A new question asked by the 1931 Census of Canada was “Has this family a radio?” I love this question, it’s so Harold Innis.
The answer, whether “Yes” or “No,” was recorded under Column 10, as one of 6 questions under the rubric of Description of Home. As per the instructions to the enumerators, the entry in Column 10 was made “opposite the name of the head of the family irrespective of the ownership of the instrument.”1 That is, even if the radio had been purchased by another member of the household (by a son or daughter, for example), its ownership would be recorded under the name of the household head.
Did my grandparents live in households that owned a radio in 1931? Naturally I was curious to find out.
Maternal Grandparents: No
In the 1931 census, my maternal grandparents, only recently married (10 February 1931), are found in a 6-room apartment on Gore Street in Perth, Lanark Co., Ontario. They did not own a radio. And that’s not at all surprising: as a young, or youngish, couple just starting out, a radio would have been an extravagance, given that their monthly rent was $30, and a radio might cost at least their monthly rent, if not more.
However, my great-grandmother, Catherine (McCarthy) McGlade, widow of Arthur Joseph McGlade, and owner of a house at 79 Drummond St. E. in Perth, did own a radio in 1931.
And if my maternal grandfather was not an early adopter of the new technology of the radio, he was apparently (or at least according to family lore) one of the first on the block to purchase a television set in the early- to mid-1950s. My mother used to have her friends over to watch TV:
Paternal Grandparents: Yes and Yes
In June 1931, both of my paternal grandparents, not yet married (they would marry on 25 May 1932), were living in the respective households of their parents, and both of these households did own a radio.
Here is my grandmother (line 36) in the household of her parents, John James Lahey and Bridget Loreto Killeen, at 26 St. Francis St. This family had a radio:
And here is my grandfather (line 45) in the household of his parents, Alexander Michael Moran and Anna Maria Benton. This family had a radio:
My great-grandfather, at 231 Armstrong St., lived next door to his brother Thomas Edwin Moran (line 37), owner of a “Candy and Ice Cream Parlor” that would later become the Carleton Hotel, and then the Carleton Tavern. And while Alexander Michael Moran did have a radio, his brother Tommy did not.
However, while Tommy Moran’s family did not have a radio in 1931, by October 1932 they did have a new car, when Bridget (McDermott) Moran, aka Mrs. T.E. Moran, won the main prize of “a four-door sedan automobile” at a church bazaar (that’s quite a prize for a church bazaar! and the other main prize was “an electric refrigerator”).
In the 1931 census, my grandfather’s occupation was listed as “Store keeper” for “Gatineau Power.” Interestingly enough, the Gatineau Power Company was an official distributor of GE appliances, including radios:2
I wonder if my grandfather purchased a radio through the company store, perhaps on some sort of layaway plan? For the higher-end models, as shown in the above advert, retailers offered financing.
However, it wasn’t necessary to purchase a high-end cabinet or console model in order to have a radio. And even a lower-end purchase might be financed. John Raper Ltd of 179 Sparks St, for example, sold radios starting at $28.00, for the terms of $5 cash down, and then $1 weekly payments.3 These more modestly-priced radios would have been smaller tabletop (or “table model”) appliances, in which case you may have wanted to purchase a radio table.
Editing to add that Ken McKinlay of Family Tree Knots has an interesting post on the origins of the radio question.
- Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Seventh Census of Canada 1931, Instructions to Commissioners and Enumerators (Ottawa: 1931), p. 24 ↩
- They also sold a GE Hotpoint “Hi-Speed Range,” apparently “designed by women for women.” Advertisement in The Ottawa Citizen, 15 October 1931. ↩
- Advertisement in The Ottawa Journal, 30 December 1931. ↩
- Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Seventh Census of Canada 1931, Bulletin XIX, Radio Sets in Canada 1931, Table 3, p. 7 ↩