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Industrial Revolution (1854-1918)

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The railway had an enormous impact on the economy and on life in general in the Eastern Townships. One English settler described it best in a letter to his grandfather back in England:

We feel the effects of the railroad to Sherbrooke already. The storekeepers have lowered their prices, for if they did not there are plenty of people in Montreal prepared to sell against them. The freighting on heavy articles such as flour, salt, etc., is a mere trifle now to what it was when everything was drawn by carts. Lumber is in great demand, so that the farmers will have more chance now, and I think Sherbrooke will become quite a place of business. There is much more money stirring in town than there used to be, double as much, I reckon.

Railways opened up new markets not only to farmers but to wood and mineral producers as well. Manufacturers also expanded production. Mills which once catered to small local markets were now able to reach all of Canada. The Paton Textile Mill, for example, founded in Sherbrooke in 1867, would become the largest in the country.

The Eastern Townships' economy continued to grow during the second half of the 19th century, while much of the Quebec and Canadian economies remained depressed. More jobs were now available for the sons and daughters of rural families and for new immigrants. As with the Industrial Revolution elsewhere, however, there were casualties. Hours were long, wages low, and working conditions poor. Small-scale producers and businesses were often put out of business by cheaper goods brought in from outside by the railways or by those produced locally in the new, more efficient factories.