by 1971 and to 62% by 2021.
In 1921 about 16% of the population had completed high school. That rose to about 27% by 1971 and fell to about 21% by 2021. This decline is not surprising given the dramatic increase in the share of the population with post-secondary education in 2021.
In 1921 79% of the total population did not have a high school diploma. It was still at 61% in 1971 but fell to just 17% in 2021.
The past century has seen a significant increase in the educational attainment of Toronto’s workforce with much of that change occurring over the past fifty years.
- Piva, Michael J. “The condition of the working class in Toronto, 1900-1921.” University of Ottawa Press. 1979. https://archive.org/details/conditionofworki0000piva/page/10/mode/2up
- Bloomfield, A. Victoria, and Richard Harris. “The Journey to Work: A Historical Methodology.” Historical Methods, vol. 30, no. 2, 1997, pp. 97–109, https://doi.org/10.1080/01615449709601178
- Might’s Greater Toronto City Directory, 1920
- Statistics Canada. (1925) Census of Canada, 1921. “1921 Census – Population: age, conjugal condition, birthplace, immigration, citizenship, language, educational status, school attendance, blindness and deaf mutism.”
- Statistics Canada. (1929) Census of Canada, 1921. “1921 Census – Occupations.”
- Statistics Canada. (1926) “Illiteracy and school attendance in Canada : a study of the census of 1921 with supplementary data.”
- Statistics Canada (1978) Census of Canada, 1971. “Industry trends, 1951-1971.”
- Statistics Canada (1974) Census of Canada, 1971. “Population – school attendance and schooling.” https://archive.org/details/1971927201974engfra/page/n91/mode/2up
- Statistics Canada (2023) Census of Canada, 2021 “Employed labour force who worked full year, full time and reported employment income in 2020, 2021 Census.” https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/dp-pd/dv-vd/occ-pro/index-en.cfm
- “Largest Employers in Toronto Area.”
- Statistics Canada. (2022) Census Profile, 2021 Census of Population. Toronto.
Kevin Stolarick, PhD, Research and Analysis
Kevin Donaghy, Design and Illustration