Westmount Council Minutes
The Great War 1914-1918
A fascinating glimpse of the City’s early days
By Michael Walsh
Previously published in WestmountMag.ca
We are a small people of about twenty thousand souls, yet from our homes there are enlisted for active service…1,237 men, and for war nursing service 31 women. Of this number 188 men made the supreme sacrifice of life itself… This is a record equalled by few communities in Canada and we are proud in the midst of our sorrow accordingly…
P. W. McLagan Mayor, City of Westmount, 1920
The month of April marks the City of Westmount’s commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The battle occurred in northern France between April 9 and 12, 1917. The capture of the area is described as “the birth of a nation” – largely because it involved soldiers, fighting together, from all across Canada.
This makes one wonder, how did those left behind, during the Great War that began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918, carry on with their daily lives during this difficult period. One can turn to the City of Westmount Council minutes for those years – these provide a compelling narrative.
At home, City Council, tried to maintain a sense of normality during this difficult time. Flower shows were held in the greenhouse, citizens were encouraged to grow vegetables in vacant lots, Architectural Committee members kept busy approving the construction of residential garages or the conversion of stables as automobile shelters. In addition, the city organized a large celebration for the coronation of George V. The big difference, however, were the casualty lists – their numbers grew as the war progressed. Their names were inscribed in the minutes and a letter of condolence sent to the relatives. This was coupled with congratulatory letters sent to citizens who were decorated for their service.
The end of war was commemorated with a ceremonial laying of a corner stone at the Soldiers’ Monument at “Garden Point”. An emotional event, as described in the Montreal Gazette (November 22, 1920):
‘Despite the biting cold of a frosty November day, there was a large attendance… strong men to whom emotion seemed almost unknown with eyes moist, and heads bowed gave proof of that void which nothing can fill – the loss of one whom all the wealth, or all the power of the world cannot replace…’
Today, the Soldiers’ Monument (now called the Cenotaph) still stands as a testament to those citizens that sacrificed their lives.
What follows is a glimpse back in time, recorded in Council minutes, of life in the City of Westmount during the years that comprised World War One.
21 November 1910
The City Clerk having submitted a letter from the Secretary of the Special Annexation Committee of the Council of the City of Montreal, enquiring whether the Council of Westmount was prepared to enter into negotiations with a view to annexing the City of Westmount to the City of Montreal.
It was moved… and unanimously resolved that the City Council of Westmount having taken into its consideration… cannot, in view of the unanimous opposition of its citizens to such a project, become a party to any negotiations tending to such annexation.
21 March 1911
Your Committee recommends that the construction of an upper level fire station on the lots belonging to the City on Victoria Avenue near the Boulevard be proceeded with as early as possible and that Messrs Hutchison, Wood & Miller, architects, be engaged to prepare preliminary plans and that authority be given for the calling of tenders for the construction of the building…
It is recommended that the Council authorize the purchase of two horses for the use of the (fire) department, as it has been found that two of the horses in the present establishment are unsuitable for the needs of the department.
There was submitted and read a petition from proprietors on Mount Pleasant Avenue and vicinity, suggesting that the vacant property on the north side of Holton Avenue be secured by the Corporation for use as public grounds. … the petition was referred to the Parks Committee.
‘It is recommended that the Council authorize the purchase of two horses for the use of the (fire) department…’
11 April 1911
There was submitted and read a letter from the Hon. The Post Master General dated 7 April 1911 respecting the site of the proposed new Westmount Post Office and stating that the location at Strathcona Avenue and Sherbrooke Street was considered to be in the best interests of the whole community.
28 April 1911
Alderman Sherrard presented a report of the Parks Committee recommending the payment of the account of Robert Findlay, architect, for professional services rendered in connection with the erection of greenhouses in the Park, being an amount of $200.00.
15 May 1911
Your (Parks) Committee begs to report: – (a) That the Superintendent has been authorized to engage 17 men for work in maintenance of the parks… (c) That the night watchman be sworn in as a special constable with instructions to place himself under the orders of the Chief of Police, for duties in the parks only.
5 June 1911
Alderman Hyde submitted a report of the Special Committee appointed to consider proper means of observing Coronation Day, 22 June 1911, recommending that authority be given to Special Committee to arrange for the decoration of all municipal buildings on the date mentioned and their illumination in the evening; also the erection of an electrical transparency bearing an appropriate design or motto at or near the corner of Greene Avenue and St. Catherine Street.
It was further recommended that the day be proclaimed a public holiday and that all citizens be invited to observe it as such and to join the decorating of their residences for the occasion.
There was submitted and read a communication from E. Cecil Short dated 3 June 1911 on behalf of Mr. F. P. Buchanan applying for a permit to erect a building near the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Victoria Avenue to be occupied as a moving picture show… it was resolved that the foregoing application be refused.
Your Committee begs to transmit herewith a draft By-law respecting Masters and Servants… which is recommended to the Council for adoption.
19 June 1911
By-law No. 230 to authorize a lease of a part of the Park property to the Westmount Bowling Club was submitted and taken into consideration.
By-law No. 232 to authorize the extension of Western Avenue eastward from Wood Avenue to the City limits was submitted and taken into consideration.
‘… Mr. F. P. Buchanan applying for a permit to erect a building… to be occupied as a moving picture show… it was resolved that the foregoing application be refused.’
3 July 1911
A suggestion by Alderman McBride with reference to the establishment of a public underground lavatory at Green Avenue and St. Catherine was referred to the Health Committee.
17 July 1911
Your (Parks) Committee recommends that the Council authorize the expenditure of about $1200.00 for the erection of a permanent bridge in Westmount Park, to replace the one which is now in a dangerous condition…
Alderman McBride made a suggestion that arrangement should be made for bands to play in the Park on one or two night each week.
18 December 1911
Your Committee recommends that the Council agree to the sale to the Victoria Rifles Armoury Association of a tract of land… approximately 35,000 square feet at the north-west corner of St. Catherine Street and Elgin Avenue… at a price of One Dollar per superficial foot… for the purpose of an armoury, provided that the Association agree to a prohibition of the use of intoxicating liquor on the premises…
4 March 1912
There was read a communication from the Select Special Committee appointed by Parliament to make an enquiry into an old age pension system for Canada, asking the Council to furnish such information and opinions as might be thought advisable bearing upon the matter.
15 April 1912
Your committee begs to report having arranged a sale of the lots… of the new Park, running from a point west of the residence of #4619 St. Catherine Street to the proposed road and the two lots on the corner of Elgin Avenue and St. Catherine Streets, and the two lots on the east side of the said proposed road, the whole containing approximately 120,000 feet…
6 May 1912
Your Committee recommends that a By-law be prepared to provide for the paving of 128 lanes in the City, covering approximately 45,000 square yards at the estimated expense of $50,000.00 the cost to be levied upon the fronting proprietors.
‘A letter from Mr. L. H. Jacobs… complaining of the annoyance caused to the tenants by the cackling of hens and the crowing of roosters on the property in the rear of #4217 Western Avenue…’
1 September 1914
A letter from Mr. L. H. Jacobs on behalf of the owners of the Folbert Apartments complaining of the annoyance caused to the tenants by the cackling of hens and the crowing of roosters on the property in the rear of #4217 Western Avenue was referred to the Police Committee for consideration.
13 July 1915
Alderman Shepard intimated that the next meeting of Council he will make a motion to the effect that the City of Westmount undertake to provide four machine guns for the Westmount Company of the 60th Battalion.
3 August 1915
Letters were submitted from Mr. A. McA (sic) Murphy and Mr. Geo. R. Lighthall suggesting that the City of Westmount should take steps to supply an aeroplane and also a crew to the Overseas Aircraft Flotilla. The letters were referred to the Finance Committee for further consideration.
I take the pleasure of reporting… it is said that the work of Nurse Vivian Tremaine of #262 Olivier Avenue, Westmount, Matron in charge of #1 Canadian Casualty Hospital, France, who attended His Majesty the King after his accident while reviewing troops in France, has been recognized and the decoration of the Royal Red Cross conferred upon her. She was also decorated with the Victorian Order by the King.
28 September 1915
Ald. E. H. Brown intimidated that during the summer not one case of house breaking had occurred in the City and stated that this, in a great measure, was owing to the vigilance and efficiency of the Police force.
A petition signed by proprietors on Western and Metcalfe Avenues complaining of the nuisance caused by smoke from the Bakery of Melville Avenue was submitted and referred to the General Manager with directions that prompt action be taken to mitigate this annoyance.
9 November 1915
A letter of date November 9th from Mr. L. L. Rodier #332 Metcalfe Avenue was submitted in which he asks that the hedge planted by him in front of his house be allowed to remain on the understanding that it would be removed within a reasonable time should the Council so decide.
4 April 1916
Your Committee recommends that a grant of $100.00 be made payable to H. R. H. The Duchess of Connaught, for the benefit of Canadian Soldiers imprisoned in Germany…
2 May 1916
Your Committee recommends that Mrs. A. P. Proctor, #434 Metcalfe Ave. be permitted to occupy and use the stable on her property as a garage.
6 March 1917
… it was unanimously resolved that owners of vacant lots be requested to cultivate them wherever possible.
2 October 1917
I have much pleasure in reporting that another Westmount citizen has been decorated by King George V. Brigadier-General Auckland Campbell Geddes, C.B.M.D. has been conferred upon him the order of Knight Commander of the Bath.
15 January 1918
Mr. John Hyde and Mr. E. Goff Penny appeared in connection with the proposal to amend the Montreal Bill at present before the Quebec Legislature to admit Westmount and other outside Municipalities being annexed to the City of Montreal. Mr. Hyde requests that the Council, as representatives of the people of Westmount let the Government know in no uncertain manner that Westmount has no desire to cast in its lot with Montreal at present… He referred the present chaotic state of Montreal’s finances saying that it would be suicidal to submit to annexation under present conditions.
12 February 1918
I have much pleasure in reporting the following Westmount citizens have been decorated in recognition of their services overseas… Miss Alice Vibert Douglas, Statistical Dept. of the National Service Dept. 4193 Sherbrooke St. Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.)…
6 March 1918
The Sec. Treasurer submitted a letter from Mr. A. P. Jones #536 Lansdowne Avenue complaining of children using the sidewalks on Lansdowne Ave. as a toboggan slide.
Ald. E. H. Brown submitted a letter he had received from the Rev. E. M. Hill D.D., Metcalfe Ave., drawing the attention of the Council to the amount of road work which had been done on a recent Sunday in the City.
7 May 1918
I have much pleasure in reporting that the following Westmount citizen, Flight Commander John Roy Allan, had recently been decorated for service overseas, he having been invested by the King with the Distinguished Service Cross.
The Sec. Treasurer submitted a communication from Mr. G. Durnford asking the City’s acceptance of a sketch of the Cottage known as “The Haunted Cottage of Sisson’s Lane”. On the back of this sketch is noted the legend of the place – an old landmark of Westmount.
8 August 1918
Mayor McKergow made reference to the splendid appearance of the gardens and suggested the idea of opening a temporary market… in the City where those people who had grown more vegetables than were necessary for their own use would be able to sell or otherwise dispose of them.
9 December 1919
I have much pleasure in reporting to the Council that the following Westmount citizens have been decorated… Nursing Sister Mildred Forbes, #2 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, 435 Grosvenor Avenue, Royal Red Cross 1st. Class, Médaille Epidémies des Français.
War-Torn Exchanges – The Lives and Letters of Nursing Sisters Laura Holland and Mildred Forbes Edited by Andrea McKenzie, University of Washington Press, 2016
3 February 1920
Commissioner S. F. Rutherford reported that he had, as Acting Mayor, attended the opening of the Mechanics institute and stated that Westmount is to be congratulated upon having this very beautiful building so handsomely furnished within its limits and suggested that every member of the Council take an opportunity of examining the comfortable quarters that have been provided for the reading public.
13 April 1920
Alderman R. L. Scott, Commissioner of Parks drew public attention to the fine showing of spring flowers presently on view in the Park Green-house and invited any interested citizen to pay a visit to the conservatories which were daily open the public.
Alderman Scott also intimated that arrangements were being made for having shrubs and plants in the Parks tagged with both the botanical and common names.
6 July 1920
The Committee recommends that authority be and is hereby given for the completion of the Band Stand in the Park and that the tender of T. S. Hudson & Co. of $3,185.00 be accepted and that the work be proceeded with at once.
16 November 1920
Mayor P. W. McLagan expressed the hope that all citizens who could possible do so would attend at the ceremony of laying the corner stone of the Soldiers’ Memorial… and in this way honour the memory of the fallen.
7 December 1920
The inscription on the trowel (used by Mayor McLagan to lay the Soldiers’ Memorial corner stone) was as follows:
Presented to His Worship P. W. McLagan
Mayor of Westmount November the 20th, 1920
On the occasion of his laying
The corner stone of the Monument being erected
To the men of Westmount
Who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918
Before proceeding with further business, Alderman E. Herbert Brown said he had the very pleasant duty to perform and that was to ask the Mayor to accept from the Council the mallet and silver trowel as souvenirs of the impressive and historic event at which he had officiated in such an able manner and expressed the wish that the Mayor would accept these articles as a token of the Council’s appreciation and thanks.
There is attached to this report copies of the documents which were placed in the copper box deposited in the Corner Stone:
– An outline of the present system of Government of Westmount…
– A miniature history of the Westmount Public Library
– A list of … (those) who gave their lives to the Great War.
– A historical sketch of the City of Westmount… by Mr. W. D. Lighthall
– A sketch of the origin and development of the Westmount Public Schools…
– A statement of the Commissioners of St. Leon de Westmount…
– Photographs of the City’s public and principal buildings…
– A map of the City…
– The annual reports of the City…1918/1919.
– Samples of current coins and Government notes…
– Samples of the Gazette, Le Canada, La Patrie, the Star, La Presse, the Herald, the Standard and the Westmount News.
Accompanied with the following letter, which reads in part:
GREETINGS from the citizens of Westmount who live in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty – The monument within which lie ensconced this and other documents and articles typifying our time has been erected by the people of this city in loving memory of their sons, brothers and neighbours who gave up their lives in defence of civil liberty and the democratic principle in human government during the Great War…
The letter concludes by stating:
…We therefore resolved to express our sentiments in enduring granite and imperishable bronze, and this is the work we are commencing this day by the laying of the corner stone of this granite pedestal on which will be erected the bronze figure of a soldier in service kit, accompanied by an angel of victory, the whole symbolizing the triumphant sacrifice made by the men of Westmount in the Great War of 1914-1918.
P. W. McLagan (Mayor)
Finally, today those walking past the Cenotaph, on a daily basis, do not give it the attention it deserves. Hopefully, in a small way, this brief record of the war years will cause, at least a few, to pause and reflect next time the Cenotaph is part of their journey through our City’s storied streets.
Michael Walsh previously wrote Town of Westmount council minutes – 1882-1910.
Feature image: Andrew Burlone
All images of medals courtesy of eMedals Inc.
Michael Walsh is a long-time Westmount resident and a higher education IT professional. A mycologist and statistician by training. While not at work, he walks his dog and tries to impart the beauty and hidden history Westmount has to offer to residents and visitors alike through his blog at Westmount Overlooked.