Long before we were concerned about fossil fuel shortages, Montreal’s grappled with a different kind of seasonal fuel shortage each winter. Most heating and cooking was done around wood stoves and you can imagine that, come winter, the demand for wood in each and every household in the city was high. To make matters worse, casual jobs were harder to come by in the winter, and wages were often lowered to take advantage of the increasing demand for work, right at the time when expenses were at the highest.
But 1873 was an even harder year than most because the canal and the river froze over before a full winter’s supply of wood had reached the city. As soon as these vital transportation corridors were closed, wood sellers raised their prices by 2 or 3 dollars per cord (at a time when a manual laborer might make a dollar a day or less).
Only after two children froze to death were arrangements made for the Grand Trunk railway to deliver additional wood to a city in dire need. According to the Canadian illustrated news, “the generous farmers of the parish of St. Jerome, under the leadership of the good Father Labelle, brought in to town a great number of loads of wood to be given free to the poor under the direction of the several Charitable organizations in the city”;
The image above, from the same source, shows the GTR train riding into the city waving banners that read “wood for the poor.” On the upper-left hand corner, a cold-hearted wood merchant advertises his goods at $12 per cord. The bottom left hand corner, shows a family huddled around a cooking pot and reads: “more precious than gold to them.”
We may have progressed to renewable hydroelectricity, but lets not forget that we city-dwellers are still dependant on far-off places for our food and warmth and other more-precious-than-gold necessities.
Source: Cnd illustrated news feb 3, 1872, p.76, hosted by the McCord Museum.