This activity prepares students to interpret the founding of Canadian federation from the point of view of urbanization, using the specific example of Montreal, the Canadian metropolis in which great social and territorial transformations were initiated by industrialization.

The activity takes advantage of the resources grouped under the theme The Splendour and Misery of Urban Life, namely:

  • a movie clip
  • an introductory text on the theme
  • and five cartoons, with accompanying documentation, from the 1870s and 1880s

This activity may be undertaken after the proposed activities for the themes Once a Politician, Always a Butt: Introduction to Editorial Cartooning; The Birth and Torment of Miss Canada and Johnny Canuck, or the Beginnings of the Federation; and The National Policy and Uncle Sam’s Chagrin.

Teachers may prepare materials for their students on the basis of the following instructions.

Duration : Three periods of 75 minutes.


As a starting point, encourage the students to ask questions on Montreal’s place in present-day Quebec.

  • Why are there so many people in the greater Montreal region?

On the basis of the following statistics and images, ask the students to formulate hypotheses on the reasons for Montreal’s phenomenal growth in the second half of the 19th century:

  • From 1850 to 1900, the population of Montreal rose from about 50,000 to 300,000, that is, it grew six-fold.
  • M4824 City of Montreal (1888) A bird’s-eye-view map of the city of Montreal dated around 1888. Draw attention to the geographic setting of the city, the nearby waterways, the port, the railway, the factories and their belching chimneys, the various neighbourhoods, etc.1

Ask the students to share their answers and make an initial list of the reasons for Montreal’s rapid development, categorizing these reasons as follows:

  • territorial
  • economic
  • social
  • cultural

To help the students understand Montreal’s rapid development, present the movie clip "The Splendour and Misery of Urban Life", pointing out the following listening intentions:

  1.  What drew people from the countryside like a magnet? (The factories.)
  2. What types of people did cities and factories attract like magnets? (People from the countryside who could no longer make a living on the land; immigrants pouring into Canada from all over, hoping to start a new life.)
  3. Where did the newcomers end up? (In filthy tenements in neighbourhoods polluted by the many new factories.)
  4. What corrective measures were undertaken to improve urban living conditions? Possible answers:
    a. the organization of communication and transportation networks
    b. the creation of systems for providing clean drinking water and removing waste water
    c. the adoption of building standards
    d. the improvement of sanitation measures
    e. the introduction of vaccination programs

Ask the students to form large teams and, from their notes, make a list summarizing both the main problems resulting from Montreal’s rapid growth and the measures taken to deal with them.

Ask the students to work in teams and complete, in written form, this list of the main challenges and problems, by consulting the following resources on the theme The Splendour and Misery of Urban Life:

  • the introductory text on the theme
  • the five cartoons and their accompanying documentation


Ask the students to work in teams to produce as the final assignment a visual presentation to be saved on the McCord Web site that explains how industrialization influenced Montreal’s development in the period 1850 to 1900.

  • If the students need additional information, suggest that they consult the excerpts from history textbooks found in “Industrialization,” accessible in the EduWeb section of the McCord Web site.2
  • To find appropriate images with their accompanying descriptions on the McCord Web site, suggest to the students that they consult the Web tours “The Splendour and Misery of Urban Life3 and “Montreal 1850-1896: The Industrial City,"4 where they can select some images.
  • Explain that the students must first select their images then display them to create a folder. They will then save this folder on the Museum’s Web site, which means it will be accessible at any time. They can arrange the images in a specific order and enter text to write up their assignment. For technical assistance, suggest that they consult the page “Your images folders,”5 in the EduWeb section.



3., choose “Alphabetical Order”, then “The splendour and misery of urban life."

4., choose “Alphabetical Order”, then “Montreal 1850-1896: The Industrial City.”


Dr. Marie-Claude Larouche, McCord Museum
Chantal Provost, Collège de Montréal ; Steve Quirion, Service national du RÉCIT, domaine de l’univers social ; Sophie Turbide, Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Ile
19th Century
© 2007, McCord Museum of Canadian History. All Rights Reserved.

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