With industrialization came a new social class: the working class. Working conditions tended to be very difficult for this group.

Jean-Baptiste, labourer:

The year is 1905, and Jean-Baptiste is living near the Lachine Canal in a working-class neighbourhood of Montreal. He works in a cigar factory, just like his father before him, because this work did not require any special skills. Jean-Baptiste’s eldest son also works there because his salary is not enough to support his family. Both of them work ten hours a day, six days a week.

His wife also works; she’s a seamstress for a clothing manufacturer. For the same number of hours, she earns only half the salary of her husband. The other two children go to school, but they also help in their own way: one son does work for neighbours and the daughter helps out a lot at home. Once they are 14 years old, they will also go to work.

There is no union yet where Jean-Baptiste works, but he hopes there will be one soon and that he will be able to work a nine-hour day. Then he’ll be able to improve his family’s future.

But there are also skilled workers, who live in somewhat less difficult conditions:

John, typographer:

Being a skilled worker, John quickly found work upon arriving in Montreal. By 1905, he was working as a typesetter at The Gazette newspaper. Typographers were among the first workers to become unionized. In 1907, they obtained a 48-hour week, working eight hours a day, six days a week. They also earned higher salaries than most workers. As a result, John is able to send his children to school longer. His wife does not have to work in a factory; instead, she takes care of the house and its boarders. Since their house is quite large, they can have two boarders, which brings in extra money for the family.

Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social

See also – Traces of the past: