Port of Precedence: A History of the Port of Québec
Part 2 – Port of Québec and the 1920s

by Jan Raska PhD, Researcher

The Port of Québec and the 1920s

In the 1920s, the Port of Québec’s primary function became grain export. However, the site continued to be a major point of entry for immigrants to Canada. On 28 May 1921, the Toronto Globe published an article entitled “The Human Inflow into Canada.” Special correspondent Frank Yeigh followed the movement of newcomers through the landing experience. Travellers were first medically examined at Grosse Île Quarantine Station before heading for processing through the immigration hall on the Louise Embankment at the port of Québec. On the second floor of the hall, travellers were sorted into sections: first, returning Canadians, British arrivals or those heading to the United States through Canada, and last, all arrivals from foreign lands. Lines for each of the three categories were formed, and travellers passed single-file before medical doctors appointed by the federal Medical Health Department. It was at this point that travellers were medically examined a second time. Once medically cleared, passengers were visited by a trained corps of inspectors who ascertained the validity of travel documentation, how much money each passenger had in their possession, and whether each traveller had replied truthfully to every question posed. Detained individuals were immediately sent to rooms with cages where they were assessed by a three-member Board of Inquiry from whose decision an appeal could be made to Ottawa.[1]

On the ground floor of the immigration hall; money changers, railway ticket sellers, and telegraph operators assisted each passenger according to their need. Cafeterias and dining rooms provided food and beverages, while representatives of the Salvation Army, Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA and YWCA), and the Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Congregational Churches, each had their own port chaplain station in the hall. Meanwhile, the Jewish Immigration Aid Society (JIAS) looked after the numerous Jewish immigrants. The ground floor also consisted of offices reserved for the Governments of Ontario and Québec, and the federal Department of Immigration and Colonization. The Canadian Red Cross organized an immigration nursery. By the early 1920s, immigration officials and service agencies often served over 2,000 travellers on days when three ships docked at Québec.[2]

In September 1923, the Dominion Immigration Agent at Québec was instructed to place a quantity of flowers, hanging baskets, and bloom throughout the immigration facility in an effort to make the surroundings more attractive to incoming passengers, many of whom were immigrants. A gardener was to be hired to provide maintenance and upkeep. Immigration officials noted that hundreds of “flower plants” were provided from the quarantine station at Grosse Île. The plants were deposited into boxes around the roof garden so that detained immigrants had free access to exercise or relaxation.[3] These renovations were part of a federal government appropriation of $35,000 approved by parliament for four invited tenders: a new roof; alteration and improvements to the existing fence on the roof; renovations and general repairs to the immigration building; and renderings and repairs to the exterior of the building’s concrete walls. Priority was given to the first two tenders.[4]

When former Acting Dominion Immigration Agent and now Chief of the Division of Quarantine at the Department of Health, J.D. Pagé, enquired about the implementation of catering at Québec, he was informed that the immigration facility had to first “…put our own house in perfect order. I have noticed, especially at times, that the building at the port is very unsanitary. This has also been found and expressed in very strong language by the new Immigration Minister during his last visit. I have had [the] occasion myself to show one of the toilet rooms to Commissioner Little and he must have been satisfied that there was room for improvement.” Federal officials in Ottawa were made aware that ventilation throughout the facility was inadequate, while conditions in civil detention were far worse as general cleanliness and the condition of the toilet rooms were lacking. The immigration facility at Québec required the hiring of additional cleaning staff to cover all three stories, 150ft x 50ft of the site.[5]

The immigration facility was often at the mercy of city infrastructure. In the 1920s, officials reported that during the height of passenger traffic in the summer heat, the water supply to the immigration facility was temporarily cut off due to the city’s water main going out of commission. At other times, when the water main was at capacity, water pressure was used by the QHC to supply passenger vessels and other cargo ships with fresh water. A reduction in water pressure or no running water at all caused a temporary lack of available water, which impacted the flushing of lavatories in the third floor detention quarters. Local immigration officials were impressed that they “…managed to escape an epidemic of some kind.” Due to the frequency of these problems, Dominion Immigration Agent, E.J. O’Connell, recommended the construction of a 10,000 gallon water reservoir to insure the immigration facility’s water supply.[6] The Department of Immigration and Colonization decided to build new urinals in the male lavatories, while new floors were necessary in the women’s lavatories to remove “a substance of porous nature.”[7]

Immigration facilities on the Louise Embankment included a ground floor, second floor (inspection), and a third floor (civil detention quarters) that comprised the following accommodations and services:

Ground floor:

  • Canadian immigration offices
  • Chief Guard’s Room
  • Guards’ Dressing Room
  • Guards’ Dining Room
  • Guards’ Quarters
  • Lavatory (adjacent to Guards’ Quarters)
  • Main Guard Room
  • Baggage Room
  • Main Entrance, Immigration Building
  • Store Room
  • Permanent Lunch Counter / Canteen
  • Ticket Booths (6)
  • Post Office
  • Male Lavatory
  • Female Lavatory
  • Main Dining Room
  • Officers’ Dining Room
  • Kitchen and Pantry – including refrigerator
  • Caterer’s Quarters – including three bedrooms and porch
  • Lavatory (adjacent to Caterer’s Quarters)
  • Red Cross Nursery

Along with other service agencies, the Canadian Red Cross established a nursery. Its representatives later sought out an urn for hot water in order to make baby food. The nursery was equipped with all necessary amenities for children, and was often overcrowded with young immigrants. The nursery was the first of its kind in the world to benefit children between docking and leaving by train for their final destination. In a 1921 press release, the Department of Immigration and Colonization noted that “Canada is the first country in the world to establish such a convenience.”[8]

Second floor (inspection):

  • Main corridor
  • First and Second Examination Rooms
  • Temporary Detention Room
  • Temporary Detention Quarters (incl. Toilet Room) – civil and medical = 300 bunks in 1913.
  • Inspectors’ Offices
  • Staff Offices – ex. Canadian Pacific Railway Rail Port Staff
  • Dominion Immigration Agent’s Office
  • U.S. Immigration Service Quarters
  • U.S. Detention Quarters
  • U.S. Detention Quarters – Male and Female Lavatories
  • U.S. Examination Quarters
  • U.S. Examination Quarters – Male and Female Lavatories
  • Lavatory (adjacent to U.S. offices)
  • Medical Inspector’s Office, and 2 Private Examination Rooms
  • Cloak Room
  • Main Office
  • Female Clerk’s Office
  • Inspector-in-Charge’s Office
  • Dressing Room (adjacent to Inspector-in-Charge’s Office)
  • Board Room
  • Store Room
  • Main corridor
  • Drinking Fountains

The medical and civil examination rooms featured 50 potted plants. A large sign erected on the wall read “after examination go to the Government controlled restaurant downstairs. All meals 35 cents.” A canteen was located on the ground floor. In 1924, sales at the canteen exceeded all government projections, while no complaints were received.[9]

Third floor (civil detention):

  • Main corridor
  • Civil Detention Quarters: Four roof gardens, four recreation rooms[10]
  • British and Foreign Detention Quarters – also held an exhibit of jars of fruits, sheaves of grain, glass cases of minerals to make quarters attractive[11]
  • Dormitory for British Females (supervised by Mrs. Ward, day time; Miss Forsyth, night time): a large dormitory with twenty double berths and 10 individual rooms containing eighteen separate beds[12]
  • Dormitory for British Males
  • Dormitory for Foreign Females (supervised by Ms. Amos, day time; Miss Forsyth, night time)
  • Dormitory for Foreign Males
  • Recreation Room for British Males
  • Recreation Room for British Females
  • Recreation Room for Foreign Males
  • Recreation Room for Females
  • Foreign Dining Room
  • British Dining Room
  • Toilet Room
  • Living Matrons’ quarters
  • No. 1 Board of Inquiry Rooms (No. 1 and No. 2)
  • Roof Gardens – At each end of the immigration building; one for the British and the other for foreigners

No space within the immigration facility at Québec garnered as much external attention as the roof gardens. During the spring and summer season, the roof was open to detained immigrants between 8:00am and 9:00pm, and from 8:30am to 6:00pm in the fall season. At the request of Abbé Philippe Casgrain, immigration chaplain for Québec, Saint John, and Halifax, who promoted the segregation of the sexes in the detention area, the roof was divided in two at both ends to separate detained men and women. In correspondence with immigration officials in Ottawa, Casgrain pointed out that “it happens occasionally that women of more doubtful character are detained here and eventually deported and that it is highly improper that these women should be permitted to mix with the men and as a result of my representations a fence was put up to separate the sexes on the roof garden.”[13] Immigration officials questioned the wisdom of segregating the sexes on the roof with fencing. In May 1924, J.S. Fraser, Division Commissioner, requested that the fence dividing men and women be taken down as no complaints were received aside from Abbé Casgrain. Immigration officials continued to permit detained immigrants to head out onto the roof for recreation until 10:00pm under the supervision of guards and matrons.[14]

While the rooftop gardens were surrounded by a high-iron fence to prevent escapes, the area was transformed into a “veritable Paradise of gorgeous flowers and greens that are exceedingly restful to the eye, and which, needless to state, are more than appreciated by the immigrants.”[15] In June 1925, Abbé Casgrain, on behalf of the Catholic Immigration Association of Canada, requested on the “grounds of public morality” to have the gates separating men and women on either side of the fence to be put back in place.[16] The Dominion Immigration Agent at Québec informed his superiors in Ottawa that the intermingling of sexes on the roof gardens greatly assisted his officials as visitation between the sexes often countered the effects of detention, and helped break the monotony that detainees felt while in custody.[17] Guards were also visible on the roof at all times. The rooftop gardens were a way for husbands, wives, and children to see each other, and for detained immigrants to find exercise and recreation. In order to create a leisurely area, four thousand potted plants were placed in the roof garden.[18] Not satisfied with this development, Casgrain solicited the support of Conservative MP for Kent, Alexander Doucet, who also wrote letters of protest indicating that “prostitutes” were permitted to intermingle with immigrants in the roof garden. While Casgrain and Doucet claimed the matron and guard for each of the British and foreign quarters could not be in two places at the same time, immigration officials disagreed with their assertions and decided to continue maintaining the daily rooftop interaction between immigrants.

In the spring of 1924, the Department of Health informed immigration officials in Ottawa that the immigration building on the Louise Embankment should continue to accommodate the reception of minor infectious cases not apparent earlier at Grosse Île. Health officials sought to prevent the spread of diseases including: smallpox, cholera, typhus, venereal diseases, rabies, tuberculosis, influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid fever, and contain sick immigrants prior to their travel across Canada.[19] Serious infections and diseases were examined in the Matron’s Quarters formerly occupied by a Ms. Tremblay (following renovations) including when the treatment of a large number of passengers from one vessel warranted a depot or receiving station before they were transferred to Savard Park Hospital.[20] During the travel season, staff at Savard Park included a male cook, a female assistant cook, two ward maids, a charwoman (cleaner), and three guards.[21]

On the evening of 28 February 1925, a severe earthquake struck Québec. The immigration building was badly damaged. The brick walls, cement pillars, roof, heating apparatus, and boiler room required extensive renovations. The north side of the building was in worse condition than other parts of the facility. The cement roof fell in and the adjacent grain elevator suffered minor damage. The Quebec Daily Telegraph noted that Shed 29 on the Louise Embankment was to be condemned. The QHC later met with members of the Federal Cabinet to discuss the damages and how to proceed with rebuilding. Similarly, officials in attendance considered the work being conducted to develop the l’Anse-au-Foulon (Wolfe’s Cove) Terminals. The federal government later approved a $5 million loan to the QHC for the construction of a half-mile deep water dock for future shipping and passenger travel at the site.[22]

Two years later, tragedy struck again. On 25 March 1927, shed 18 on the breakwater wharf at the Louise Embankment was destroyed by fire along with 300 feet of the overland passageway connecting the shed with the immigration building.[23] Immigration officials corresponded with the Department of Public Works, who were responsible for the passageway. Public Works officials agreed to rebuild the passageway at a cost of $350, and in time for transatlantic passenger travel in the spring.[24] During the year, l’Anse-au-Foulon was refitted as a naval dockyard and was also used as a petroleum terminal, a site for the shipment of lumber, and as a gare maritime (maritime station) for ship passengers. During the summer, between 750 and 1,000 men were employed in day and night shifts to complete the foundation work. Approximately, 18 million feet of British Columbia fir was required to construct the cribs for docking. In September, the new terminal of wharves boasted a large deep water docking wall that was completed prior to the close of the navigation season. The construction of deep water docks permitted vessels too large to dock at the Louise Embankment to berth at l’Anse–au-Foulon.[25]

Infrastructure was not the only change to the Port of Québec. On 13 May 1928, the Sisters of Service came to Québec to serve Catholic immigrants. That year, they witnessed the arrival of over 129 vessels with more than 15,201 Catholic passengers including: 5,080 British, 2,398 Ukrainians, 824 Belgians, 688 Italians, 593 Germans, 261 French, 106 Polish, and 3,651 persons of many other diverse nationalities. The usual procedure for welcoming immigrants was to first obtain the passenger list with the names of Catholic passengers aboard. The Sisters of Service attempted to greet as many of the passengers as possible in their native language. Books, newspapers, and pamphlets printed in various languages including: French, Polish, Italian, and Ukrainian were handed out to the newcomers. Once they were examined and admitted into Canada, there was usually a waiting period of one to three hours before the departure of their train. Once Catholic immigrants arrived at their final destination, the Sisters of Service forwarded their names to the local Catholic Women’s League in urban areas, and to a parish priest in rural areas for follow-up.[26]

Conclusion

Originally clustered at the Bassin Louise, Québec’s port area on the Louise Embankment included dedicated railway tracks, administrative buildings, offices, and an immigration facility. From Confederation to the Great Depression, the Port of Québec’s immigration facility changed due to numerous infrastructure, environmental, and sociopolitical events including: shortages of municipal water; lack of proper heating, an earthquake, a hurricane, alleged unsanitary conditions in detention rooms, and suspected immoral fraternizing between men and women on the rooftop garden. Throughout its existence, the Port of Québec’s main purpose was economic trade emphasized by the importation and exportation of goods and materials, and passenger transportation largely represented by transatlantic passenger travel. The Great Depression profoundly altered how trade and travel was conducted in the port area. The introduction of Order-in-Council P.C. 695 (21 March 1931) closed Canada’s gates to immigration except agriculturalists with “sufficient means to maintain themselves” until employment was secured. Wives, unmarried children under the age of eighteen, or fiancées of men already residing in Canada were also admissible, meanwhile American citizens and British subjects from United Kingdom, Ireland, Newfoundland, Union of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand were permitted to enter Canada as immigrants.[27] The Port of Québec also witnessed the deportation of unemployed immigrants. As trade and immigration declined, the Port of Québec had its own share of distress as it was saddled with a considerable deficit due to the global financial crisis. As a result, a study was commissioned by the federal government to evaluate the Port of Québec’s financial situation and to determine a way forward. In 1936, the Gibbs report was published. Subsequently, the QHC was dissolved and the Port of Québec was nationalized. In place of the QHC, a National Harbours Board (NHB) was introduced. Prior to these changes, the port area which was officially referred to as “Québec Harbour,” was replaced with “Port of Québec” – a term depicting the port area’s geographic sector and not its administration.[28]

Very little remains of the old port of Québec. There is little to remind us of the port area’s historic past at the intersection of migration, health, economy, technology, and transportation. Anthropologist Andrée Gendreau concludes that “…the huge cruise ships docked there [now] are a far cry from the vessels from which waves of immigrants once debarked. The city is alive. It may change under the influence of events and circumstances, but the magnificent site on which it stands continues to shape it throughout the passing centuries – through desires, dreams, doldrums, and challenges.”[29]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Archival Collections

Library and Archives Canada
Immigration Branch (RG 76)

Newspaper Collections

Quebec Daily Telegraph
Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph
Toronto Globe

Government Publications

Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. House of Commons Debates:
Official Report Third Session – Twentieth Parliament, Volume 3
.
Ottawa: King’s Printer and Controller of Stationery, 1947.

Secondary Sources

Articles

Quebec. Provincial Bureau of Health. “The Development of Public Health
in the Province of Quebec.” Canadian Public Health Journal
25.5 (1934): 205-217.

Websites

Port de Québec. “History: Then and Now.” Accessed 4 March 2015.
http://www.portquebec.ca/en/about/port-authority/history.


  1. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 665, file C1077 “Inspection of Immigrants,” newspaper article, Frank Yeigh, “The Human Inflow into Canada,” Toronto Globe, 21 May 1921.
  2. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 665, file C1077 “Inspection of Immigrants,” newspaper article, Frank Yeigh, “The Human Inflow into Canada,” Toronto Globe, 21 May 1921. See also Frank Yeigh, “Entraining and Distributing the Immigrant,” Toronto Globe, 4 Jun. 1921. Available in the same file.
  3. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, part 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” memorandum from unknown to Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 23 Jan. 1924.
  4. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from J.B. Hunter, Deputy Minister, Department of Public Works to W.J. Egan, Deputy Minister, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 2 Jan. 1924.
  5. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from Dr. Emile Nadeau, Medical Officer, Port of Quebec to Dr. J.D. Pagé, Chief, Division of Quarantine, Department of Health, 11 Dec. 1923.
  6. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigrant Agent to W.R. Little, Commissioner of Immigration, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 30 Jan. 1924.
  7. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from A.L. Jolliffe, Division Commissioner on behalf of Deputy Minister, Department of Immigration and Colonization to J.B. Hunter, Deputy Minister, Department of Public Works, 15 Mar. 1924.
  8. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 684, file 802, pt. 16 “Immigration Building, Quebec City, Quebec (plans),” press release, Department of Immigration and Colonization to Canadian Press, 28 Apr. 1921.
  9. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” newspaper article, “Making Immigration Block Comfortable and Picturesque,” Quebec Daily Telegraph, 25 Jun. 1924.
  10. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigration Agent to J.S. Fraser, Division Commissioner, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 3 Apr. 1924; LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigration Agent to W.R. Little, Commissioner of Immigration, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 2 Nov. 1923.
  11. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigration Agent, Quebec to W.R. Little, Colonization Branch, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 2 Jul. 1927.
  12. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigration Agent to W.R. Little, Commissioner of Immigration, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 2 Nov. 1923.
  13. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from Abbé Philippe Casgrain to E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigration Agent, Quebec, 10 Jun. 1925.
  14. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” memorandum from J.S. Fraser, Division Commissioner to A.L. Jolliffe, Division Commissioner, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 19 May 1924.
  15. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” newspaper article, “Making Immigration Block Comfortable and Picturesque,” Quebec Daily Telegraph, 25 Jun. 1924.
  16. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from Abbé Philippe Casgrain to E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigration Agent, Quebec, 10 Jun. 1925.
  17. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, part 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from E.J. O’Connell, Dominion Immigration Agent, Quebec to J.S. Fraser, Divisional Commissioner of Immigration, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 14 Oct. 1925.
  18. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” newspaper article, “Making Immigration Block Comfortable and Picturesque,” Quebec Daily Telegraph, 25 Jun. 1924.
  19. For an overview of the development of public health in Quebec, see Provincial Bureau of Health, “The Development of Public Health in the Province of Quebec,” Canadian Public Health Journal 25.5 (1934): 205-217.
  20. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from J.A. Amyot, Deputy Minister, Department of Health to A.L. Jolliffe, Division Commissioner, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 5 Apr. 1924; LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from W.J. Egan, Deputy Minister, Department of Immigration and Colonization to J.B. Hunter, Deputy Minister, Department of Public Works, 16 Apr. 1924.
  21. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” memorandum from A.L. Jolliffe, Division Commissioner to J.S. Fraser, Commissioner of Immigration, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 2 Apr. 1924.
  22. “Now Half a Mile Deep Water Dock Added to Harbor: Work at Wolfe’s Cove Will Be Completed by End of 1928,” Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, 7 Oct. 1927, 1.
  23. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, pt. 2 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from J.P. Mathieu, Division Commissioner of Immigration to J.S. Fraser, Commissioner of Immigration, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 25 Mar. 1927.
  24. LAC, IB, RG 76, vol. 667, file C1596, part 1 “Immigration Building, Quebec, P.Q.,” letter from Deputy Minister, Department of Public Works to Deputy Minister, Department of Immigration and Colonization, 4 Apr. 1927.
  25. “Complete Foundation for Quebec’s New Docking Terminal at Wolfe’s Cove with Placing of Last Crib,” Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, 26 Sep. 1927, 1.
  26. “Aid Immigration Work in Quebec: Important Part Played By the Sisters of Service at Ancient Capital Port,” Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, 27 Dec. 1927, 8.
  27. Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, House of Commons Debates: Official Report, Third Session – Twentieth Parliament, Volume 3 (Ottawa: King’s Printer and Controller of Stationery, 1947), 2644.
  28. Port de Québec, “History: Then and Now.” Accessed 4 Mar. 2015. http://www.portquebec.ca/en/about/port-authority/history.
  29. Andrée Gendreau, “Québec City, Now and Then: A Review Essay,” Public Historian 31.1 (2009), 116.