The splendour and misery of urban life
Montreal - The Spring Floods - The Rising Water, a Sketch in Griffintown
1873, 19th century
Ink on paper - Photolithography
40.5 x 27.5 cm
Gift of Mr. Colin McMichael
© McCord Museum
Keywords: disaster (71) , History (944) , Print (10661)
Keys to History
Between the French Catholic community and the English Protestant community stood the Irish, straddling the two camps, since most of them were Catholic but spoke English; by this time, their percentage was declining, however. The small Jewish community, which was also distinctive in terms of both language and religion, made up a separate group that would soon grow with the arrival of a first wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 1880s.
Despite these seemingly impervious ethnic and religious barriers, the groups and individuals were in constant interaction in the city -- in the workplace, in stores, in the street and other public spaces -- so that exchange was a fact of daily life. Coexistence in an urban environment is a dynamic process. Social differences enrich diversity, with each group having its upper class and its working class, its élite and its mass. At times, ethnic and religious solidarities took precedence; at others, social solidarities did so.
This caricature shows some of the unpleasant effects of spring flooding in a working-class Montreal neighbourhood. It also conveys a number of stereotypes about the Irish population that lived there.
Griffintown was an industrial and working-class area lying west of Old Montreal, in the Ste. Anne district. Most of the people who lived there were of Irish origin.
In the springtime, the St. Lawrence often overflowed its banks, flooding the lower parts of the city along the river, like Griffintown. The worst flooding occurred in 1886. The flooding problem was not solved permanently until the start of the 20th century.
In 1871 almost a quarter of Montreal's population, or 25,376 people, were of Irish origin. The Irish outnumbered both the English and the Scots combined.