1999.343.1 | Asbestos mine, near Thetford Mines, QC, about 1880

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Asbestos mine, near Thetford Mines, QC, about 1880
About 1880, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
16 x 24.2 cm
Gift of Mr. Alfred Penhale Estate
This artefact belongs to :© Musée minéralogique et minier de Thetford Mines
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Keys to History

In the 19th century, it was not uncommon to find children working in factories and mines. The Quebec Factories Act of 1885 forbade the hiring of boys under the age of twelve, but the law applied only to factories. The Quebec Mining Law of 1892 merely forbade the hiring of boys under fifteen years of age to work underground: this provision therefore did not apply to asbestos mines, which were practically all open pits.

The mine inspector wrote in 1894:
"I have already mentioned that children of height to ten years of age are employed to sort some kinds of ore, especially asbestos, but I have ascertained that they work with their brothers, only during holidays, and within their capabilities. In any case, there is nothing contrary to the Mining Law or harmful to the children's health in this practice."

  • What

    There were workers of all ages in an open-pit mine. In an article dated 1881, journalist André-Napoléon Montpetit reported on very young mine workers:

    "The human beehive [. . .] buzzes all the more with a new surge of ambition and activities. On all sides can be heard the blows of hammers, picks and tongs on the bare rock or loose stones, the ringing yet grating sound of cold chisels, handled by children picking apart the small veins, the orders of the lead hands."

  • Where

    This mine is at Black Lake. The pit was worked by United Asbestos (forerunner of British Canadian).

  • When

    This photo may have been taken in the 1880s. At the time, in Quebec as in most countries in the throes of industrialization, child labour was common. A family head's wages were generally not enough to provide for the family, which explains why very young children were working in the mines.

  • Who

    The man in the bowler and vest may be engineer John J. Penhale (1865-1926). One of the children with a hammer sitting on the right doesn't look very old.