1999.344.3 | Asbestos mine, Black Lake, QC, 1895

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Asbestos mine, Black Lake, QC, 1895
1895, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
20.2 x 25.3 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 Quebec's official archives, there is a document dated August 15, 1881, in Montmagny, the title of which translates as Report of A. Montpetit on the Asbestos Mines of Thetford and Colraine [sic]. (André-Napoléon Montpetit was a journalist).

His observations of 1881 were still true in 1895:
"The miners are mostly French Canadians, settlers from the neighbouring townships, happy to earn a few dollars in the off-seasons: the engineers, superintendents and foremen are all of other origins. It is not that the owners are prejudiced or prefer one race over another. It is rather because rural French Canadians have had little practical education."

  • What

    Asbestos was still being extracted using extremely basic tools: sledgehammers, drill bits (steel rods with pointed ends to pierce the rock), picks and metal wedges (used to split large lumps of ore by hammering them in with a mallet or sledge).

  • Where

    This photo was taken in Coleraine township, in pit no. 2, mined by United Asbestos of London (Black Lake).

  • When

    In 1891 there were a few German workers in the asbestos mines, but the men pictured here are probably all French-speaking Quebeckers. This photo was taken in 1895.

  • Who

    Starting in 1891, a few French Canadians managed to work their way up to foreman, but most employees in this position were Irishmen or Scots. There were a few old men among the workers, because at the time, very few farmers or labourers could afford to retire.