Interview with Mr. Gérald Morel: Stéphane Tessier. Directing and filming for this video: Nicolas St-Germain.
Historian and cultural animator Stéphane Tessier (ST), talks with Mr. Gérald Morel (GM) who grew up on Île de la Visitation. The interview was recorded at the cider mill house. Mr. Morel first appears on screen. He is talking about the whistle at the top of the factory that punctuated the village life, as well as the evolution of the company’s various buildings over time. An aerial view of the area in 1947 shows that the Sault-au-Récollet village was relatively isolated from the rest of Montreal. We see archive photographs of the factory, and a more recent one of the steel structure evoking the old smokestack. The conversation ends with Mr. Morel remembering being on the dike and witnessing a discussion between Mr. Oberlander and his employees during a strike. He describes the back and forth between the two parties, and the role Father Falardeau may have played in resolving the conflict.
GM When you’re in Sault-au-Récollet, you’re completely cut off from the City of Montreal.
The Miron Quarry, the fields; only two streets go through here. There’s Papineau Street, and that’s pretty narrow, just two lanes wide. Then you have Lajeunesse.
So it becomes a world all on its own.
[About the factory] It was an integral part of village life. Just the sound of the sirens that would mark shift changes and lunch hours.
I think people noticed the mill sirens more than they did the church bells.
Anyway, the hours were about the same. It would make an impression on you.
ST What was it? Like a whistle?
GM It was really a whistle that came out of… Well, today you have a nice metal tower there, but back then it was a tall brick smokestack, where the boiler room was.
And with that boiler room you could whistle something fierce.
ST Did you ever meet the boss, Mr. Fred Oberlander?
GM I knew Fred Oberlander, yes.
ST What was your impression of him? What did you know about him?
GM He was a man … who asserted his authority over his employees, but who knew what he was doing. And I think he was a good manager. I say that because for a long time the village lived very well, all 300 employees, mostly from Sault-au-Récollet, or maybe the area.
Really the sector, here, just in Sault-au-Récollet. He made it so that all these people could earn a living, right here in their village.
GM [Remembering a labour dispute] I remember the workers being on strike because I saw Oberlander and his directors, with Mr. Millé on one side.
I saw the workers behind Mr. Pelletier who was their, quote-unquote, “union president,” and finally Father Abraham Falardeau, the La Visitation parish priest. He was talking to Pelletier, and then to Oberlander, then back to Pelletier, with hundreds of people there. I reckon all the employees were there. I didn’t take the time to count them all, but it was striking to see a big group of people all huddled like that.
And in the end? The image that stayed in my mind is the very real image of Oberlander and Father Falardeau shaking hands … and the workers cheering.
That was apparently how the strike ended. I don’t remember all the details. I was only 4 and a half. But I can still see it.