Academic journal article Urban History Review

The Development of an Early Suburban Industrial District: The Montreal Ward of Saint-Ann, 1851-71

Academic journal article Urban History Review

The Development of an Early Suburban Industrial District: The Montreal Ward of Saint-Ann, 1851-71

Article excerpt


The conventional description and explanation of industrial location in the nineteenth century emphasizes the concentration of production in the city core. In contrast this paper finds that for mid-nineteenth century Montreal a significant number of firms were locating on the urban fringe. In a case study of Saint-Ann ward between 1851 and 1871, it is shown that the Lachine canal was a powerful magnet attracting large-scale, technologically-advance industries. Other factors accounting for the development of this peripheral industrial district were cyclical change, new technologies, large capital investments, inter-industry linkages, and changes in the organizational structure of firms.


Les etudes sur la localisation des entreprises aux dix-neuvieme siecle font habituellement ressortir leur concentration dans la ville centrale. Il apparait toutefois qu'au milieu du siecle la frange urbaine montrealaise a attire un nombre de firmes assez important. La presente etude, consacree au quartier Sainte-Anne (1851-1871), montre que la canal de Lachine a exerce un puissant attrait sur les etablissements industriels de grande taille et faisant appel a une technologie avancee. D'autres facteurs expliquent le developpement de ce quartier industriel peripherique: les cycles economiques, le progres technique, l'importance des capitaux investis, les liens inter-industriels et l'evolution organisationnele des entreprises.


The primary concern of the historiography of 19th and early 20th-century suburban development has been the movement of the middle class from the city core to the periphery. The suburbanization of the working class and industry are seen as phenomena that followed later. The movement of industry to the fringe has been perceived as a subsidiary event compared to the concentration of production in the city core. For most writers the decentralization of industry only becomes an important feature of the city suburbs after World War I. (1) Recent work, however, suggests that we have neglected the degree to which the formation of industrial suburban areas were important components of the city-building process in this period. (2)

The purpose of this paper is to examine that interpretation of the location of industry. After a brief overview of the two conventional explanations of industrial location in the 19th-century city, I will present a reformulation of the argument for industrial decentralization. Next, a discussion of Montreal's industrialization within the context of this reformulation is presented. This is followed by a case study of the Lachine canal district in the Saint-Ann ward of Montreal between 1851 and 1871. The Lachine canal district was a major pole of industrial development in the early 1850s and constituted the city's first industrial suburban area. (3) The growth of industry on the urban periphery, far from being a characteristic of the 20th century, was a product of the restructuring of industry and the rearrangement of the city's geography at mid century.

Perspectives on Industrial Suburbs

The decentralization of industry from the core to the suburban fringe has generally been viewed within the framework of two models: the transportation and the transactional. According to the transportation position, industrial location in the nineteenth century was determined by the location of transportation nodes and the cost of intrametropolitan transportation. The location of railway terminals and harbours in or adjacent to the central core is seen as decisive in attracting industry to the city centre. (4) This was reinforced by the fact that intraurban freight transportation was expensive and inefficient compared to the transportation of people. (5) Other factors such as the dependence on economies of agglomeration, the small size of the urban market, and the lack of housing compounded the need for industry to seek a central location. …

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