Sunday, August 1, 2010

Working Class History

Eco-Museum du Fier Monde, in a former bathhouse in art deco style on Amherst in South Central Montreal. Now it's a tribute to Montreal's working class. I finally got to visit today. I like to drive to the city on sunny SUMMER Sundays. This area, now part run down or closed shopfronts, and part upscale renewed industrial building turned condo, is beautiful, with it's European style balconies with their flower boxes. It's a real mish-mash of styles and sensibilties this area. De Bullion Street is located there.

Anyway, this beautiful heritage space is more of a 'tip of the cap' to the working class than a full blown tribute. The permanent exhibit is in up-scale school project style. Not intimidating at all, although reading (in French) was required. What audiovisual there was did not seem to be working. There's a mention, immediately when you enter, about how the millionaires in the Square Mile made their fortunes on the back of the poor. The exhibit claims that in the late 19th century, Montreal was one of the 10 largest cities in North America.

Anyway, I purchased a booklet that explained more, much of what I already know. That between 1901 and 1920, Montreal's population doubled! This is why Marion and Flora both got jobs in the city. It says that in 1905 a report by the Health Department of the City of Montreal (where my grandfather was working!) claimed that only 1 in 4 homes in these working class quartiers had a shower or bath. That's why they needed these bathhouses, which evolved into swimming pools. The first bathhouse was erected in 1909, called le bain Levesque. And I discovered, using Gazette archives, that they vaccinated children there. That is one of the reasons French Canadians had such high infant mortality: they weren't as inclined as other groups to get their kids vaccinated. These bathhouses later become public swimming pools.

PS. No mention of my grandfather, only Mederic Martin, the mayor he worked under, who presided over the inaugauration. I suspect my grandfather attended, but maybe not. But the booklet does have a picture of him: a picture within a picture, that is. There's an official picture of City Council 1928-30, and he's strategically place at bottom middle. The caption says many of these counsellors ended up lending their names to city baths. Not my grandfather. But there is, however, a Rue Jules Crepeau.

In learned in my Heritage course that an Eco-Museum is a regional or community museum. This place fits the bill. There's an Eco Museum in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, but since it's an outdoor nature reserve and zoo of sorts I always thought that Eco Museum referred to a nature museum only. Wrong.