Social inequalities were reflected in living conditions, which could be observed in the enormous contrast between the gentry’s lavish townhouses on Sherbrooke Street and the small tenements in Griffintown, also known as the faubourg à m’lasse. Change occurred gradually, however, and workers’ living conditions improved, despite the persistence of dilapidated and unsanitary housing.
A major turning point occurred when the elite became aware of the social problems caused by urbanization and industrialization. This social reformism was primarily channelled into intensified public hygiene campaigns. Beginning in 1910, mortality rates dropped following the simple addition of chlorine to the city’s water supply.
In the field of education, a pronounced gap existed between Protestants and Catholics. Reformists attempting to improve the quality of school programs and management found themselves facing resistance from the Church, which considered education to be its exclusive territory.
Montréal was fertile ground for Canadian feminism. Members of the Montréal Council of Women and the Fédération nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste fought for women’s political and legal rights and were active in social reform movements.
A particular brand of French-speaking popular culture unique to Montréal began to find its voice. Newspapers like La Presse and La Patrie conveyed a modern vision of society. Moving pictures came to town in 1906 with the opening of the Ouimetoscope. Municipal parks with playgrounds for children were opened.
The theatre enjoyed a golden age, allowing many professional troupes to prosper. A lively literary and musical scene also flourished with the help of the École littéraire de Montréal. All in all, however, most shows presented to the public were on tour from abroad.