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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Montréal Lit: Glory Days

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Spacing Montreal is pleased to present this bi-weekly column exploring Montreal’s literary landscape, written by Gregory McCormick, Director of English Programming for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

In an 1882 book called City of Montreal and its Environs, writer S.E. Dawson extols the beauties and uniqueness of Montreal. In a section about Montreal’s economic base in days long ago vanished to history:

Montreal is not only a centre of commerce, but the most important manufacturing city in the Dominion. The manufacture of boots and shoes employs about 3,000 hands, and the product of the numerous factories is enormous. The largest sugar refineries in Canada are at Montreal. The largest cotton mill in the country is that of the Hudson Company, at Hochelaga. There are two silk factories, a large rubber factory, many large clothing factories employing in the aggregate 2,500 hands; factories of cards, boxes, paints, soaps, cements, drugs. On the canal are saw-mills, sash factories, rolling mills, nail works, enging and machine works. There are five establishments for making sewing machines. The edge tool—axes augers &c., of Montreal are celebrated for excellence. There are carpet factories, rope factories, large binderies, large printing offices. Over 2,500 hands are employed in the tobacco factories; over 300 in the breweries. To give an account of the various manufacturing industries of the city would require more space than can be afforded in a guide book.

Walking the streets of Griffintown and the Lachine Canal, one gets a sense of this former glory, the buzz that almost rattles in this short excerpt, the buzz of machines in old stone buildings, the men and women hopping on the omnibuses that passed up and down Notre-Dame Street, back to their walkups in Place St-Henri or Point-St-Charles. Though our economics have changed and we are a much richer city now, it’s difficult not to feel a little wispy at what has been lost with the disappearance of the entire manufacturing sector for the more familiar haunts of office high-rises, hotel lobbies and university lecture halls.



  1. This makes me want to read a story about Montreal set in the 1800s – does anyone know one? Makes me think about ‘The Devil in The White City’ that is set in Chicago.

  2. Pour éviter les anachronismes, le silo 5, qui illustre cet article, est bien associé à l’époque de l’apogée de Montréal, métropole industrielle, du transport et de la finance. Il n’etait toutefois pas édifié en 1882, comme son éleveur b est construit entre 1903-1906, l’annexe b en 1913 (agrandie en 1924) et l’annexe b1 (dont on voit à gauche des étages de sa coupole), entre 1956-1959. 

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