Through the Mill

Girls and Women in the Quebec Cotton Textile Industry, 1881–1951

Reviewed by Beverley Tallon

Posted January 16, 2020

Quebec was a centre of cotton textile manufacturing from 1880 until the industry’s demise in the late 1990s. Gail Cuthbert Brandt’s book Through the Mill is based on oral interviews with eighty-four women who lived and worked in the Quebec cities of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and Magog.

Women and girls often made up half of the total workforce at Quebec mills. Many of them were under the age of eighteen, and most of them were French Canadians who followed in the footsteps of family members. “It was not uncommon for a single family to contribute well over a hundred years of service to a textile company,” Cuthbert Brandt notes.

Unsafe, noisy, and dirty working conditions, long hours, plus sexual harassment and favouritism led to the rise of unions for mill workers.

Cuthbert Brandt holds a Ph.D. in history and specializes in the histories of Quebec and of Canadian women. Her book is written in a scholarly manner, and it benefits from including the words and perspectives of the women who were interviewed. A number of black-and-white photographs help to tell the stories of these hard-working women.

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This article originally appeared in the February-March 2020 issue of Canada’s History.

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