M979.87.360 | The Hochelaga Cotton Factory
The Hochelaga Cotton Factory
February 26, 1874, 19th century
Ink on paper - Photolithography
16.3 x 27.5 cm
Gift of Mr. Charles deVolpi
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Architecture (8646) , industrial (826) , Print (10661)
Keys to History
Victor Hudon's Hochelaga factory was one the largest cotton mills of the 19th century, employing 250 workers in 1874.
At that time, several women and a number of children as young as nine and ten worked in cotton mills. Their jobs mostly involved removing the spool from the spinning frame and carrying supplies between the machines, all for wages consistently below those of adult workers. Apprentice spinners or weavers, for their part, often worked several weeks for free.
In 1888, a machinist working at the Hudon cotton mill testified before the Royal Commission on the Relations of Capital and Labor (even though it still bore his name, the factory no longer belonged to Victor Hudon). His testimony described the difficult living conditions of children working at this factory. He explained that several worked in bare feet because they did not own shoes or wish to ruin the one pair they had. As well, he claimed that while the children were as young as ten years, the majority did not attend school and were unable to read or write.
This illustration of the Hudon factory is part of a print that was published in the Montreal weekly l'Opinion publique in February 1874 (the month when the factory opened). The print depicts several banks, businesses and factories. It was also published in the Canadian Illustrated News in June of the same year.
In 1874, this factory was located at 16 De Bresoles Street in the Hochelaga district of east-end Montreal. According to a machinist questioned by the Royal Commission in 1886, there were no night schools in this area that might otherwise have given young workers the opportunity to attend classes outside of work hours.
It would take Quebec and Ontario until 1884 and 1885 to bring in child labour legislation. At that time, the provinces banned the hiring of girls less than 14 years and boys less than 12 years. However, the laws were not necessarily enforced.
Long work weeks (often 60 hours), poor wages and strict discipline were the lot of textile factory workers in the 19th century. And the machines, especially their gears and moving parts, made for a dangerous workplace.