M982.530.5156 | "Frozen to death"

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"Frozen to death"
1872, 19th century
Ink on paper
40.3 x 28.2 cm
Gift of Mrs. Margaret deVolpi
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Genre (188) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

This illustration published in The Canadian Illustrated News of January 27, 1872 refers to an event that took place around the night of January 13, when temperatures plunged. Several children were found frozen to death in a humble dwelling on Kempt Street in Montreal.

"In addition to the kindly act (...) of Sergeant Carson in saving another family from freezing the same night, Policeman James Murphy, we understand, relieved a small household from the pangs of starvation by supplying them with food. A little more activity in discovering the whereabouts of Les Misérables, and relieving their immediate wants, would be no discredit to the well known, if not always wisely directed, benevolence of the wealthier portion of the citizens of Montreal."

During this winter of 1872, wood was so scarce and expensive that riots broke out in the city. The poor were particularly vulnerable in the winter months, when there was little work and many families had to survive without any income.

  • What

    The Canadian Illustrated News and its French-language counterpart, L'Opinion publique, which were more family magazines that journals of opinion, often carried stories of this type.

  • Where

    Winter was the dead season in both the city and countryside. The port of Montreal was shut down when the river froze, leading to slowdowns in some sectors of the economy and factory closings.

  • When

    Winter temperatures in Montreal often plunged to -20oC, which forced people to use more fuel to heat their homes.

  • Who

    In most Canadian cities during the 19th century, about half the population was affected in one way or another by poverty. You were considered poor at this time if you did not have the means to provide you or your family with adequate housing, food, clothing or heat.