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A Working-Class Home

A Working-Class Home

Saint-Roch’s Urban Fabric

This small, one-storey home traces its heritage back to the first homes built in Saint-Roch. In the first half of the 19th century, workers and artisans often built such wooden maisonettes themselves, all working from the same floor plan. Only two or three survived the passage of time, and particularly the fires that ravaged the neighbourhood. They have since been replaced by bigger buildings.

A working-class neighbourhood

Saint-Roch’s population grew exponentially from 1795 to 1842, rising from 900 to over 10,000. This made it the most densely populated part of the city. The shipyards that developed along Rivière Saint-Charles took on more and more workers, who settled close by. The neighbourhood also attracted artisans, particularly from the tanning industry. These largely French-speaking workers got by on very low incomes.

Wood was cheap…

During this period Saint-Roch was a forest of modest wooden homes like these, often less than 500 square feet (46 square metres) in size. Workers and artisans could not afford to build with stone—a costly material only the middle and upper classes could afford. And brick, although slightly less expensive, had not yet come into fashion. So they opted for wood: although less durable, it was easy to work with and affordable. Some built their own homes, while others used the services of the many carpenters and joiners in the neighbourhood.

The one-storey maisonettes were built at street level right by the side of the road. Their facades were very plain, typically featuring nothing but a door and two windows, and they were covered with horizontal planks of wood. Vertical boards covered the other walls. They had steep gable roofs covered with wood shingles or sheet metal. Starting in1810 skylights were added to provide light in the attics, which had begun to be used as living space. Inside, a single room had been the norm in the previous century, but increasingly partition walls were added for more privacy.

…but flammable

In May 1845 a raging fire reduced much of Saint-Roch to cinders, destroying over 1,600 homes. To prevent more such fires, municipal authorities passed a series of bylaws regulating residential construction. From then on homes had to be built from brick or stone, and roofs had to be covered in sheet metal, tin, or slate. Transgressors faced heavy fines.

But the people of Saint-Roch were often too poor to comply with the bylaws. They had no choice but to rebuild their homes from wood. Such basic homes were therefore commonplace throughout Saint-Roch until disaster struck again, devastating the neighbourhood in 1866. 

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