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© McCord Museum
Montreal: the strike of labourers in the port.
Anonyme - Anonymous
1877, 19th century
Ink on paper - Photolithography
27 x 39.5 cm
Gift of Charles deVolpi
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

The economic crisis of 1874-1879, which affected all classes of society, was characterized by increased unemployment and by decreased wages, from 25 to 60% according to occupations.

Since the port of Montreal was closed in the winter, large numbers of workers were hired as day labourers and found themselves out of work part of the year. Concerned about the precarious nature of their jobs, these unskilled workers were mainly demanding stable wages, paid at regular intervals and in cash. The violence of these conflicts sometimes required the intervention of the forces of law and order, but the stevedores were often able to get the upper hand in these struggles by finding strength in numbers and group solidarity.

In general, the worsening of working conditions in expanding sectors such as transportation and communications led to many spontaneous strikes, which were usually not very organized. The fight to improve working conditions led to the creation of the first labour unions.


This double-page illustration was published in the Montreal weekly L'Opinion Publique. The newspapers dwelt on the sensational aspects of the strikes.


During the 1870s, the workers imitated pressure tactics - strikes, picketing, demonstrations, intimidation, etc. - used in Europe and the United States. Responding in kind, the employers often used strikebreakers.


Since the stevedores' work was seasonal, strikes occurred during the summer, when the river was free of ice.


After hearing a rumour that their wages would be cut, the stevedores in the port of Montreal went on a preventive strike in June 1877 and blocked the loading of cattle destined for England.

© Musée McCord Museum