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Soap bar

The “Imperial” soap from the J. Barsalou Company is the first soap to be manufactured industrially in Montreal. Founded in 1875, the company was owned by a prominent Montreal businessman, Joseph Barsalou, and his children.

Prior to the mid-19th century, the use of soap for personal care was still negligible; its use was essentially limited to household tasks such as washing dishes and floors. At that time, soap was handmade from the available animal fat and ashes. It is called household soap.

The mechanization of the manufacturing process developed by the Barsalou family greatly increases productivity, which lowers the price of the product and makes it more accessible. Most households can now buy soap at a lower cost at the general store. On the shelves of the general store, one can also see soap bars from the popular Sunlight Company.

In the late 19th century, microbes and their role in the spread of disease are discovered: Hygiene becomes a central aspect of human health. As a result of these scientific advances, the sanitary movement advocates for popular education in hygiene to prevent the spread of disease. This movement generates a new “cleanliness market”.


Date: 1875–1935

Origin: Montréal

Owner: Magasin général historique authentique 1928. Percé.


Héritage Montréal (with Écomusée du fier monde). (2020, October 20). Barsalou / Familex old factory. memento: Together for the protection of the metropolitan heritage. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://memento.heritagemontreal.org/en/site/barsalou-familex-old-factory/

Goulet, D. (2002). Le mouvement hygiéniste au Québec [The hygienist movement in Quebec]. Cap-aux-Diamants, 70, 17–20. https://id.erudit.org/iderudit/7571ac

Hardy, J.-P. (2001). La vie quotidienne dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent [Daily life in the St. Lawrence valley]. Septentrion.

Benoit, J. (n.d.). BARSALOU, JOSEPH. In Dictionary of Canadian Bibliography. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barsalou_joseph_12F.html

Illustration: Soap bar