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© McCord Museum
Breakneck Steps, Quebec City, QC, ca. 1870
Louis Prudent Vallée
About 1870, 19th century
Silver salts on paper - Albumen process
8.3 x 8.2 cm
Gift of Mrs. J. B. Learmont
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

Leisure activities of the lower class

The notions of free time and leisure were perceived differently by the affluent and those of modest origins. The lower class had to plan and organize their leisure activities around shorter periods of free time. They tried to find a few hours for pleasure here or there, or better yet, an entire free day on the weekend. Because they had neither the time off nor the money, people of modest means could not take long summer vacations. So their recreations and social encounters were more spontaneous.


Public spaces such as this stairway represented important places for lower class city-dwellers to meet and talk, since most could not afford to escape the city on holidays.


Located in Quebec City's lower town, the "Breakneck Steps," as they were nicknamed, seemed to attract many shoemakers, as indicated by the shoes hanging above the store entrances in this photograph.


This photograph is an example of work done by the so-called artists of light who, in the second half of the 19th century, photographed Quebec City for the wealthy vacationers and tourists attracted by its charms.


The artist who signed this work, the photographer and illustrator Louis-Prudent Vallée (1837-1905), was one of the major figures in the artistic and cultural life of Quebec. Vallée was immensely popular at the end of the 19th century, when his work was widely distributed, particularly in newspapers.

© Musée McCord Museum