Public baths helped reduce Montreal’s high mortality rate

According to a Montreal Times article, Quintal bath, Montreal’s first public bath was constructed in 1890. Before that, many poor and working-class Montrealers bathed in the polluted waters of the St. Lawrence River and the Lachine Canal. “Bathing naked in the open was a fairly common practice in the Montreal area in the nineteenth century.” Children and adults caught “swimming in a state of complete nudity” could be fined up to $40.

In the 1870s, the habit of bathing naked in polluted water contributed to making Montreal’s mortality rate among the highest in the world. In working-class neighbourhoods like Ste-Anne, St-Antoine, St-Jacques and Ste-Marie where many Irish families lived, infant mortality reached staggering proportions. “In some places, one third of children died before age one, struck down by gastroenteritis.”

The first public baths were built in the working class neighbourhoods of Hochelaga, Centre-Sud and Pointe-Saint-Charles. Seven of these baths are still in use today: Quintal, Émard, Schubert, Lévesque, Saint-Denis, Morgan and Rosemont. The Quintal bath is located at 1550 rue Dufresne.

Thanks to Jacques Gagné for the tip.

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About Gail Dever

Gail Dever is a Montreal-based genealogist and blogger and a webmaster for the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.
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