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The ice merchant: the village’s second job provider

The ice merchant has long been the second job provider in Sault-au-Récollet, after the mills. The first record of one such merchant was Alexandre Legault, of La Visitation Island. He was a merchant there from 1888 to 1915. Eugène Gendron tookp over in 1917. He settled on the island that same year. His son-in-law, Herménégilde Paquette, took over the family business in 1938, and was also a milkman. In the video clips featured on this page, you will hear from Herménégilde’s son, Jacques Paquette, and Claude Brillon, a descendant of Eugène Gendron.

Montage of two archive photographs. On the left: workers loading ice onto a truck in 1939. On the right, two men cutting ice from a river with a motorized saw.

On the left: workers at the icehouse in 1939. On the right, ice cutting becomes mechanized over time.


The ice merchants would build huge ice houses to store the blocks of ice that had been cut from the frozen rivers during winter. Their airtight walls were lined with sawdust, which acted as isolation to protect the ice from the summer heat. The cutting and handling of the ice required a skilled workforce in order to preserve the product.

Delivery went on all summer to people in the neighbourhood, as well as butchers and milkmen. For a long time, this was done by horse and buggy. In fact, there is a charming anecdote about this. Mr. Paquette would deliver ice to the neighbourhood dairy shop. People said his grey mare was particularly fond of ice cream. If he ever forgot to buy her an ice cream cone after a delivery, she would later trot back by herself to get the frozen treat she was owed!

Montage of two archive photographs. On the left, families standing behind a very large pile of apples. On the right, a section of the ice house on La Visitation Island.

On the left, families standing behind a mountain of apples. On the right, an archive photograph of the ice house.


Gradually horses were phased out by trucks. Later, health authorities banned the harvesting of ice from the Des Prairies River because, until the ’70s, it was receiving the untreated wastewater from the northern part of the Island of Montreal. During its final years of operation, Mr. Paquette’s company collected ice at the bottom of the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Quarry.

The ice merchant trade disappeared toward the end of the 1950s, as refrigerators quickly replaced ice boxes in Québec households.

Interview with Jacques Paquette, ice cutter, by Stéphane Tessier
Video with transcript (EN). Subtitles available in English and French.

Stéphane Tessier, Claude Brillon and Anne-Catherine Morel talk about life on La Visitation Island
Video with transcript (EN). Subtitles available in English and French.