The Child Welfare Movement in Montreal to 1920

  • Terry Copp


In 1974 I published a study of the condition of the working class in Montreal, The Anatomy of Poverty,’ which has become something of a standard work on social conditions in Montreal. The book had a curious history in that the work began as an inquiry into the development and ideology of urban progressivism in Canada’s largest city. Influenced by the growing list of books on American urban progressivism, I originally set out to examine such groups as the Civic Improvement League, the Charity Organisation Society, the Metropolitan Parks Commission, the Children’s Aid Society, and a number of other like organisations. The records of these groups were readily available and it was not a difficult matter to relate their activities to a larger North American, and indeed North Atlantic, context.


Infant Mortality Child Welfare Compulsory Education Juvenile Court Catholic School 
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  2. 2.
    See, for example, Paul Rutherford’s review of The Anatomy of Poverty in the Canadian Historical Review (CHR), vol. LVI, no. 4 (1975).Google Scholar
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    See Neil Sutherland, Children in English-Canadian Society (Toronto, 1978) and P. T. Rooke and T. L. Schnell, ‘Childhood and Charity in Nineteenth Century British North America’, Histoire Social (HS), vol. XV (May 1982) pp. 137–79.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Jean-Claude Robert, ‘The City of Wealth and Death: Urban Mortality in Montreal 1821–1871’ (unpublished, 1984) p.13.Google Scholar
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    Joseph Levitt, Henri Bourassa and the Golden Calf(Ottawa). I wish to thank Professor Levitt for reflecting on this question with me. He agrees that it is not an issue of major concern and cannot recall any expression of fatalism towards infant deaths in the writings of the major nationaliste figures.Google Scholar
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    Marta Danylewyez, ‘Changing Relationships: Nuns and Feminists in Montreal, 1890–1925’, HS, vol. XIV (November 1981), suggests that the Federation Nationale St. Jean Baptiste, the Francophone women’s organisation, founded in 1907, ‘launched a campaign in 1912 to reduce the staggering rate of infant mortality’ (p. 421). ‘Participated in’ would be a more accurate description of the Federation’s role.Google Scholar
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    Ruby Heap suggests that a major revision of the primary school programme took place in Quebec between 1905 and 1920, including school medical inspection, the introduction of science courses and domestic science for girls. In 1912 a new primary programme which emphasised practical education was adopted by the Catholic ‘Committee of the Council of Public Instruction’, and in 1920 a further revision which, among other things, condemned rote learning, was adopted (ibid., p. 370). I do not think anyone who has read LEnseignement Primaire, the journal of the Catholic Committee, or examined the Reports of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, would confuse these revisions with child-centred education. Above all it must be emphasised that in Montreal few children remained in school long enough to come into contact with the new subjects which were, of necessity, in the upper grades.Google Scholar
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    The Anatomy of Poverty, p. 61.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    I agree with Ruby Heap that Godfrey Langlois and other members of the Ligue did argue for more technical and practical education, but their arguments were not developed from the point of view of the welfare of children. Godfrey Langlois, the leading figure in the pre-war movement for compulsory education, wrote frequently on the subject as editor of Le Canada and subsequently in his weekly Le Pays. Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    LEnseingement Primaire was published monthly by the Catholic Committee of the Council of Public Instruction.Google Scholar
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    Sir William Macdonald, a Montreal tobacco merchant and philanthropist, was a leading figure in promoting school reform particularly in rural areas, and the Protestant schools of Quebec were influenced by the formation of Macdonald College of McGill University which became the major innovator in teacher education in Canada. See Sutherland, Children in English-Canadian Society, chapter 11.Google Scholar
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    See George D. Butler, Introduction to Community Recreation (New York, 1949).Google Scholar
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    Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association, Annual Report (1910) p. 3.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© D. C. M. Platt 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terry Copp

There are no affiliations available

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