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© McCord Museum
Child at water pump and barrel, St. Jovite(?), QC, about 1915
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1915, 20th century
Silver salts on film - Gelatin silver process
5 x 8 cm
Gift of Mrs. I. M. B. Dobell
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

Improving the quality of drinking water was one of the chief public health challenges of the turn of the 20th century. The scientific discoveries made by Louis Pasteur had contributed to the understanding of how diseases spread and of the link between waste water and the growth of certain bacteria, including those that cause typhoid and cholera. The construction of sewer systems and of drinking water distribution systems that eventually included filtration and chlorination enabled public health authorities to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria. Since it was now possible to determine water's chemical composition, municipalities began, in 1914, to conduct daily analyses of the quality of their drinking water. All these measures directly reduced the mortality rate due to diarrhea in infants under one year of age.


This child is standing next to an outdoor well from which a household pumped its drinking water. In 1880 only ten Quebec municipalities had drinking water distribution systems; by 1915 the number had risen to 177.


People who did not have running water piped into their homes had to go to wells or streams to get their water. Carters used to haul water from the St. Lawrence or other rivers and deliver it door to door.


In the second decade of the 20th century, most Quebec towns and cities that had a water distribution system invested in filtration or chlorination equipment. Montreal began chlorinating its water in 1910.


In the early years of the 20th century, the Province of Quebec public health council was the agency that set water quality standards and, from 1915 on, urged municipalities to invest in adequate water supply systems.

© Musée McCord Museum