The Depression Housing Crisis: Which Owners and Investors Hurt Most?


  • Richard Harris McMaster University



During the Great Depression, many tens of thousands of owners and investors in residential property were devastated by mortgage defaults. Because contemporaries and historians have shown little interest in these people, we have little idea who they were. The only way to address this question is through an examination of local sources. Using land titles, property assessment records, city directories, and newspaper accounts, this case study of Hamilton, Ontario, provides a plausible, occasionally surprising, picture. The borrowers most likely to lose their property were those with high ratio mortgages, landlords (as opposed to homeowners), and surprisingly, those who owned the more expensive properties. Plenty of workers were affected, because they were numerous, and a high proportion owned homes. So, too, were many married women, widows, and spinsters, as both borrowers and lenders. Proportionately, those owners and investors most likely to experience losses were white-collar workers, the self-employed, and widows, while spinsters fared relatively well.

Author Biography

Richard Harris, McMaster University

Richard Harris is Professor emeritus at McMaster University.