Monday, September 13, 2010

The City Below the Hill

Old Brewery Mission Country Camp (Camp Chapleau, Laurentians) for poorer Montrealers. No boys over 8 welcome!!

In 1896, the year Wilfrid Laurier came to power and the year Norman Nicholson built his brick Queen Anne home in the ritzy part of Richmond Quebec for 2, 700 dollars, a survey was being made in The City Below the Hill in Montreal to tell a story of poverty in the part of Montreal south of Downtown.

Herbert Brown Ames, social activist and philanthropist and city alderman at that time, wrote a book about the social conditions of Montreal's working class (in this case exclusively French Canadian, Irish Canadian and British Canadian (no Scots!) called the City Below the Hill.

I found it on archive.org and have read the intro. I'm not surprised, it is beautifully written. (The book had an impact and no one would have paid attention to a poorly written tract.)

"It is opportune that the citizens of Montreal, should for a time, cease discussing the slums of London, the beggars of Paris and the tenement evils of New York and endeavor to learn more about themselves and to understand the conditions present in their very midst."

As it happens, the report discussed the prevalence of privies, or outdoor toilets, in that part of the city and the man became famous for pointing that out.

But from what I see, this book is a comprehensive look at the lives of the poor and working class in Montreal in 1896, with a chapter on Employment, Composition of the Family, Income and Wages, Homes of Wage Earners, Density and Crowding, The Poor of the West End, the Death Rate, Nationalities and Religions. A lot more than Toilets being discussed here.

As it happens, (and as I wrote about previously) I also stumbled upon another related document, (put there by Google Books) the Report of the Health Department of the City of Montreal for 1889. I found it googling the name of my grandfather Jules Crepeau, who at that time was Message Boy, and who seems to have gotten a credit. (He rose to be Director of Services for the City all through the 1920's.)

I am going to read both documents (I'll put the Pdfs on my iPod) and compare. Herbert Brown Ames lobbied against corruption at City Hall. I think my grandfather, then 26 years of age and likely working in the Health Department but with a mind like a steel trap, went with the flow, so to speak. He would marry in 1900 and build a house on Amherst in 1902 likely with money for his wife's considerable dowry. (If my Mom's memory serves it was 40,000. My grandmother was the daughter of a Master Butcher.)

When he was thrown out in 1930, over some scandal to do with Montreal Power and Water he negotiated a HUGE life pension from Camilien Houde. (Perhaps he knew a lot..) In 1936, he was run over by a City Constable and died a year later. No more pension.

Anyway, I've been reading a lot about the conditions of the working class in Edwardian England, so I can compare.

A Dr. Louis Laberge was head of the Health Department. I imagine he is the father of the famous Quebec Labour Leader. No, doesn't look like it.