06 September 2013

From the UK to Valleyfield, Quebec

Owing to its location on the St Lawrence river the town of Valleyfield, properly Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, gained the moniker "The Venice of Quebec" for a while. Situated on an island upstream of Montreal, there's certainly a lot of water around. Even if there weren't any gondolas the water was an asset for industrial development in the late 19th and early 20th century. Paper and then cotton mills attracted immigrants from the UK.
Cotton manufacturing thrived under the entrepreneurial guidance of Ireland-born Andrew Frederick Gault from the 1870s, with the assistance of tariffs imposed by Sir  John A Macdonald's National Policy.
Skilled British immigrants to Valleyfield were important to the development including as part of the pre-WW1 immigration boom. An article in The Times of 11 October 1907 "Recruiting Skilled Labour for Canada" refers to the largest need for skilled labour being for spinners and weavers for the cotton mills of Montreal and Valleyfield, with 135 workers having recently come from Lancashire.
The workforce in the Valleyfield cotton mills grew to about 45% anglophone, 55% francophone. Now only 1% of the town's population is anglophone.

There was a largely anglophone sector of town with company built homes for workers, an English language school (Gault Institute, still in operation), cemetery, recreational facility and three Protestant churches, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian, all within a stones throw. Somewhat confusingly, with the formation of the United Church of Canada the Presbyterian church became the United Church, and now houses a museum; the Methodist church was taken over
by those Presbyterians who declined to join the United Church, and is now a restaurant. The Anglican Church, St Marks, was the victim of fire and a smaller Anglican Church now stands on the same site.
Today, just as the churches have been converted the remains of one of the cotton mills is now a hotel, conference centre and seniors residence. Most of the mill buildings are long gone, as is even the Zellers that subsequently stood on the same ground.
The Muso, which occupies the former United Church, is planning an exhibition for next year on the former cotton industry.
Thanks to Mathieu Tremblay of the Muso for information and Anne Sterling for the motivation for the visit.

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