Want to tell your cousin, who lives in another town, some good news? No problem; just call her or send her an email. Want to know who won the hockey game last night? Just turn on the radio or TV or check the Internet.

But back in 1905, communications were not so simple… or so efficient. First of all, you can forget about the radio, the television and the Internet because they didn’t even exist yet! The telephone? Don’t count on it. In 1905, the telephone was still an object of curiosity and not commonly found in Quebec homes. Although the telephone had been invented in the 1870s, only businessmen and the wealthiest families could afford one. In those days, most phones were wall units. And they didn’t work like they do today: operators had to direct phone calls. When a caller picked up the receiver, a light lit up at the telephone exchange. An operator would answer and the caller would give her the number he wanted to call (the name of the central and a number, e.g. Main 3803) and she would direct it.

What other methods could you use if you wanted to give your cousin some good news back in 1905? Mail and the telegraph, of course! Sending a telegram was faster, but it was more expensive. The most common way then was to write her a letter or postcard and send it by mail. It was a reliable system had been run by the Canadian government since 1851. Your letter would be sent either by horse or train, depending on where your cousin lived.

And what method could you use if you wanted to find out what happened last night—knowing that radio, television and the Internet did not yet exist? Newspapers!

By 1905, newspapers were no longer reserved to a small elite, as was the case in the 19th century. There were now daily newspapers being sold at an affordable price. The La Presse, which was founded in 1884, is one of the oldest newspapers in Quebec. In newspapers like this one, people could find news and various facts illustrated with pictures or cartoons, advertisements and columns. For example, around that time, La Presse published a labour column by Jules Helbronner, who wrote under the pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Gagnepetit (French for “low paid”)!

Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social

Quickly check your knowledge: