M2559 | Ice Cream Man in Montreal

Ice Cream Man in Montreal
Henri Julien
1885-1908, 19th century or 20th century
25.6 x 22.4 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Drawing (18637) , drawing (18379) , Genre (188)
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Keys to History

The ice cream man was a familiar figure around town in the early 20th century. In Montreal, these travelling vendors attracted crowds of children screaming for ice cream. As cones had not yet been invented, the vendor put a large scoop of ice cream into a small china container similar to an egg cup. Ice cream, sold cheaply on the street and in ice cream parlours, soon became an integral part of the urban landscape.

The contrast with the preceding decades was striking. Until then, ice cream had been a luxury, served only on special occasions. Churning it by hand in an ice cream freezer took a lot of physical strength and, as it could not be kept frozen, it had to be eaten immediately. Urban growth, and especially the increase in the number of young people, boosted the demand for ice cream and encouraged the commercialization and industrialization of the product, as well as its wider availability.

  • What

    This drawing is by Henri Julien (1852-1908), a well-known illustrator, painter and caricaturist. While chief artist at the Montreal Daily Star from 1886 to 1908, Julien sketched everyday scenes like this one.

  • Where

    Ice cream vendors frequented places where Montrealers liked to stroll and relax. They could be found in squares, public gardens and amusement parks.

  • When

    Generations of young Montrealers licked the last drop of ice cream from the bottom of their eggcups. Even in 1938, newspaper columnist Jean Narrache recalled the good old days, when "all of us boys and girls ate ice cream without giving a thought to germs"!

  • Who

    This sidewalk vendor is probably Italian. Italy is renowned for its excellent ices, and many immigrants used their culinary expertise to earn a living.