Erza Butler Eddy came to the Hull area in 1851. A young man from Vermont, he had little money, but began building himself an empire. He rented the second floor of a blacksmith’s workshop, where he and his wife made matches using bits of wood discarded by the local sawmills. They dipped the matches by hand, boxed them and sold them door to door.

Over the next 10 years, Eddy expanded his operations to include lumber. He sold wooden pails, washboards and clothespins. By 1870, he owned a match factory that produced nearly a million matches per day.

The E. B. Eddy Company survived fire and a changing economy by remaining flexible. For example, when the lumber industry began to decline, Eddy made the switch to pulp and paper. He died in 1906, but the company continued to prosper. It was one of the largest employers in the Hull and Ottawa area for more than a century. The company changed ownership several times, and parts of it were bought out by other companies, but its paper mills remained in operation in the area until 2007.
Erza Butler Eddy came to the Hull area in 1851. A young man from Vermont, he had little money, but began building himself an empire. He rented the second floor of a blacksmith’s workshop, where he and his wife made matches using bits of wood discarded by the local sawmills. They dipped the matches by hand, boxed them and sold them door to door.

Over the next 10 years, Eddy expanded his operations to include lumber. He sold wooden pails, washboards and clothespins. By 1870, he owned a match factory that produced nearly a million matches per day.

The E. B. Eddy Company survived fire and a changing economy by remaining flexible. For example, when the lumber industry began to decline, Eddy made the switch to pulp and paper. He died in 1906, but the company continued to prosper. It was one of the largest employers in the Hull and Ottawa area for more than a century. The company changed ownership several times, and parts of it were bought out by other companies, but its paper mills remained in operation in the area until 2007.

© 2013, National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Printed advertisement showing the E.B. Eddy Manufacturing Company.

At various points in its history, the E. B. Eddy Manufacturing Company has produced lumber and boards, matches, pulp, chemical pulp and a wide variety of paper products.

Mortimer Litho. Co
1884
Library and Archives Canada / C-121146


At the turn of the 20th century, the French-Canadian working class made up 80 percent of Hull’s population. For working-class women, there were three options for survival: they could join a convent, they could get married or they could work in a factory. Women’s factory work was mainly limited to jobs that required dexterity and concentration, such as working in a textile or match factory. In Hull, Quebec, working in a match factory meant working at the E. B. Eddy match company.

Who were the match factory workers? Most of them were French-Canadian women. They tended to be young and unmarried, some as young as 12 or 13 years old, who would do factory work until they married. Others were widows or, like Donalda Charron, spinsters. They worked 48-hour weeks. They were sometimes paid by piece (a certain amount for every box of matches produced, for example) but, by 1921, most were earning an hourly wage of $0.15 to $0.37. (Compare this with the wage for skilled bricklayers, who earned about $0.80 an hour.) They were grossly underpaid, even by the standards of the time.

These female match workers, known as allumettières, worked dipping matches in pho Read More
At the turn of the 20th century, the French-Canadian working class made up 80 percent of Hull’s population. For working-class women, there were three options for survival: they could join a convent, they could get married or they could work in a factory. Women’s factory work was mainly limited to jobs that required dexterity and concentration, such as working in a textile or match factory. In Hull, Quebec, working in a match factory meant working at the E. B. Eddy match company.

Who were the match factory workers? Most of them were French-Canadian women. They tended to be young and unmarried, some as young as 12 or 13 years old, who would do factory work until they married. Others were widows or, like Donalda Charron, spinsters. They worked 48-hour weeks. They were sometimes paid by piece (a certain amount for every box of matches produced, for example) but, by 1921, most were earning an hourly wage of $0.15 to $0.37. (Compare this with the wage for skilled bricklayers, who earned about $0.80 an hour.) They were grossly underpaid, even by the standards of the time.

These female match workers, known as allumettières, worked dipping matches in phosphorus (which was what made the matches combustible), or putting them in boxes. The work was dangerous for two reasons. First, inhalation of the phosphorus fumes could lead to maxillary necrosis, a condition where the bones of the jaw decayed and died. It was known as “phossy jaw,” and is one of the reasons that various countries began banning the use of white phosphorus in the making of matches as early as the 1870s. Canada banned white phosphorus matches in 1914.

But the ban on white phosphorus did not resolve the second danger, which was fire. Early matches were “strike-anywhere,” which meant that any friction could cause them to ignite. There were sometimes as many as 20 small fires a day with which to contend. The women often worked with pails of water nearby so they could put out small fires before they spread. Many match workers were injured or died in factory fires. Scarred hands and faces were very common.

But even those who escaped “phossy jaw” and dangerous fires had a difficult life. Illness was common and often deadly. Hull’s working poor subsisted on a diet of bread and fat. The working class were so poorly paid that they could not afford luxuries like fruits and vegetables. This poor nutrition, combined with long hours and cold winters, put people at risk for diseases like measles, influenza and scarlet fever. Poor sanitary conditions led to cholera and typhoid.

© 2013, National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Photo showing a working class neighbourhood in Hull, Quebec.

This photo was taken in the 1940s, but it still gives a sense of the way match factory workers and other working poor would have lived in the 1920s. They lived in small, wooden houses, and paid rent to wealthy English-speaking landowners. Fires were very common, and could sweep through a neighbourhood very quickly.

National Capital Commission
c. 1940
Greber Collection / National Capital Commission


Learning Objectives

Students will describe working conditions for Hull match workers at the start of the 20th century, describe living conditions for the Hull working class at the start of the 20th century, and identify the E. B. Eddy Company as a key employer in the Ottawa–Hull area.

This collection of learning objects was created by the National Capital Commission to support a lesson plan for an activity where students create a fake Facebook wall that tells the story of Donalda Charron and the E. B. Eddy match company. This is part of the “Voices of the Capital” virtual exhibit.


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