II-146719 | Houses for Mr. Meredith, Montreal, QC, 1903
Houses for Mr. Meredith, Montreal, QC, 1903
Wm. Notman & Son
1903, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Architecture (8646) , domestic (461) , Photograph (77678)
Keys to History
Social differences meant differences in living conditions, too. The large upper-class home on Sherbrooke Street and the cramped dwelling in Griffintown lay worlds apart. In each case the physical environment provides ample evidence of the differences: on the one hand, handsome stone façades and spacious homes surrounded by trees and lawns; on the other, brick row houses with small windows, no greenery, muddy laneways and backyards taken up by sheds.
In truth, however, the contrast was not always so stark. There was a wide range of housing in Montreal. The overcrowding that occurred in some large European and American cities was not a problem here. Outside toilets, which had still been widespread in 1890, had almost completely disappeared. The many new houses built met modern living requirements far better: indoor toilet, bath, gas cookstove, heating with coal, and electric lighting. Even working-class housing was tending to improve, although changes were gradual. There were still plenty of dilapidated, insalubrious dwellings, regularly denounced by social-reform advocates.
When social activists decried run-down housing, they were often referring to old wooden houses in the inner suburbs, like this one, or to rear tenements built at the back of already developed lots.
Run-down housing was found primarily in the older, poorer areas of the city. In the east end, this meant the southern part of the St. Jacques and Ste. Marie wards, between Notre Dame and Ste. Catherine streets. In the west end, it meant chiefly the Ste. Anne ward, particularly Griffintown.
In the early 20th century, houses like this one were not connected up to the electrical system, despite all the wires running right outside the front door. In 1903 only 10% of all homes in Montreal had electricity, because it was still very expensive.
Businessman and philanthropist Herbert Brown Ames (1863-1954) was one of the first men to examine the problem of housing in Montreal. In 1897 he published The City Below the Hill, the result of a door-to-door investigation conducted in a working-class neighbourhood in southwest Montreal. He wanted to convince his fellow Montrealers of the need to build housing that met hygiene standards.