The early 20th century was a time of economic growth and prosperity. Quebec experienced significant industrial growth and electricity started to replace steam as the main energy source in factories.

New industries related to the exploitation of natural resources made a remarkable debut. These industries included mining, pulp and paper and hydroelectricity (as well as industries that required a lot of electricity, such as aluminum). These industries developed non-industrialized areas, like in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and Mauricie regions, for example.

But the biggest industries remained light manufacturing, like textiles, clothing, footwear, tobacco and food. With the growing number of immigrants, the development of Western Canada, and urbanization, the demand for these products had increased significantly. In 1905, one city dominated the light manufacturing sector: Montreal. At the time, it was the metropolis of Canada. In other words, it was the country’s most important city. The city’s light industry manufacturers hired many workers, but they paid them very poorly.

Take a close look at the picture above. This panoramic view of Montreal in 1892 shows the city’s industrial nature and its port activity. One area of the city had boasted the largest concentration of factories in the entire country: the area along the Lachine Canal. At the bottom left of the picture you can see the Victoria Bridge, the first bridge linking Montreal to the South Shore. Just above it you can see the Lachine Canal and the smoke from all the factories.

Why did industrialists choose this site? There were two main reasons: First, factories needed hydropower—energy from the water—to operate their machines; so the canal was a convenient source of energy. Plus, maritime and rail transportation was located virtually right next door. But you can also see many factories to the east of the city (to the right of the image).

Light-industry could be found in other cities in Quebec: There were factories making textiles in Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières, and footwear in Quebec City.

Author:  Service national du Récit de l’univers social

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