It is worth remembering that most children in Quebec City’s English-speaking community did not play with the types of toys shown in this exhibit. In 1901, over half the English-speaking working men in Quebec were manual labourers, and could not afford miniature porcelain toilet sets for their children.
Yet children, being children, still played. They played ball games, variations on tag, and wandered unsupervised while letting their imaginations run wild, sometimes getting up to no good. They played with cards, marbles, jacks, jump ropes, and—if they had artistic relatives—homemade toys.
Poorer children and orphans had less time for play, as they were expected to pull their own weight at an earlier age. In the 1880s, children in Quebec could work 10-hour days in factories. Some labeled cigarette packages at LeMesurier’s tobacco factory for 20 cents a day; others whaleboned corsets at the Dominion Corset factory. Quebec’s orphanages, such as Saint Bridget’s Asylum for Irish Catholics or the Church of England Orphan Asylums for Protestant children, placed out children as live-in domestics or farmhands.
In this light, it is interesting to consider the miniature washboard and miniature kitchen sets that daughters of the wealthy played with. Many of these elite girls would grow up to have servants to cook and clean. Meanwhile, other girls their same age were working with actual washboards, pots, and pans, which they certainly did not see as play items.