M2002.69.2076 | Cigar box

Cigar box
1883, 19th century
11.6 x 21.7 x 12.5 cm
Gift of Mr. Eddy Echenberg
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Box (44)
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Keys to History

This box held about one hundred cigars manufactured in the J.M. Fortier factory of Montreal.

This company was the subject of much talk. In 1888, its workers testified before the Royal Commission on the Relations of Capital and Labor. Some of them claimed to have been beaten and locked up. These accusations raised anger across the country and when the owner J.M. Fortier was called to testify, people were ready and waiting.

Fortier had a system of apprenticeships that allowed him to employ young boys for low wages. Like other cigar manufacturers, he regarded himself as a substitute parent for his young workers. The following statement reflects the claims of apprentice workers : "[...] It is not to my personal knowledge that those boys have been beaten, other than what they have deserved for wrongs they have committed, the same as a parent would punish his child, or I would punish my child, or a school master would punish a child who does not do what is right at school." (Canada. Royal Commission on the Relations of Labor and Capital, 1889, p. 124)

The factory is often considered, even by parents, to be a school where the apprentice can acquire knowledge and be educated. On this matter, Fortier states: "I must say that at that time most of the parents who could not get along with their children, because they were in bad order and were bad boys, came to me as a cigar manufacturer and put them in my hands, and tried to do what I could with them. As they could not correct them themselves they put them in my hands." (Canada. Royal Commission on the Relations of Labor and Capital, 1889, p.128).

  • What

    Cigars manufactured in J.M. Fortier's factory used tobacco from Havana and the United States. According to J.M. Fortier, there was not enough Canadian-grown tobacco to supply his factory.

  • Where

    Like most manufacturing facilities of this sector, J.M. Fortier's Montreal cigar factory employed many 16-year-old children.

  • When

    In 1881, Fortier's company rules indicated that: "10 HOURS CONSTITUTE A DAY'S WORK. From 1st April to 31st September, all employes working by the week, must be to work at 7 o'clock A.M. and 1 o'clock P.M. and from 1st of October to 31st March 7-30 o'clock A.M. and 12-30 P.M. Doors kept open 15 minutes later for piece work employes. No one is allowed to stop work during working hours." (Canada. Royal Commission on the Relations of Labor and Capital, 1889, p. 134)

  • Who

    Like other manufacturing facilities, J.M. Fortier's factory imposed a system of fines on apprentice workers. Foremen would dock the wages of anyone who failed to produce, wasted or stole tobacco, was undisciplined or unruly, gossiped or used foul language.