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Industrial heritage (theme #14)

The theme of the month: work

Our heritage is not only historical and artistic, it is also industrial. Less known, less visible, and often unpopular, this heritage is nevertheless part of our common history. More specifically, it belongs to the history of industries, businesses, and workplaces that surround us. Even more so, industrial heritage is intimately linked to the history of the working class, that is, the history of thousands of hard-working people in factories and plants. Their experience is a formidable source of information about their working conditions, the union and political struggles they waged, but also about social changes and adaptation to new technologies. We tend to forget that industrialization has helped to shape and build the modern society we know today.

In the first decades of the 20th century, Quebec was rapidly urbanizing. Many factories were built, attracting rural families to the city in the hope of a better life. Without question, Montreal became an important economic centre. Industrialization then became a factor in societal transformations.

Many of the factories and plants established during this period disappeared over the decades. Some were abandoned, while others were given a new vocation. The city’s working class neighbourhoods in the shadow of these factories suffered much the same fate. Just like the factories, these districts are part of the industrial heritage of cities. They are ingrained in Montreal's heritage. What is left of the history of these workers who, through their hard work, contributed to economic, industrial, and architectural modernity?

Adrien Hébert, Montreal Harbour, 1927, oil on canvas. Séminaire de Joliette collection. Gift of the Clerics of St. Viator of Canada. 2012.153 Photo: Guy L'Heureux

Adrien Hébert: an agent of industrial activity

Adrien Hébert (1890-1967) is attracted to modern urban life, while the majority of his contemporaries seem to consider industrialization a source of anxiety, or an affront to traditions, and prefer to paint rural subjects. Hébert is fascinated by the activity of the city, its modes of transport, industries, buildings, and customs. He thus devotes an important part of his pictorial production to the manifestations of Montreal's urban and industrial life.

From 1924 to 1940, Hébert was almost exclusively interested in Montreal's port activities. This period is characterized by a series of paintings that made Hébert's reputation. Among the artist's most famous artworks, Montreal Harbour, painted in 1927, is one of the most eloquent examples of his port representations. The painting highlights the work of the longshoremen in action. It is not known whether the transatlantic liner is in the process of docking or about to depart.

Around 1940, the authorities forbade public access to the port because of security measures related to the war effort. Hébert then turned to other sites. In particular, he discovered the Angus Shops, built between 1902 and 1904 in Montréal's Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie district. These factories employed workers from Plateau-Mont-Royal and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, who repaired and manufactured locomotives for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). In the context of the Second World War, Angus Shops were used to build tanks. After 90 years of operation, the factories were closed by the CPR, laying off a thousand people.

Thus, the painting Angus Shop by Adrien Hébert, around 1943, bears witness to the labour in these factories. The composition focuses on the architecture and the machines; the busy worker, cleaning the locomotive, becomes a functional element. A powerful oblique ray runs through the composition like a luminous breakthrough, cutting a series of strong vertical lines. These features are somewhat reminiscent of the work of American precisionists, notably that of Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Charles Demuth (1883-1935), and Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986). The artists of this movement developed in the 1920s an industrial aesthetic derived from cubism. It is because Hébert had a positive perception of the city's transformations that he painted a harmonious portrait of the relationship between man, modernization, and technical progress.

Today, the Société du patrimoine Angus and the Société de développement Angus, founded in 1992 and 1995 respectively, are working together to revitalize the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood economically and socially since the closure of the Angus Shops. In collaboration with the local community, the two organizations have developed and implemented the daring and mobilizing Technopôle Angus project. This project has preserved the remains and red brick facades of the former factories and converted the former industrial wasteland into an eco-neighbourhood committed to sustainable development.

Cranes, boats, factories, and metal structures are significant elements in Adrien Hébert's compositions. By highlighting the industrial environment, the artist has contributed to the development of a pictorial theme of his time. In fact, the theme of industrial work is little dealt with in Canadian painting. Hébert's works are thus remarkable witnesses to the industrial reality of Montreal.

Adrien Hébert, Angus Shop, 1943 c, oil on canvas. Gift of Roland Dubeau. 1984.088 Photo: Musée d'art de Joliette

External links

➔ See the work Montreal Harbour in the Musée's permanent exhibition.

➔ Read or reread the Catalogue of the Museum's Collections available at our online boutique.

➔ Visit the site of the Association québécoise pour le patrimoine industriel by following this link:

➔ See some of the preparatory drawings for the work Angus Shop on the MNBAQ collections portal by following this link:

This article was written by Nathalie Galego, Assistant Curator of Collections at the Musée d'art de Joliette.

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Deadline is Friday, July 31, 2020 at noon.


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