The splendour and misery of urban life

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An Unforeseen Calamity
February 4, 1881, 19th century
Ink on newsprint - Photolithography
39.5 x 28.2 cm
Gift of Mr. Colin McMichael
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cartoon (19139) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

For many years, the public was relatively unconcerned about the health qualities of milk. Most complaints about milk dealers expressed popular discontent with dishonest practices, which too many sellers were suspected of. Many consumers were convinced that milkmen "watered down" their milk, either by skimming some of the cream or by adding water. This caricature, published in 1882 on the cover of the Canadian Illustrated News, shows the stereotype of the dishonest dairyman. After milking his cows and before setting off on his milk run, he dilutes the milk with well water. But it's just his bad luck that on this cold winter's day the pump is frozen! It's a real calamity, because the milkmen are bound to run out of milk.

  • What

    This caricature is valuable evidence of the way the Montreal dairy industry was organized around 1880. These milkmen, like many of their fellows, lived on the outskirts of town, which can be seen in the background.

  • Where

    During those years, the districts of Ste. Marie and St. Antoine, as well as some parts of nearby suburbs such as Coteau St. Louis, were home to many milkmen and dozens of cows.

  • When

    In 1882 the city was still being supplied by many milk producers who lived in the vicinity. They would rise at dawn, milk their cows and deliver the milk fresh the same day.

  • Who

    These milkmen did not sell their product at city markets, but delivered it door to door. They carried four to six milk cans in their sleighs and poured the milk into their customers' pitchers.