Big Cities, New Horizons
Robert Gagnon, Université du Québec à Montréal



The 19th century sees unprecedented change. It is a time in which nothing stays still, one that witnesses the disappearance of numerous trades and the emergence of new sets of skills. Education plays a key role in this great changeover. In Canada, the establishment of normal schools and high schools enables teachers to become school administrators and to practice their profession in secondary schools. The career of university professor is born with the emergence of the first university system. These institutions will soon grant science and technology a place of honour.

Speaking of technology, this is also the century in which engineers oversee large public works projects. Could we live in a big city without running water or sewers- Bathtubs enter the home at the same time as hygiene, a panacea for many ills, if we are to believe the doctors and nurses who never cease to promote it. It is not surprising, therefore, that public health becomes a priority, one that will influence the way we live. Remedies are also found for the terrible epidemics that wreak havoc on the population, particularly on children. Urban health bureaus embark on vaccination campaigns, and the mystery of contagious diseases is solved, thanks to the work of Pasteur and Koch, who explain the role played by microbes in the transmission of diseases. Bacteriologists pop up everywhere, founding laboratories in which water, milk and other foods will be analyzed.

And it is also in laboratories like those of Edison and Bell that the inventions which will turn our lives upside down are perfected. Electricity will revolutionize public transportation in big cities. The electric streetcar replaces the horse-drawn omnibus almost overnight. The coachman gives way to the streetcar driver. The telephone progressively makes the telegraph obsolete as subscribers soon number in the hundreds of thousands. A new career opportunity opens up for young women in the position of telephone operator.

But are changes in cities and work at an end- On the contrary, they are just getting started ...