Wealth and Inequality on Ontario’s Northwestern Frontier: Evidence from Probate

  • Livio Di Matteo


This study examines a unique data set of 1,293 estates from probate records of the Thunder Bay District Surrogate Court for the period from 1885 to 1920. The data document a period of sustained growth spanning the years 1885 to 1906, an intense boom over the period from 1907 to 1913, and a post-boom “bust” over the years 1914 to 1920. Real average wealth in 1900 dollars during the boom period (1907– 1913) was almost 112 per cent higher than it had been in the previous period and approximately 95 per cent greater than during the post-1913 period. The boom was accompanied by a massive increase in wealth inequality, as the share of the top 10 per cent of wealth-holders rose from 66 to 75 per cent. While the average increases in wealth during the boom were greatest among the top fifth of wealth-holders, this group also sustained the greatest declines in wealth during the post-boom collapse. In addition, the post-boom collapse appears to have harmed women’s wealth-holding proportionately more than men’s, perhaps because of the greater propensity of women to hold their wealth in the form of mortgages.