Coloquio sobre "El desarrollo urbano de Montréal y Barcelona en la época contemporánea: estudio comparativo" Universidad de Barcelona, 5-7 de mayo de 1997.

Mobility and the Social Network in Nineteenth-Century Montreal

by Sherry Olson
Department of Geography

McGill University, Montreal


On our agenda at this gathering are analyses of several networks created in the nineteenth century, hard-wiring the city, welding together rails and pipes and wires into systems which would efficiently move goods and messages and people. Investments in these immovables, such as railways and hydroelectric dams, accelerated the circulation of movables, which allowed larger profits to be drawn off and re-invested in immovables on a yet larger scale. Such a process of capital accumulation can, from one perspective, be seen as a process of regional development, from another as the creation of built capital, that is, the visible, material city, with its expanding and differentiating spaces. Its chimneys and church towers remain as architectural markers of the accumulation of capital.

The network I am going to discuss is also fundamental to capital accumulation in the City of Marvels - in our two cities of marvels, Barcelona and Montreal. It is the social network of kinship (parenté). The intangible social network is, I shall argue, a system much like the hardware of cables or sewers. Firmly structured in law and contract and ritual, the kinship system involved a conception of human capital. It was future-oriented, designed for regeneration, growth and expansion. It required perennial re-investment in its reproduction and continuous inputs to maintain an emotional capital - those elements of trust and solidarity which mobilize commitment and harness ambition. It, too, was a system which facilitated the circulation of goods and payments and messages and people.

We will concentrate on changes in the way the social network mobilized people, selecting, sorting, filtering, channeling; and we will consider four patterns of mobility. First, the kinship network funneled people from the countryside into the city, making it an immense gare de triage. Within the city, kinship steered residential moves and governed the individual prisms of daily movement in the urban space. Finally, it channeled movement along the scale of social status. These processes are usually referred to (see diagram): (1) urbanization, (2) household mobility, (3) le ballet quotidien or mouvement pendulaire, and (4) social mobility. Social mobility was achieved through the various forms of geographic mobility. As people moved into the city, moved in and out of houses in the spring of the year, or moved back and forth at dawn or dusk, they also moved up and down or held their position, in a social triage.

Since the moves of people involved readjustments in the flows of information, their moves gradually changed the geography of the network. The social network itself was urbanized. Upward mobility of a family over a lifetime (promotion sociale), or from one generation to the next, involved an accumulation of savings in the form of tools, knowhow, credits (never cash), furnishings, and buildings. The assets were future-oriented: we are talking about goods which produce goods, information which generates information, and practices which re-generate the system(1). The assets were all deployed in a geographic space. As people were transplanted, they created and re-created linkages among themselves, reinforcing and stabilizing the information system of a neighborhood. As in the hardware systems of tramways and electric power, a mobilization of resources generated a new immobilization and an iterative process of accumulation of wealth.

To observe such a social system, in which decisions are diffused among a very large number of people, we do not have a ready-made set of regional or household accounts, but we do have parish records, taxrolls and a massive notarial archive. To explore changes in the social network over the course of the nineteenth century, I have therefore proceeded by playing with samples from those sources. Observations here are founded on a set of about 1000 couples who lived in Montreal 1840-1900, a "miniature" of the city, with some preliminary excursions into a rural population of their "country cousins" in the surrounding Plain of Montreal (Table 1). Drawn by twelve surnames, the urban sample is reasonably unbiased; it has been tested against taxrolls and birth cohorts to insure that it represents the social class composition of the city, and stratified to reflect the ethnic structure of nineteenth-century Montreal, with its French Canadian majority and large Irish catholic and anglo-protestant minorities (figure). From parish registers of births, deaths and marriages, virtually complete since immigration to Quebec (for the French Canadian sample since 1658), the families can be reconstituted, traced throughout the nineteenth century, and kin relations can be readily specified to the fourth and fifth degree. Household arrangements are known from manuscript censuses at ten-year intervals 1861-1901(2).

For that controlled population, we have also a corpus of 6000 acts abstracted from the notarial archives. They include sales of real property, marriage contracts, wills and settlements, loans and leases. The corpus of notarized acts has to be thought of as a mere sample of all the loans and leases which were ever undertaken by our sample households(3). The notarial corpus is fragmentary and biased: We have more acts for individuals who lived longer or who owned more real estate. But because the initial sample population is representative of the urban population, with few wealthy persons and many of modest circumstances, it allows us to explore micro-capital of many kinds, and, I hope, to complement the careful studies of colleagues who are dealing with larger capitals by analyzing the papers of a prominent family, a seigneurie, or a corporation.

The sample allows us to inspect certain switches and circuits in the urban sorting yard. We would like to know how the network of parenté changes over the nineteenth century, whether networks differ in the three cultural communities, and how they are gendered, differentiating the roles of men and women. I can offer only preliminary results, subject to more months of verification. I'll try first to show how the kinship network funneled people into the city, steered their moves and movements within the city, and channeled social mobility. I'll restrict the examples to a few "clans" or subsets so that we can explore a parenté in widening circles, observe the urbanization of a kin network, and bring into focus the economic partnerships of couples.

1. Urbanization

Between 1840 and 1900 Montreal grew faster than the system in which it was embedded; it became a metropolis. Scarcely larger than Quebec City in 1840 (less than 40 000 people), it had 36 church steeples. By 1900 Montreal was five times that size, and five times bigger than Quebec City, but only half the size of Barcelona. It boasted 100 steeples and a cathedral a quarter-size replica of St Peter's of Rome. Massive urbanization was the most powerful and most decisive change in the network.

Our samples mirror the redistribution of population within the region. In the French Canadian sample, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, only one or two percent of the marriages were celebrated in the city, by 1900 nearly half(4). Most migrants came as youths, before marriage, and heightened the city's capacity for natural reproduction(5). Of those who lived in the city in 1860, half were born in the rural environs, about one-fifth were their city-born children, and fewer than one-third were third-generation Montrealers (figure). In 1901, the pattern was similar (figure)(6), and the basin of attraction, the zone from which the rural population was moving into the city covered the Plain of Montreal (figure)(7). The age-structure reflected the history of moves into the city. Every twenty years, another surge of urban construction (figure) corresponded to a surge of new arrivals, both trans-Atlantic immigrants to Canada and folks from the farms. Each infusion of labour gave a powerful boost to the urban economy, holding down the cost of labour, ensuring a higher rate of profit, stimulating ambition, ingenuity and demand(8).

Looking at it from another angle, half the infants baptized in the city in 1859 had grandparents in the surrounding rural villages. This suggests that throughout half a century a majority of city families were maintaining close relations (first and second degree) with their country cousins. The web of kin relationships stretched across town and country, sharing news, opportunity, shelter and credit(9). As a result of classic processes of chain migration into the city, French Canadian labourers of rural origin were concentrated around the fringes of the city, and an urban quarter was associated with each rural quadrant of the Plain. Rural neighbouring was translated into urban neighbouring(10).

Let us take an example. In 1850 Célina Beauchamp, born in Sainte-Scholastique, married Jean-Marie Grothé, a goldsmith and fourth-generation Montréalais. In 1861 they were sharing their one-story wooden house with Celina's younger brother Onésime and his bride. The two families remained neighbours for the next fifteen years. In 1865, when Onésime closed out his partnership as a cabinet-maker with a certain Pinsonneault, his brother-in-law Jean-Marie took over the lease and endorsed the promissory note to a creditor who was nipping at their heels. Onésime transferred several pieces of furniture to the ex-partner's wife, to secure the debt to Jean-Marie. (The wife was related to their mother.) In 1867 and 1868 Onésime was again able to expand his shop; he took a journeyman and three apprentices. He purchased a property on Saint-Dominique street, next door to Jean-Marie, who supplied capital for the purchase, treating Onésime's own furnishings as collateral, and Onésime turned over his right to collect the rents. In August 1872 Onésime's second wife died, and in September Célina died. The goldsmith's community of property amounted to four times the value of the cabinet-maker's, but both, to settle their respective estates and remarry, had to sell certain properties. Onésime re-sold the two wooden one-story houses on Saint-Dominique, went into a new partnership. Both were shaken by the depression of 1873, but Onésime was able in 1876 to buy from Jean-Marie a two-story house and three lots on the corner of Arcade and Guilbault.

Like other such sets of partners, their interactions were not purely economic. Each was godfather to one of the other's children. Jean-Marie acted as subtutor (guardian) to Onésime's two small children (his second family), and Onésime was subtutor to the nine nephews and nieces born of the union of Jean-Marie and Célina. In Jean-Marie's house were several handsome pieces of furniture made by Onésime. And when Eugénie, Onésime's daughter by his first marriage, proposed at age 19, with her father's agreement, to become "emancipated", she claimd the $230 inheritance from her mother to stock a milliner's shop. Her uncle Jean-Marie acted as her advisor, so that she could, in her words, "gagner sa vie par son propre travail, habileté et industrie... pour se créer un avenir"(11).

And like other teams, their collaboration was embedded in a larger network of alliances. Célina seems to have been the first member of the family to arrive in Montréal; she and Jean-Marie facilitated the integration of her parents into the city, her brother Onésime and two others. Their father, a blacksmith, bought a lot from Jean-Marie and built the little wooden houses Onésime subsequently purchased. On the lot behind Onésime Aunt Marguerite raised three families; her in-laws were all stone-cutters at the nearby quarry. Onésime's brother Isidore lived in the same block; he got his start as a manufacturing jeweller by renting Jean-Marie's back shop on Saint-Laurent, with the tools. Above the shop lived widowed Aunt Mathilde, next door a Grothé brother. Toward the end of the decade Jean-Marie and another of his brothers were renting a larger shop half a block north, and Isidore's family was housing a younger brother who was learning the jeweller's trade. The entire kinship network had two poles in the urban space: the jewelry shops were "downtown" close to Craig street, their homes and Onésime's wood-working shop were just outside the city limit (above Sherbrooke), about a 20-minute walk uphill. Jean-Marie could afford to use the convenient horsecar line on Saint-Laurent.

2. Movement within the city

The way Célina and Onésime stretched their kinship network over a particular neighborhood applies to practically every family in the thousand. I have elsewhere described a set of five carters -- four brothers and a brother-in-law -- who together built a set of five double-duplex houses (about 20 dwelling units) at Dorchester and Durham streets. The notary recorded dwelling rentals, purchases of horses, and arrangements for financing harness, sleighs and barrels for carting water. We could draw parallel examples from Irish carters, and from butchers, tanners and grocers, all of whom, to meet the requirements of their lines of work, built, within the framework of kinship alliances, a particular urban fabric, in which the portes-cochères, yards, stables and rear lanes, the hay lofts, drainage and flooring were adapted for horse traffic.

Kinship was the basis of neighboring. This has long been apparent in rural studies, where couples chose adjoining concessions, the work of clearing rewarded co-operative labour, and inherited land was subdivided and pieced back together. Our French Canadian sample originates with two brothers who farmed side by side; in 1700 two sons married sisters, and the four of them jointly rented a cow. Teamwork of parents and children, brothers and sisters, was equally important in the city(12). Carpenters are of special interest because of their contribution to the urban fabric, but also because of the pressure of their occupation to move continually in order to remain close to the frontier of construction. In Montreal, as in Barcelona or Paris(13), construction attracted craftsmen from the rural hinterland into the city. With each surge of growth, they built a new belt of houses. If at twenty-year intervals, we map the entire set of household heads who report occupations in the construction trades, we find them advancing, one cohort after another, toward the edge of the city, continually pioneering in advance of the rest of the population (figure).

From the construction sector we therefore choose an example which reveals all three kinds of geographical mobility operating through the kinship network. Two brothers, Ferdinand and Moyse, initially formed a team in the rural village of Saint-Lin 40 km from Montreal, where they worked together as carpenter-entrepreneurs on a large construction contract. Moyse married in 1845, Ferdinand in 1846 (at 24 and 27), and their wives Emilie and Delphine were about the same age (16 and 17 at marriage). None of the four could read or write. Moyse and Delphine invited the fiancés, Ferdinand and Emilie, to be godparents to their first baby. They reciprocated in 1850, making Moyse and Delphine godparents to their son Zotique. Moise had another large job in St-Lin in 1853, Ferdinand in 1855, and in 1862 the two families were still neighbours in St-Lin, with six and eight children respectively. Moise, who had only daughters, took an apprentice, while Ferdinand taught his son Zotique the trade. Zotique and his sister Malvina became godparents to the last-born of Moyse and Delphine. In 1864 Ferdinand and Moise purchased adjoining lots in the same subdivision of Montréal (near Wolfe and Sainte-Catherine), and each built a double duplex. Zotique, at the moment he married and came of age, was recognized as owner of one of the houses he and his father had built. Nine of Ferdinand's children and five of Moyse's, married in Montreal, and the two parentés moved, a few blocks at a time, together, on the advancing front of construction. When Ferdinand died in 1900, the last of his "gang of four", we do not know how many houses he had finished. (We have contracts for a dozen). We do know he had celebrated 22 baptisms and 14 weddings of their children (the two couples) and the baptisms of 74 grandchildren.

The case can be expanded to a larger circle of kinship. That foursome -- Ferdinand and Émilie, Moyse and Delphine -- maintained a relationship, slightly less intense, with another "gang of four" from Saint-Lin, carpenters, too, and cousins once removed (petits cousins): Isaie, his wife, his sister Joséphine and her husband Édouard Ménard. They, too, built houses in the Boyer subdivision. Joséphine and Edouard formed with her brother and his sister a mariage croisé, yet another foursome, who commanded larger lumps of capital and a higher level of skill, built larger houses, operated within a neighbourhood of greater radius, and entered into other alliances with Ménard siblings(14). We dare not go further! The strategy of the carpenters, like that of the carters, allows us to appreciate the parallelism of investments in the built stuff of the city and in its human capital. The built capital formed a neighborhood, the social stuff a parenté. These were components of the parish, at once a material and social fabric.

The compelling reasons for neighboring were properties of the "walking city", and of the very small prisms of space which could be conveniently accessed within the time-constraints of a dawn-to-dark workday(15). In our protestant sample, Jason Gilliland has re-traced the residences of an extended family of twelve brothers and sisters, and the lines of sight among them, within a few blocks of Pointe Saint-Charles, where all of the brothers and brothers-in-law worked in the Grand Trunk railway shops. A child could be bundled up, handed the milk jug, the message or the armload of wood, and watched to the back door of auntie's house. The candle in the window would tell grandma that her daughter-in-law was up with the baby's bronchitis. Within "networked" spaces of such warmth, security and wealth of information, households took a remarkable variety of forms, in response to unusual situations. A census record of 1881 shows us a girl of 20 as "head of household" to eight younger brothers and sisters; they lived a few doors from their father, his second wife, and their toddlers.

Gilliland's analysis of residential persistence in our sample populations demonstrates high mobility throughout the period 1860-1900, but a considerable predictability and stability in the system. At the end of each five-year interval, only one-quarter of all households remained in the same city block. Most moves were within the same neighbourhood. Death of household head or wife spurred many departures, and the legal framework of one-year leases permitted families to adapt to changes in income. In such a context of high turnover, we would like to know how long two tenant families remained neighbors. How long did the average tenant stay with the same landlord? How long did the average couple survive as a couple? Despite the first-of-May shuffle, kinfolk remained neighbours, and at any single moment we observe the knots of neighboring kin crocheted along the street-fronts and threaded through the alleys, testimony to the organizing power of kinship.

3. Social mobility

While Montreal remained a low-wage city throughout the nineteenth century, many families were experiencing a significant upward mobility from one generation to the next(16). This is an important feature of the psychology of personal ambitions and social expectations(17). The strongest evidence of an improved living standard is from the rental tax rolls. Between 1860 and 1900, the urban population as a whole achieved a modest increase of median floor area and median rent per household, and a greater increase of floor space per person. (Crowding diminished.) Average improvement was greater for the set of Irish Catholic households than for French Canadian households, but the differences between the two groups arise from the balance between newcomers and families who had lived in the city for a generation. Among our Irish Catholic household heads, comparison of Irish-born fathers and their Canadian-born sons (about equal in numbers in 1891) shows substantial improvement in the second generation, with respect to occupational status and the rents they paid. In the French Canadian sample likewise, city-born sons showed comparable advances relative to their rural-born fathers.

More important in transforming the social network itself was the accumulation of human capital, in terms of the ability to read and write. All we can measure is the ability to sign one's name, and preliminary results from our samples suggest the following: Among French Canadians, the ability to sign was more highly valued sooner in Montreal than in the rural Plain, and a dramatic leap occurred in the 1850s(18). Prior to that leap, men and women were about equally (un)likely to sign, but in later decades we find more women able to sign in the rural population, in the city decidedly more men. The city's investment in education, which Danylewicz described as "largesse" toward boys, produced a measurable effect(19). In 1900, the ability to sign was concentrated in the younger cohorts and in the cohorts born in the city.

A collection of signatures offers a touching demonstration of the value placed upon the ability to sign. Louis-Joseph Beauchamp, born about 1800 in Mascouche, first appeared in Montreal as a carter. When he married in 1821, neither he nor his bride could sign. He built several small houses, and gradually became one of the region's most important traders in firewood and timber for export. In 1833 Louis-Joseph re-married. For Denyse, a young widow who could read and write, he re-built the house on Saint-Urbain street, two blocks north of the parish church. Between Christmas Eve 1836 and mid-February 1837, Louis-Joseph began signing his name. To the end of his life (1849) he retained a simplified spelling, last name only, in a primary-school lettering. But on scores of contracts with labourers, sawyers, farmers, carters and raftsmen, most of them unable to sign, the 'Bochan' signature was a mark of distinction and evidence of his social advance.

4. Ethnicity and gender

Since urbanization was the most important change in the social network, we need to explore its implications for ethnicity and gender, as well as social status. The roles of men and women were regulated without the institutional framework of marriage; and a household could not function without the presence of both a male and a female adult(20). All three cultural communities encouraged marriage within the community (levels of intermarriage are shown in the figure), and the cultural distinctions persisted, as rigorous at the end of the century as at the beginning. Ethnicity was institutionalized in parishes and school systems. At every life transition from the cradle to the grave, the identities of culture and gender which characterized an individual's position in the social network, were acclaimed by church bells.

In the operation and maintenance of the three social networks, there were indeed some meaningful differences. In the two anglophone populations, normal circuits of kinship were interrupted by trans-Atlantic migration. In the families of Irish famine immigrants of 1847-1849, for example, grandparents were a scarce resource. A greater exchange of the English-speaking population with Ontario and the United States tended also to reduce the availability of extended family as a local support system. In the family councils which advised the court on appointment of guardians, English-speaking families more often substituted "friends, in default of relations"; and at inventories after death, they more often resorted to patents of attorney for absent heirs. Our French Canadian samples, both city-dwellers and their country cousins, show very low rates of emigration to New England, in sharp contrast with other regions of Quebec(21).

Distinctive tempos of in-migration in the three communities, different attitudes toward a suitable age for leaving home and marrying, and different infant feeding practices contributed to persistence of distinct demographic structures in the three communities, a higher infant mortality among French Canadians, and (as a consequence) a shorter median birth interval(22). On the other hand, we see greater differentials between our urban and rural samples than between their ethnocultural subsets(23). Relative to rural couples, couples married in the city show a smaller mean number of children who survived and married. In the census of 1861 (Table 2), the urban gap is greater than the cultural gap with respect to several crude estimators of fertility: mean household size and the numbers of children under 5, or under 15, per thousand married women 15-49. The indicators are affected by the higher infant mortality in the city, and also by the tendency for youths 15-29 to move out of their families in a selective way: more from rural households than urban, more young men to farm and woods work, more young women to jobs as servants in urban households. Gradual improvement in the urban standard of living, and the potential of the Montreal habitat for neighboring without full cohabitation, permitted older couples a more independent life-style in the city(24), so that parents increasingly retired into the city and lived to ripe old ages as neighbours of their children, rather than as their lodgers. Despite the persistent reality of the three cultural communities, urban or rural residence was a more powerful determinant of demographic behaviour, and all three communities were responding to the new opportunities and constraints they perceived in the urban milieu.

As the gap widened between rural and urban lifestyles, we might even see them as distinct rural and urban cultures. Evidence can be garnered from marriage contracts and wills, cultural documents which anticipate contingencies(25). Protestants and Irish catholics used the marriage contract and the will to "derogate" from the Coutume de Paris (and subsequently from the Civil Code), to impose their own cultural understandings based on the common law of England. Although their terminology (settlement, for example, in lieu of dower) asserted cultural "difference"(26), most such contracts were written to carry out the same objectives: to provide security for the surviving partner, an equal division of property among the children, their protection in case of a remarriage, and, in the absence of heirs, reversion of property to the family of origin.

While rural French Canadians continued to the end of the nineteenth century to create the traditional community of property (communauté des biens), the overwhelming choice of city-dwellers, as early as 1840, was separation of the property of husband and wife. This applies to French Canadians as well as protestants and Irish catholics. While the shift might be attributed to anglo-protestant influence, I would interpret it as a rational adaptation to the mercantile economy of the city. In our sample, some French Canadian couples who neglected to make a contract (they married in haste or evaded parental involvement and the cost of a notary), or who married in rural circumstances, subsequently had recourse to the courts to end their community and institute separate management. The strategem was not restricted to the wealthy; in some cases neither party owned any property whatsoever. All the couple possessed -- in common -- was a pile of debts and a spark of optimism.

Because a woman's matrimonial rights (the dower or settlement written into the marriage contract) had to be invested with an eye to long-term security, women "owned" a substantial share of urban capital, and much of it was real estate, often city-building investments(27). Separation of property gave women some control and set up a screen against creditors. Because the civil code privileged the claim of matrimonial rights and protected to some degree a family's "alimentary rights" and basic furnishings, the trend was for urban couples to place property in the wife's name, and to push this protection as far as they could to shelter their capital(28).

5. Partnerships

Every one of the thousand couples in our urban sample was an economic partnership, and our next task is to show that the strategies of married couples -- their mobility, their entrepreneurship, and their linkages with other couples -- were a powerful force in the maintenance of the social network and in the dynamism of the urban economy. If marriage contracts are read as the foundation for a diversified economic enterprise (and they have been read in this way in rural societies), we discover the logic of separation of property. Notarial documents are biased to reveal the male role, since the husband had the legal authority to represent the couple, and a married woman, even with separation of property, normally signed contracts only with her husband's explicit authorization. Notwithstanding the discriminatory nature of such clauses, they were part of a coherent system which gave entrepreneurial scope and identity to the couple as an economic unit.

How important were such small ventures? At the end of the nineteenth century, the expansion of joint stock companies, corporate management and large factories were undeniably important to economic growth, urban form, and ethnic control of capital. Most enterprises, however, large and small, still took the form of partnerships of two or three persons. In addition to the thousand married couples, our corpus contains 115 acts which formalized other kinds of entrepreneurial "associations". Most of them were small and short-lived, shorter-lived than marriages; and nearly all of the long-lived enterprises were founded upon family alliances or cemented by subsequent marriages(29).

The model of the entrepreneurial couple is readily expanded to the numerous "gangs of four", in which a brother and sister and their spouses participated, or a set of parents, their daughter and son-in-law. Such foursomes undertook a staggering variety of ventures, seizing a short-term opportunity, capitalizing on a scrap of land, or taking advantage of an ephemeral asset in the energies, talents or mobility of certain family members. Some ventures were marginal, like the Irish stevedores (Ryans married to Leahys) who formed a partnership for stitching grain bags. Married couples were especially prominent in the operation of inns, taverns and boardinghouses, which were important nodes in the communications in urban and rural neighbourhoods and in the social exchange between town and country.

Some agreements between couples were structured to seed a venture of the younger generation. A millwright, for example, negotiated with his prospective father-in-law an investment equal to what he, the husband, brought to the marriage. In other cases, a parent couple structured a partnership with the younger couple in such a way as to permit their own retirement and gradually relinquish control over their accumulated assets. In the protestant sample, a handful attempted to exercise control from the grave. The owner of a brush factory, for example, insisted in his will that his three sets of children should continue to live together (with the third wife), and that the eldest son should continue to operate the brush factory for their mutual benefit. After five years, the son rebelled, resigned his role as subtutor, and sued for control of the factory contingency fund created under the will(30).

Families thus maintained in parallel their built capital and their social capital, through an accumulation of trust, loyalty, affection and experience. It is not necessary to idealize these relationships. Failures are legion, as well as lawsuits, and there is an undertow of downward mobility. In Montreal or Barcelona, as surely as New York or Palermo, family loyalties functioned in marginal and unsavory enterprises as well as in successful and highly ethical endeavours. R.G. Dun's Montreal agent in the 1850s identified several "crooked sticks" who nevertheless appear in our samples as effective partners within close-knit networks of kin. One such man bought from his brother, a roofer, an insurance claim for the value of the roofing job, not yet paid for, on a hotel consumed by fire. He collected on another fire insurance claim for the little girl of his widowed sister Henrietta. When his rubber factory failed, he recovered machinery from the sheriff and captured the lion's share from the other creditors. When his wineshop failed, Henrietta launched another and hired him as manager. He and Henrietta, using assets of her second husband (a lawyer of questionable repute) and the equally dubious knowhow of the husband's carpenter brother (three couples in all) next invested in a scheme to manufacture brick. After the brickworks was liquidated, and two more wineshops had failed, he assigned his life insurance policy to Henrietta.

In the attempt to redress the bias of an earlier "all-male" reading of history, it has sometimes been argued that the two sexes operated in complementary ways, in separate spheres and separate spaces. This may be misleading. In the documents I am working with, what we see, I believe, is a continuous strategic collaboration between the sexes, in most cases negotiated with mutual concern and affection, between wives and husbands, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, sisters and brothers. Notwithstanding the silences in the records and the rigid gender discrimination of the law, couples functioned as effective entrepreneurial teams, entering into more complex partnerships -- chains, loops, and spiral configurations -- whose strategies of survival, reproduction and advancement generated growth in the regional economy.


Kinship, we have seen, was the basis of neighbouring in both town and countryside. As the region urbanized, the powerful sorting mechanisms of kinship and marital alliances performed their triage: accumulating, accelerating, and concentrating, sometimes marginalizing human resources. I have attempted to turn a spotlight on the couple as the fundamental collaborative unit in which we so often find the investment of self and the projection of a future. As couples deployed their minute stocks of credit, their ingenuity, their hoards of movables and immovables, they took care to maintain the network of kinship essential to their security and their status. From the skein of family solidarities they wove the social fabric of the region and the material fabric of the city.

In the late nineteenth-century city, the task of laying rails and mobilizing steam and electric power were conceived as classic "men's work". If we contemplate "women's work" of carding, spinning, knitting, and weaving; I am not referring to the industries of wool, cotton and linen, important as they were in both Quebec and Catalonia. I refer instead to the maintenance and mobilization of the kinship network. Looking back on the array of examples, we see that women invested heavily in its grooming(31). We saw how Célina, busy with the gestation and nursing of a dozen infants, nevertheless drew her entire family into her neighborhood of the city, how Denyse taught her husband to sign his name consistent with his status, how Henrietta engineered an assemblage of crooked sticks, and how Eugénie undertook to "create her future". All of these actions were undertaken within strategic partnerships.

We can only imagine the long evenings of discussion, the fits of indignation, the tears of rage, the volleys of profanity and the peals of laughter which accompanied their collusion, contention, collaboration, complicity or connivence. Even obscure documents hint at continual negotiation: "The parties, desirous of resolving a long misunderstanding between them..."(32) Occasionally a voice pierces the notary's formulaic expressions, confirming a collaboration to the brink of death, such as the butcher who willed a special legacy to his wife, beyond the provisions of their marriage contract, "pour reconnaître sa fidélité, son dévouement, son accord, et l'attachement qu'elle m'a toujours témoigné". A merchant whose brother had for thirty years owed him "a large sum of money", wrote into his will, "I relinquish and discharge every part and parcel thereof." An Irish carter's wife, "sick and lying on her bed", marked her "X", leaving their little wooden house to their two daughters, the use of it to her husband, and $4 to their son: "I pray him to receive it with a good heart."(33) Freighted with their contradictions and ambiguities, such partnerships created the future.


Partners in this research include David Hanna (UQAM), Jason Gilliland (McGill), and Patricia Thornton (Concordia). Robert Lewis (University of Toronto) shared the research on the construction trades, for a presentation at the Conference on Labour History, McMaster University, 1988. Evelyn Kolish, Estelle Brisson and other staff of the Archives Nationales du Québec à Montréal have turned the place inside out for guardianship documents and notarial indexes. Yves Otis (Université de Montréal) generously provided data from Mascouche, Bertrand Desjardins (Université de Montréal) from the Projet de recherche en Démographie historique (PRDH), and Normand Robert from the Parchemin index of notaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The research was supported by the Social Science Research Council of Canada. I have received help and encouragement from numerous colleagues, from Paroisse Notre-Dame, les Soeurs hospitalières de Saint-Joseph, and the managements of the cemeteries of Montreal.

1. See, for example, Segalen 1985.

2. The census of 1851 is available for the rural sample, but not for the City of Montreal.

3. We have sifted 350 repertories of the 500 notaries who practiced in Montréal, including all those indexed by names of parties. Some repertories of the late nineteenth century have not yet been turned over by the judiciary to the Quebec archives, and of course many acts were never notarized, such as apprenticeships to uncles, or private receipts accumulated till a final quittance (see Burgess 1986 and Sweeny 1985).

4. If we track births and deaths, we find parallel trends, see Olson (1996), rising to 55 or 60 per cent throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

5. See Oris (1996) for discussion of such a case in Belgium.

6. In 1901 somewhat fewer (one-third) were in-migrants from rural Quebec, somewhat more (one-third) were their children, and, as before, a scant third were the city's grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Kaplan (1992) cites comparable figures for Barcelona in 1900.

7. The surname samples were supplemented by larger soundings of parental origins for 2400 catholic infants baptized in Montreal in the year 1859 and, as shown, for 2100 catholic couples married in Montreal in 1899 (Olson 1996, Olson and Thornton 1995).

8. Dauphin (1994) reckons the urban labour force doubled in each generation with very little real increase in the average wage.

9. Otis (1995), Gagnon (1988) and the two jointly (1991) have documented the stream of moves from one village, Mascouche, to Montréal, and the kinship basis for the maintenance of relationships. Lauzon (1990) has traced families moving into the urban area and re-moving into the industrial suburb of Saint-Henri. The IREP team has documented in a largely rural habitat the intergenerational solidarities which led to transplantation of families and clusters of kin (Bouchard 1996). For the Montreal region, see Dépatie (1990); and for mobility in urban occupational networks Bischoff (1989), Brouillet (1991), and Burgess (1986).

10. The same pattern occurs among protestant and Irish Catholic families, although they more often came from parishes on the farming perimeter of the Laurentians, the Outaouais and the Eastern Townships.

11. Cour Supérieure, District de Montréal, Registres des tutelles, 24 novembre 1879.

12. Neighboring and socializing among kinfolk has been observed as late as the 1950s in surveys of working-class neighborhoods of U.S. cities, is reported by anthropologists for African cities, and belongs to the popular knowledge of all cities. On networks of sociability in Quebec, see Fortin (1987) and Fournier (1983). Few cities in North America possess sources adequate for historical analysis of kinship.

13. For Barcelona, the Mendoza (1986) novel offers an example. In Paris, see Marchand (1993).

14. This is one of the patterns of "remarkable marriages" Lavallée (1992) identifies in a rural habitat where alliances between parentés were maintained over several generations. One of Ferdinand's daughters also marries a Ménard son.

15. For construction of such prisms, see Parkes and Thrift (1980), Pred (1990), or Knox (1994).

16. Evidence for mobility within a lifetime is more tenuous. In all three communities, one-fifth of the 225 couples Gilliland traced over 15 years (1993), were upwardly mobile, on the criterion of at least two successive moves to streets of significantly higher median rent (20% higher).

17. Darroch and Soltow (1994) develop this argument in a rural environment.

18. Neither Célina nor her parents could sign, but her younger brothers could, as well as her city-bred husband and all of her children. In our samples it is possible to establish rates for adult men and women by inspecting signatures on marriage records (both parties), baptismal records (fathers), and notarial records.

19. On investment in education in Montreal, see Danylewicz (1983), in the rural habitat Dufour (1997), on problems of measurement Bouchard (1989), on regional variation and the meaning of literacy Gaffield and Bouchard (1989), on the relation between urbanization and schooling Thabault (1943), on the impact of the printed word Eisenstein (1983).

20. In the urban samples of 1861, only two persons were reported living alone, and all but four or five households recorded the presence of both a man and a woman over fifteen years of age.

21. Roby (1996) summarizes the magnitudes and trends of French Canadian emigration, and interprets the information-system of kinship in sustaining chain migration. These moves are, to some extent, an alternative form of urbanization. The far-flung connections of our English-speaking samples may have been advantageous. Sennett (1970) provides evidence of the importance of the extended household as an information asset.

22. See Thornton and Olson (1991); Olson, Thornton and Thach (1989), Olson and Thornton (1992).

23. See also Gossage (1991) on fertility among a sample of urban and rural French Canadian women.

24. See Gervais (1996) on the problems of cohabitation of three generations. In a rural habitat at Varennes, greater independence was achieved in a similar process of urbanization and improved standard of living.

25. For interpretation of marriage contracts under the French regime, see Postolec (1995).

26. Evelyn Kolish (1994) has described the anglo-protestant suspicion of French civil law.

27. By 1886 the city taxroll lists one-third of owner-occupied homes as owned by women (Gilliland 1993).

28. The strategy was not always effective, of course, but deployment of immense ingenuity is transparent in the records. See Young (1972) for discussion of the law. While there are a number of useful studies of kinship and social class in rural habitats, Barcelona is the subject of one of the relatively rare studies of an urban kinship network in relation to investment and social status (McDonogh 1986).

29. They range from $60 to $100 000 capital. One-fifth of the associations lasted less than a year, the majority one to three years, scarcely one-sixth lasted five years. One-fifth of all associations involved a woman, sometimes as the working partner, sometimes as the supplier of capital.

30. The court left the disputed contingency fund of $1100 with the stepmother. ANQM, repertory of Labadie, will of John Boyd, 30 September 1878; and Superior Court, District of Montréal, judgment of 13 May 1885.

31. Fine (1995) has demonstrated that in selection of godparents women manipulate and enforce a powerful and well-understood set of social rules. Novelists, as well as social scientists, have displayed the extent to which women manage marriages, family alliances, and reciprocal gift-giving, cf. Balzac, Flaubert and Mendoza (1986); for an analysis of novelists' discourse on family (Reid 1993); IREP publications on customs surrounding birth and marriage in Charlevoix, Saguenay and other regions of Quebec. Godbout and Caillé (1992) describe women's "competence" in managing the reciprocity of gift-giving, pp. 54-59.

32. One such settlement, involving four sets of cousins, issue of the marriages of a grandfather, father and son named Andrew White, was achieved under pressure to remove obstacles to a substantial inheritance in which they all had a claim.

33. ANQM, wills of Joseph Beauchamp (in the repertory of Jobin, 9 October 1873), Stanley Bagg (Isaacson, 2 May 1851), and Bridget Boland, wife of Cornelius Ryan (Côté, 28 November 1884).


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