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John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1850-1885, 19th century
Ink on paper - Wood engraving
4.7 x 13.6 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  advertisement (407) , Print (10661) , Sign and symbol (2669)
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Keys to History

Significant quantities of cigars were made in Montreal during the second half of the 19th century. Between 1871 and 1891, the processing of tobacco and manufacturing of cigars represented the city's fourth largest industrial sector after ironworks, machinery and transport equipment manufacturing, clothing and shoes.At the time, cigar factories employed many children less than 16 years of age, most of whom were boys. These child labourers represented almost 40 % of the workforce. During their first three years in cigar factories, children worked as apprentices. On average, their wages were $1 a week the first year; $1.50 the second year; and $2 the third year (men earned between $6 and $8.50 and women between $1.50 and $3.75). Sometimes, bonuses were awarded when a quota was reached. When judged able, a child was given work for which he was paid by the piece. It was a good system for some, according to factory owner William Webster: "[...] This way, (we) give them an opportunity to learn more than they could working for weekly wages." (Harvey, 1978 : 121)

In fact, nobody benefited from this system. According to cigar manufacturer George Robley's testimony before the Royal Commission: "[...] When a boy has the advantage of being pretty lively at work, he makes a pretty good week. On the Saturday evening, according to the caprice of the boss, or for any little offence that he may have made, this extra, as they call it, is taken from the boy." (Canada. Royal Commission on the Relations of Labor and Capital, 1889: 46)

  • What

    This illustration is undoubtedly from a catalogue or advertisement.

  • Where

    In the second half of the 19th century, Montreal was the industrial centre for tobacco processing in Canada.

  • When

    In the late 1880s, around the time of the Royal Commission on the Relations of Capital and Labor, children as young as 10 and 12 years were working in cigar factories.

  • Who

    John Henry Walker, a Montreal artist, illustrated numerous commercial catalogues, books, government reports, advertisements and weekly publications such as Canadian Illustrated News, L'Opinion Publique and Le Monde Illustré.