History

Westmount’s History

This section of Westmount’s Internet site is devoted to the history of the city, a legacy that has helped define Westmount as one of the premiere municipalities in Canada. From the time of the earliest settlers, each resident has put their own unique stamp on the city, helping to shape the modest community, and embracing an ever-present enthusiasm for tradition and heritage. Under that care, Westmount has blossomed into a city where urban convenience and country ambience exist together, in a comfortable partnership valued by all its citizens. There is no better way to understand this dichotomy than by reading the city’s own story.

For more information on the history of Westmount, contact the Westmount Historical Association. Located in the Westmount Public Library, the WHA Archives include approximately 1600 photographs, along with smaller collections of ephemera, pamphlets and personal papers. It is a true treasure trove of historical materials. Consult the WHA Web site at www.westmounthistorical.org.

iroquois quebec

In one respect Westmount has the longest history of any locality in America, north of Mexico. An ancient Indian burying ground discovered in 1898 on and adjoining the grounds of St. George Club on the Upper Level (not the Summit), near the corner of Aberdeen Avenue and The Boulevard, apparently belonged to a period previous to the fifteenth century.

The type of burial, (each body being covered in its grave by large flat stones placed in the shape of an A), appears to be related to the Stone-lined graves of the Illinois and other ancient Algonguin tribes of the Mississippi Valley, and was different from that of the Hochelagans who occupied the Island of Montreal from about the year 1400. The Westmount Indian graves also do not contain any pottery or other objects resembling those of the Hochelagans.

They, therefore, evidently belong to a time earlier than the fifteenth century. The Hochelagans following the People of the Stone-lined graves were the second known possessors of the site of Westmount.

Historical Sketch of Westmount by William Douw Lighthall at the request of Westmount City Council, 1920 consult the full text on the Westmount Historical Association’s Web site.

french arrive

The first occupation on the site during this period, was the establishment by the Seminary of St. Sulpice in 1684, of the Fort Des Messieurs, the extensive establishment of which the two early towers and some walls at the College de Montreal are the remnant. It was built so as to remove the mission Indians of Montreal from the influence of dissolute traders of the town. And while the buildings are not within the actual limits of Westmount, the lands of the establishment occupy a considerable part of this city, and these Indians are known to have made habitual use of a number of neighborhoods within it, such as the elm tree, and the ‘Indian Wells’ of the Raynes and Murray property.

During the earlier years of the eighteenth century, concessions of farm land running in strips up to and across the top of Westmount Mountain were made to various French settlers by the Seminary, as Seigneurs of the Island. Such was the origin of the old farms now divided into lots and covered with houses. The first house was the quaint stone cottage of the St. Germain family, overlooking Lansdowne Avenue from above the Cote St. Antoine Road, and having its great wooden cross before it. The Murray farm on the east, between Belmont and Murray Avenues, contained a similar cottage belonging to the Leducs, who owned the farm up to 1847. Traces of their dwelling can still be seen. In those days two roads partly traversed the locality from east to west – the earliest of which was ‘the Road through the Woods’ to Lachine, or Upper Lachine Road, the other the Cote St. Antoine Road.

A number of interesting local traditions exist concerning the French period – burying of silver and valuables by the Hurtubises and Leducs when part of General Amherst’s Army, arriving to capture Montreal in 1760, occupied the heights along the Cote Des Neiges Road; the killing of the first St. Germain by an ambushed Iroquois in the Ravine of the present Westmount Park. The ceremony of exorcism of an insane daughter of the St. Germains by being ‘passed through fire’ in front of the house; Indian photographs on trees in the Ravine; and so forth. The little Ville of Montreal at this period seemed far away.

Historical Sketch of Westmount by William Douw Lighthall at the request of Westmount City Council, 1920.

capitulation

For two generations after the Conquest there was very little change in the rural countryside of old Cote St. Antoine. Several of the old North West Fur Merchants established country seats here – such as William Hallowell and John Clarke. In later times others such as William Bowman, William Murray, Hon. John Young and Dr. Selby, bought old farms and built country seats, some of which their descendants still enjoy.

In time ‘the Cote’ became part of the Parish of St. Henri, a subdivision of the original Parish of Montreal, and under the Municipal Act of 1849 was in due course governed by parish municipal law. In 1874, it and Notre Dame de Grace were detached from St. Henri and Cote St. Antoine became an incorporated Village. The late Honorable James Kewley Ward was Mayor for 9 years. In 1890 the Village having made some progress as a residential suburb and attained the vast population of 1850 was incorporated as a Town under the name of The Town of Cote St. Antoine. In 1893 Sherbrooke Street was opened across the place and became at once the principal thoroughfare. In 1894 the Town was reached by electric railway which brought about striking changes in its outlook and general spirit.

An interesting area of town planning was now inaugurated, the general result being the transformation of a rural village into a beautiful modern city. By 1902 the population had reached 10,000, all the principal streets were opened and controlled by building restriction lines and provided with the best of obtainable pavements and sidewalks, a successful lighting plant was erected, a large public meeting hall, attractive parks, a filtered water system and the first civic public library in the Province of Quebec.

Historical Sketch of Westmount by William Douw Lighthall at the request of Westmount City Council, 1920.

In 1895 the Town of Cote St. Antoine changed its name to become the Town of Westmount. During the period from 1895 to 1908 when the Town got its charter and became the City of Westmount, the area saw its greatest period of growth. Ambitious civic projects were undertaken and much of the framework for the City’s present status was established.

The Town as a whole was developing rapidly, with more housing, increased commercial activity and improved municipal services. Streets were ploughed in winter by the Town’s Roads’ department and the wooden sidewalks were gradually being replaced with paving stones.

At the police station the constables were given smart uniforms modeled on those of the British ‘Bobby’. The well-known hat, with its tall rounded top, was issued in blue for winter wear and white for summer when it was regularly whitened and placed on posts outside the station to dry.

Pure water was supplied by a Montreal company and a municipal power plant was installed using a remarkable new system, the first in Canada, which drew its power from burning garbage waste, the whole plant tucked discreetly in the hollow of the Glen.

Regular public transport was making it easier to reach Westmount from Montreal and once within the town it was possible to reach every part of the district by streetcar. The loop around the lower town was proving to be ‘a service better than contracted for’ noted in the Council minutes.

It was streetcars which brought shops and offices crowding into the two main commercial zones at each end of the town. Stores for the most part were family owned and run and became familiar ground to both parents and children.

Yet in spite of increasing commercial activity and an energetic building program, by 1907 only 16% of Westmount’s land was built over so that it was still possible to breathe country air and run through open fields.

The difference from the big city was visible as soon as you reached Westmount’s eastern boundary. One resident recalled, “When we came to live on Elm avenue it was all fields nearby, no houses just open fields. In the summer the military would bivouac there, pitch their tents and graze their horses in the fields. It was very exciting and colourful to see.”

These facilities gave the town an urban-rural mix which proved especially attractive to families with young children. The parents, most of whom were earning modest incomes, were also drawn to Westmount by the very practical advantage of low taxes, never more than half, often less than a third of those levied in Montreal. An older generation, living in Montreal was less enthusiastic. ‘Do you really think it wise’ cautioned one father to his son ‘to go and live so far in the country!’. And many parents were reluctant to make the journey to visit their children after they had moved ‘such a great distance away.’

Text by Aline Gubbay of the Westmount Historical Association.

vic hall

Early in 1898, while the Library was being built, a petition was presented to the Town Council. It was signed by over 300 residents and it requested the building of a municipal centre to house public meetings, a lodge room for fraternal meetings, a gymnasium, baths, and a curling rink.

The only public rooms available at this time were those in Elm Hall. Not many facilities existed for indoor exercise and sport, one of the few being the Heather Curling Club. Because of this exception the Council, while receptive to the idea of a community centre, decided not to include a curling rink, but in other respects it agreed to build the facility as requested.

Funds were allocated, $25 000, a little more generous than they had been for the Library, but in view of the facilities to be provided hardly lavish. A location was chosen close to the Library. Building began and in September 1899 Victoria Hall, as the Centre was named, opened to the public.

Text by Aline Gubbay of the Westmount Historical Association.

In 1897 communities large and small throughout the British Empire, prepared to observe the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne. In Westmount a municipal ‘Jubillee’ badge was issued and Victoria Day itself was celebrated with the firing of a cannon on the open ground in front of St. George’s Snowshoe Club, a childrens’ display in Westmount Park and, later that night, a dazzling fireworks spectacle.

But the council was interested in a more lasting project and a group was appointed to consider options. The final decision of ‘Westmount’s Permanent Memorial of the General Jubilee Celebration Committee’ was to build a Free Public Library. This was an unusual decision for its time and place since this would become the first such Library in the Province of Quebec.

After careful study a site was chosen at the rim of sixteen acres of land South of Sherbrooke Street and tentatively named ‘Victoria Jubilee Park”. It had proved difficult terrain for farming and had been left virtually untouched.

It provided a glorious setting for the proposed Library. An additional asset was the Sherbrooke streetcar line which ran along the upper edge of the park and provided convenient access to the site.

The Council, with its parsimonious approach to spending money was gratified that the funds arrived from an unexpected source. The Coates Gas Company defaulted on a contract and the money gained could be applied to the library project. Nevertheless every item was scrutinized. Council members were ruthless in whittling away at the architect’s proposals and when the Library opened, in 1899, the building, furniture, fittings, together with an inventory of two thousand books, had been acquired for less than $17,000.

Military History

The Royal Montreal Regiment prides itself as being one of the premier Reserve Infantry Regiments in Canada, having distinguished itself in WWI and WWII as well as having members serve in Korea, Golan, Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Africa, and Afghanistan. The RMR was Canada’s first officially bilingual unit.

The serving battalion consists of the RMR members on active duty and has a mission to produce trained infanteers for the service of Canada.

RMR Centennial 2014

The Royal Montreal Regiment (RMR) was born in 1914 to fight World War 1. Typical of Canada’s sacrifice in the horrors of this war, 75% of those who served in the RMR became a casualty, and 1,192 RMR’s died in the mud of France & Flanders. The Regiment also fought in WW2 and has served in virtually every theatre of operation that Canada has participated in since.

RMR in Westmount

The Westmount Historical Association coordinated a presentation on April 17, 2014 as part of its lecture series which was held in the Armoury on Ste-Catherine Street – the RMR’s home. Honorary lieutenant-colonel Colin Robinson presented photos and stories from the regiment’s 100 years of service; click on the file below (the RMR – Westmount’s regiment) to view the presentation.

Find out more about the Royal Montreal Regiment at www.royalmontrealregiment.com

This War Service Roll contains the names of the citizens and employees of the City of Westmount, as well as those residing in Westmount for the greater part of their lives, who were on active service during World War 1939-1945, in His Majesty’s forces or in the forces of an Allied Country. It also contains the names of those who served overseas in the Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance or Auxiliary Services, as well as of those flying in the service of the Transport Command of the Royal Air Force.

This Roll perpetuates in more permanent form the Honour Roll erected in Victoria Hall in the year 1944, which was compiled as an enterprise of the Westmount Municipal Association.