Linking Owners and Tenants: Montréal at the Turn of the 20th Century

Robert C. H. Sweeny, Université du Québec à Montreal & Memorial University of Newfoundland

In 2020, Montréal, l'avenir du passé (MAP) completed its linkage of the 1901 census of Montréal to its map of who owned the city in 1903. To examine proprietor/tenant relations, we ran an automated linkage of family names from the census with those of the proprietors. The results were surprising: at 5% home ownership was exceptionally rare (NYC had a rate of 12% in 1900) and most proprietors did not own where they lived. They were themselves tenants. A parallel study of patients at the city's general hospitals suggested, however, that a computerized linkage, even where we had the addresses, was catching only half the potential linkages. Using additional information from the online tax roll, MAP manually redid the 51,000 proprietor/tenant linkages. These new results placed 1,400 more proprietors, out of the city's 11,000, on properties they owned. While newly added occupational data suggests that a presumed proletarianisation of the working class seriously over-simplifies the impact of industrialisation on the popular classes. This more careful linkage leads therefore to a questioning of long-held theoretical and methodological assumptions. The sociological distinction between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled occupations may impose a present-mindedness on a quite different past. Just as Gramsci suggested we distinguish between traditional intellectual occupations from those organic to the new industrial order, it behooves us to treat older skilled trades differently from the trades created through industrialisation. While numerous trades and occupations central to working class life retained access to property, our evidence strongly suggests that by 1900 exchange value trumped use value in this fundamental relationship governing the household economy. In surprising ways, both the constraints upon and the choices available to the popular classes qualitatively transformed the industrial city.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 162. Connecting Urban Dynamics: Owners, Tenants, Spatial Narratives, and Built Environment