Black & white aerial view of the hotel & River at Hotel Moco

Our History

​Erected on the remnants of one of the most important textile mills of the past century, the Montreal Cotton Company, the hotel bears witness to the industrial heritage that influenced the city’s growth and workers conditions across the province of Quebec. The unique architecture, photos and historical artifacts exhibited within our walls are a testament to it.

Black & white image of an industrial factory near Hotel Moco
Black & white image of people walking on the street, Hotel Moco
Black & white image of an industrial factory near Hotel Moco

The cotton industry was the outcome of British ingenuity and venture capital. Previously, cotton had been imported from Great Britain and the United States. But the American Civil War slowed cotton production south of the border, resulting in a flood of textile plants coming north, which in turn led to the fast growth of Canada’s cotton industry in New Brunswick, Ontario and more specifically Quebec, where conditions were highly favourable to light industry.


This construction wave started in the early 1870s, following the increase in customs tariffs for imported textile products. Ten years later, investors were able to reach agreements by which production could be diversified and overproduction controlled. But these agreements were difficult to uphold, and two Montreal industrialists gained controlling interests and bought several mills. Andrew Frederick Gault and David Morrice had tremendous wealth and, as a result, most textile mills ended up within 160 km of Montreal. Their plants benefited from an abundant labour force. The proximity of markets and access to railroads helped to stabilize and strengthen their business ventures until WWII. Thanks to tariff protection and large capital investments, textile became one of the most prolific industries in Canada. The textile industry provided thousands of jobs, mostly for women and children. All of this led to the arrival of the Montreal Cotton Company to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. Nicknamed "Canada’s Fortress", this cotton mill was the largest in Canada for nearly one hundred years.​

The architects designed buildings of monumental proportions, somewhat resembling a medieval castle with crenellated towers and bridges to the mills. The first part of the factory was completed in March 1877, and the last, in 1898. State-of-the-art equipment was imported from Great Britain and the Montreal Cotton Co. produced its first piece of fabric in May of that year.


The spinning mills were given nicknames over time. The “Old Montreal Mill” became “La Vieille” because it was the oldest structure. The southernmost building was called “South Mill”, and the “Louise” building was named after Queen Victoria’s daughter. “Empire” was homage to England and, finally, the last facility to be built was named “Gault”, after one of the founders and company president, Andrew F. Gault.


Most immigrants employed at the Montreal Cotton Co. came from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Many techniques and machines had been developed there, along with trade schools. Therefore, the company recruited English-speaking workers from the British Isles because they had the experience and qualifications needed for sound management and operation of the factory’s machines. For their part, French-Canadians made up a strong labour force. Noteworthy is the fact that the sponsors were partial to their countrymen, giving them management positions and the best-paying jobs.

While all or nearly all management staff was made up of unilingual English speakers, not all English-speaking employees were management. Some of them worked as spinners, weavers, or mechanics. However, for the most part, they did not associate with the local French population, which created friction and sporadic hostility in the younger generation. But generally both sides minded their own business.


At work, English dominated as the working language, and English vocabulary was francized; for example, strapping machine became strappeuse, and weaved or spun became wivé. Other words were abridged, such as factory ("factri"), Empire ("empy"), and Dominion Textile ("Dompi").


In these early days of industrialisation, spinning mills determined wages and working hours. For many years children worked alongside their parents and employees learned their jobs pretty much by hit and miss. Generally, employees spent 8-12 hours per day together. At one time, 50% of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield’s population worked for the Montreal Cotton Co.

Wool and cotton factories were the first Canadian companies to hire young women and adolescents. In Canada, they made up the majority of textile industry labourers. At the end of the 19th century, a law was enacted making it illegal to hire boys under 12 and girls under 14. Nevertheless, nearly 20% of spinning mill employees were aged 12 to 24. Parents tampered with their children’s birth certificates to bring extra income into the household.


In addition to harsh conditions – heat, humidity, and noise – wages were much lower than in the printing, footwear, and construction industries. In Montreal, at the beginning of the 20th century, children made between $1.50 and $1.80 for a 60-hour week!


Large-scale cotton production required state-of-the-art machinery. Before WWI, muscular strength was not a prerequisite to operating the machinery. Consequently, women made up a large part of the textile industry’s employees.


They were often relegated to specific departments, to work on weaving looms for example, or assigned to jobs requiring speed and dexterity. Up to the 1950s, more than half of the women mill workers were single and between the ages of 20 and 34.

Black & white image of ladies working in a factory, Hotel Moco
Black & white image of an industrial factory near Hotel Moco

Early in its tenure, the Montreal Cotton Co. invested in the town’s cultural infrastructures with organized leisure activities, and provided various public services. Urban development was marked by the creation of a complete neighbourhood of rental houses for their employees. The quarter had two very interesting features: it was probably the province’s first company town, and its architecture and layout were entirely new to Quebec at the time.


The employer wanted his workers to have proper housing and their children to get some level of schooling. Among others, a school and churches were built. Although its official name was Bellerive, this part of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield was known as the English Quarter, as nearly all the English-speaking employees of the company lived there. The company’s cultural infrastructures, such as the Moco Club, were mostly frequented by the English. The French-Canadian labourers did not have the time or the means to buy memberships.


Content sourced from The MUSO