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The transformation of a farming village

The photo shows a view of the town of Contrecœur from the island that faces the church. We can see the Terrebonne steamboat berthed at the dock.

Contrecœur as seen from the island

“A great number of city dwellers spend the warmer months in Contrecœur.  It is a prosperous town that contains a well-maintained hotel, four merchants, two notaries, two doctors, three shoe manufacturers, two cheese factories, etc.  Communication channels are simple.  The boat makes five trips each week and the Montréal-Sorel train offers convoys daily.” La Patrie newspaper, July 22, 1898

This is a picture of the Hôtel du peuple, taken around 1910. We can see that a second structure, consisting of three floors, has been attached to the white wooden house on which the sign has been affixed. The sign reads: Hôtel du Peuple F de S Gervais — Prop.

Hôtel du people, taken around 1910

It is 1883 when Joseph Papin begins shoemaking in his home, located not far from the Chaput de Contrecœur mill.  For the town, whose main means of subsistence relied on agriculture, this event is a harbinger of change.  Around 1885, it is Pierre Giard’s turn to establish a shoe factory, followed in 1897 by Albert Charron.  Other small factories develop at the start of the 20th century, notably those of Exavériste Giard [1900-1904], Samuel Saint-Jean [1902-1904] and Gabriel Hurteau [1930-1937].

The map shows the town of Contrecœur, as drawn in 1896 by Charles Edward Goad. To the left, we see the St. Lawrence River. In blue, in the middle of the map, is the Sainte-Trinité church. Rectangles identify houses and buildings scattered around Front, St-Antoine, St-François Xavier and Nouvelle Streets.

Map of Contrecœur in 1896


Already in 1901, the shoe factory has become the town’s main industry and production reaches approximately 2,500 pairs of shoes per week.  In the 20s, both Joseph Papin Ltée and Albert Charron’s factory expand, employing close to 250 people.  The same scenario is repeated throughout the country.  The majority of Québec factories are established in larger cities, especially in Montréal and Québec.  All by itself, our province yields at the time 60% of Canadian shoe production.