MP-1984.44.1.2 | Mrs. Wing Sing and son, Montreal, QC, 1890-95

Mrs. Wing Sing and son, Montreal, QC, 1890-95
Madame Gagné
1890-1895, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Albumen process
17 x 12 cm
Gift of Miss Alice Lighthall
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  group (610) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

According to the promotional literature, the New World was synonymous with a better life. Without a doubt, immigrants to Canada found a country different from their own, but the promise of something better often remained unfulfilled.

Campaigns to entice young English- and Irishwomen to Canada as domestic servants was one of the only schemes that targeted the unmarried. The majority of female immigrants arrived as part of a family. In this period, most immigrants to Canada were defined as "British," but Jews and Mennonites escaping persecution in Russian, Icelanders fleeing political unrest and volcanic eruptions, and Cantonese Chinese immigrants imported as a cheap pool of labour came, as well.

Racial discrimination was a part of the immigrant experience. For women, exclusion from mainstream Canadian society was compounded by the absence of mothers, aunts and sisters to provide much needed help with things like childbirth and family illness. The comparatively stricter patriarchal customs of the Chinese and Doukhobours, for example, further added to immigrant women's isolation.

Source : Straitlaced: Restrictions on Women [Web tour], by Elise Chenier, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    This portrait is probably a mother and her son. As was typical of the time, it is mounted on a card bearing the name and address of the photographer.

  • Where

    The picture was taken in Montreal, where William Notman was the pre-eminent photographer of the élite. Mme. Gagné seems to have found a niche market in the Chinese community.

  • When

    When this portrait was taken in 1890, the number of Chinese residents in Montreal was still very small.

  • Who

    Mme. Gagné was a local photographer with her own studio.