Trades in Brampton

As Brampton’s population began to grow in the 1860s and 70s a wide variety of trades people and skilled craftsmen began to move to Brampton and set up shop. These people ranged from photographers and doctors to blacksmiths and office workers.

No single person can be credited with the invention of photography, however the earliest recorded photographer was a Frenchman named Louis Daguerre, who in 1839, introduced a process called Daguerrotyping, a mania that swept Europe and North America. By the end of 1840, photographic studios were opening in Canada and the United States, including one in Upper Town, Quebec City. Prices for Daguerrotypes ran between $2.50 and $30.00 depending on the size. However, as more and more photography studios began to open, the price began to drop in response to the competition. Prices eventually went as low as 25 cents.

One of Brampton’s earliest photography studios was opened by John Ward Cole and was continued by his son and grandson John Fletcher and John Bleakley Cole. These were only three among the dozens of photographers that operated in Brampton during the latter half of the 19th Century.

Before the development of modern film and photographic paper, photographers used plate glass negatives treated with light sensitive chemicals called wet plates to take pictures. Late in the 19th Century dry plates were introduced. These were pretreated with light sensitive chemicals and helped to simplify the photographic process. The light coming into the camera through the lens interacted with the chemicals creating a negative on the plate, which was then used to create the final image.

Education was considered to be very important among the early settlers in Brampton and the Region of Peel, however, it was not always readily available. Some families were able to send their children to live in large communities with educated professionals, such as doctors or lawyers who would educate them in exchange for a fee.

As rural communities began to grow, traveling teachers appeared who would stay with a local family and educate groups of children in exchange for room and board for a week or two and then move on. When the community grew large enough and it was possible to build a school house, a permanent teacher was hired by the community.

As the Region of Peel continued to grow the prosperity of the area began to attract merchants and shop keepers. Before the general store, farmers and other early settlers had to make all of the goods that they consumed on the farm, themselves. With the opening of a general store in a small town, things became somewhat easier for isolated farmers, as they now had a place to buy tools, coal oil, seeds, spices and coffee. The general store also would have supplied cloth, ribbon, clothing, shoes, china and other luxury goods, as well as slates, slate pencils and other school supplies. Initially, these goods were still comparative luxuries as they had to be brought in from big cities by horse and wagon, but once the railroad arrived, they became much more affordable. Sometimes the general store also sold liquor. Some settlers advocated abstinence. Members of the Total Abstinence Society, initiated by a Brampton resident, John Watson, viewed liquor as evil and a hindrance to one’s duty of making a living.

The general store was usually a family run business in which everyone was expected to work. The store keeper and his wife would have dealt with customers while the children would have swept the floor, weighed items and stocked shelves.

The general store was also a meeting place for family and friends who lived too far away to visit each other. Mail was also sent and received at the general store. In addition the general store was also the place where gossip was exchanged. Isolated farmers could share stories and news, and learn of the outside world from newspapers that were shipped in from larger cities.

Early settlers built their houses and virtually all of their furniture from wood. As such carpenters became very important in the early development of Brampton and Peel Region. Wood was the most convenient and plentiful material available for building during the early development of Brampton and the surrounding regions. As farming communities grew and prospered, carpenters began to specialize in different kinds of woodworking such as cabinetry, shingle making and coopering or barrel making.

Early settlers were isolated and faced with the possibility of sickness and injury. Cuts and serious accidents from saws, axes and other tools were common, as was back strain from lifting heavy logs into place while constructing homes and barns. The iron kettles used for cooking were heavy, even when empty and were also capable of causing injury. In addition, many early settlers were unused to the severity of a Canadian winter and often came down with colds and fevers as a result.

There was also the problem of actually going to see a doctor. Absalom Wilcox, an innkeeper near Dixie broke his leg while clearing a stump on the site of what is now the Dixie Stone Church and had to be carried 9 km to the surgeon at Fort York.

Doctors were also instrumental in helping to develop Brampton’s local health care system. Brampton’s first Board of Health was established in 1864 and regulations were put in place to counteract the spread of diseases that were common at the time, such as scarlet fever and diphtheria. By the late 19th Century many of Brampton’s high school graduates were going on to medical school. Many returned to Brampton and the surrounding region, opening medical practices.

Early in the 19th Century, very few people actually lived near a doctor. As a result of this isolation, many doctors traveled to see their patients, as they were often not in a position to travel to seek medical attention. Many communities also had women doctors, who even though they had no formal medical training sometimes apprenticed with their father in his medical practice and thus had valuable hands on experience.

Working in an office centers around the organization of information. This relies on accuracy and speed. The development of office products in the 19th and 20th Century has been geared toward improving speed and accuracy. The rubber stamp and the typewriter are two such innovations that were meant to alleviate the boredom and repetitiveness of office work.

The central component of any 19th Century office was the typewriter. The first mechanical typing machines were invented in the early 18th Century. However, the first practical typewriter did not appear until 1873 and signaled the start of the age of office automation. The first typewriter was designed by Sholes and Glidden. This was soon surpassed by E. Remington and Sons. The introduction of time saving devices such as the typewriter also allowed young women to have safe, comfortable jobs as secretaries and typists instead of having to work in factories.

There were many types of metal workers in the 19th Century, farriers, silversmiths, and tinsmiths were among them. Some metalworkers created objects by pounding them or bending them into shape. This is why they were called smiths, because they hit or smite the metal. Other types of metal workers cast metal into molds in order to make objects. The most common metal worker was the blacksmith. Each household, farm and workshop required the services of the blacksmith, who made everything from farm tools, locks, fireplace tools and horse shoes. Blacksmiths also sometimes joined iron and steel to give farm tools more durability.

The blacksmith existed in the local economy at the center of a web of relationships that served to bind the community together. The blacksmith was often paid in kind for his services as British or American money was a rare sight in rural regions before 1840 and Canada didn’t have a currency of its own as yet. Payment in kind occurred both in the form of labor and through the exchange of goods, such as cloth, spices and farm produce. The blacksmith would have saved some of these goods for his personal use and traded others in exchange for more metal. In this way, the blacksmith was somewhat similar to the general store. . Some blacksmiths, such as John, James and William Haggert of Brampton turned their metal working skills to manufacturing in 1849, when they founded Haggert Bros., which would go on to sell farm equipment all over Canada and the United States.

Almost as important to the community as the blacksmith, was the mill. The construction of a mill in a given area was often the first signs of industrialization. Mills were used for processing wheat into flour, producing lumber and cotton and cloth. The earliest mills were powered by water. Mills became important in the local economy, as they were large and required a large work force. This was particularly evident in the case of textile mills which could employ up to a hundred people.

Milling and weaving served greatly to enhance Brampton’s economy. In the early 1920s the Best Knit Company announced plans to build barracks for the workers at its plants in Brampton and Huttonville. These two factories were at capacity and the only way to increase production was to hire more men.

If the Founding Fathers of Brampton could see what the small village of 1853 has grown into, they would be amazed. The many tradesmen, doctors, teachers, lawyers and other skilled workers have helped to raise Brampton above its humble origins into a city that they would be truly proud of.


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