By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
By the late 1800s, 750 km of streets in Montreal were served by only 140 km of poorly constructed sewers. The infant mortality rate among the poor and numerous outbreaks of infectious diseases in Montreal was at a staggering rate.
Between 1843 and 1949, due to the concern for public health and hygiene, the City of Montreal constructed many municipal public baths in working class neighbourhoods where bathrooms and hot water were not present. During the great depression, the city continued to construct these baths to counter the rising unemployment.
In 1931, Bain Schubert was built. It was named after its founder, Joseph Schubert, a prominent labour organizer, public health advocate, and the first Jewish city councilor in Montreal in the 1920s and 1930s, representing the interests of Montreal’s immigrant Jewish community.
As alderman, Schubert addressed the spread of diseases due to overcrowding and unsanitary working conditions. During the Depression, he was commissioned to write a report on unemployment and relief distribution across North America. His recommendations struck a chord, as public spending on Montreal’s public health was the lowest proportionally in North America, an embarrassment given that the city had the highest infant death rate on the continent, and the largest number of tuberculosis patients. The report resulted in the creation of the Public Health Commission, in which Schubert was active in creating measures to prevent the spreading of disease. In a 1931 health initiative, Schubert built a public bath house for immigrant families lacking access to hot water.
It was not until the 1950s that standard bathroom fittings became readily available to every home, and the use of public baths started to decline. In 1956, seeing the growing trend of recreational aquatics, the city began to renovate public baths into swimming pools, but as the standard for new pools reached olympic proportions, the need for public bath buildings diminished, and many were threatened with closure or demolition. However, Montreal has conserved many of these baths, considered today to be a heritage ensemble illustrating the social programs and public hygiene movements of the city, offering a portrait of civic architecture, most notably from the Great Depression era of the 1930s. Although a few public baths have been demolished or converted for other uses, most continue to operate as their original design intended. The tan brick art-deco style Bain Schubert, with its gracefully curved roof, was restored and remains in use as a public pool today, offering the citizens a place to relax or train in different water sports.
Bain Schubert is located at 3950 St. Laurent Blvd, at the corner of Bagg in Montreal
Source: Museum of Jewish Montreal / Heritage Montreal