and their stories / 13
The history behind the familiar
By Michael Walsh
While walking through Westmount one can’t help but enjoy the various dead end streets the City’s landscape has to offer. These are tranquil areas with minimal traffic, graced with large trees that front century old homes on either side.
Many of these cul-de-sacs were opened in the early 1900s terminated by the CP tracks (formerly owned by Grand Trunk Railroad) that traverse the City’s southerly portion.
Abbott Avenue (with its adjacent lane) is a fine example of one I walk along on a regular basis. Some of the houses have long gone – given way to shops and an apartment building. Many however, are still standing and what follows are some of the stories that they contain.
To begin with, who exactly was ‘Abbott’?
It is always a bit of a challenge to associate a street or avenue name with a specific event or individual. (Unless it is something self-evident such as ‘Victoria’.) Council Minutes, during that period, rarely provide the rationale for either naming or renaming City streets. However, with the assistance of the City’s Documentation and Archive Management department, I was informed that the avenue’s name first appeared on their valuation rolls in 1820. Prior to that date, only the cadastral numbers were entered.
Taking this one step further, Canada’s third Prime Minister (1891-1892) was Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott – a period of time close to the first usage of the avenue’s name. Therefore, one can be safe to assume that City Council approved the avenue’s name in his honour.
In himself, Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott has an interesting story. His professional career included: Dean of Law at McGill (1855-1880), President of the Canada Central Railway (1862) and Mayor of Montreal (1887-1888). His career was not without controversy. He was implicated in the Pacific Scandal, along with C.P.R.’s president Sir Hugh Allan, involving corruption charges in the awarding of contracts for the construction of Canada’s transcontinental railway. (British Columbia demanded the construction of this railway as a condition of joining the Dominion of Canada.) In the end, this scandal brought down Sir John A. Macdonald’s government.
He was also one of hundreds of Montreal businessmen (including Peter Redpath and John Molson) that signed the Annexation Manifesto (1849) that advocated “render(ing) our incorporation with the United States a desirable consummation”. An avid gardener, his hobbies included raising orchids and he had the finest Canadian collection of this species. He married Mary Bethune in 1849 and they had eight children. The actor Christopher Plummer is one of their descendants.
Interestingly, there was a Canadian Pacific Railway train station at the bottom of Abbott – the dates of its existence; however, varies depending on the source. For instance, the publication Westmount: a heritage to preserve states “… The construction of two train stations, the first at the end of Abbott Avenue in 1896 replaced a few years later by a second station at the foot of Victoria…” The Westmount Historical Association describes the station as “… First CPR Train Station in Côte St. Antoine (Westmount) opened on south side of tracks in 1898 at bottom of Abbott Avenue…” The Making of Westmount, Quebec 1870-1929 states … following the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway Station in 1896, around the southern end of Victoria Avenue”. (It was, in fact, built in 1907.)
To confuse matters even further, images of the former Abbott station are inconsistently cited with that of the Victoria station. (The latter was expanded on two occasions in the 1920s and appears as different buildings depending on the time period).
The local newspaper, during that period, was the Westmount News. They reported numerous citizens’ complaints concerning the number of stairs one had to climb from the Abbott station to the train boarding platforms.
A query to CP Archives (now stored at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum in St-Constant) couldn’t locate any record (or image) of the station. As the saying goes, “it has been lost in time”. Finally it is however, safe to say, that there was a Canadian Pacific Railway passenger station at the bottom of Abbott Avenue in the late 1890s.
With that mystery behind us, let’s continue an early fall walk down Abbott Avenue and uncover some of the stories behind this area’s former residents:
Walter MacFarlane, electrician – 1895
T. A. Chadburn, commercial traveller – 1899
S. L. Griggs – conductor, Canadian Pacific Railway – 1899
James Bonner, clerk, Canadian Pacific Railway – 1895
James Tefler, Tefler & Climie – 1902
“Write us for quotations Lumber. Horses A Specialty The Telfer & Climie Company 19 St. Maurice Street, Montreal”
Canadian forest industries – 1901-1902
George M. Webster, Webster Brothers & Parkes – 1895
Manufacturers of hardwood mantles, fireplaces and tile. Their offices were at 232 St. James Street.
William C. Leitch, superintendent, Montreal Water & Power Company –1899
“The Great Depression (1929–1939) brought to light the abusive practices – inadequate service, high rates, exorbitant profits – of the electricity monopolies that were operating in Québec. The government was urged to intervene and to regulate a service that had become essential. On April 14, 1944, the Québec government created Hydro-Québec and gave it a mandate to manage the electric and gas facilities of the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company. From the start, the new utility faced a formidable challenge: meeting demand that was spiralling upward at an astounding 7% per year. To cope with this growth, Hydro-Québec had to double its generating capacity every ten years until the beginning of the 1980s.”
James R. Bayne, commercial traveller –1895
Thomas Reid, P. Reid & Sons –1899
T. W. C. Binns,fish dealer – 1895
Mrs. J. Cockburn, widower, Fred Robert Cockburn, clerk – 1895
Thomas Potter, bookkeeper, William Meldrum & Company – 1899
Charles Gardner, Knott & Gardner, plasterers – 1904
Finlay D. Barrington, George Barrington & Sons, suitcase manufacturers – 1895
W. J. Camp, electrician, Canadian Pacific Railway – 1899
J. Bulman, draughtsman – 1899
Thomas Reid, Peter Reid & Sons – 1895
Charles W. Pearson, lithographer – 1899
William Rourke, grocer – 1899
S. Sheldon, pastor, Grace Baptist Church – 1902
“Baptist work commenced in Montreal with the building of First Baptist Church on St. Helen’s Street in 1831. Montreal Baptist College was founded one year later. In 1902, members from First, Oliver and Grace Baptist Churches joined to found Westmount Baptist Church. Services were initially held in the Queen’s Theatre on St. Catherine Street, later in the church building still standing on the corner of de Maisonneuve and Olivier Avenues.”
Westmount Baptist Church History
Gilbert Blake, inspector, Canadian Pacific Railway – 1895
E. Brice, exporter, butter and cheese – 1900
H. A. Shaw, fire insurance agent – 1899
129 & 131 Abbott
(The civic numbers remain – the building was either extensively remodelled or rebuilt.)
Andrew Blair, commercial traveller – 1899
D. L. Grant, tea traveller – 1903
George Dryden, blacksmith – 1899
J. H. S. Cass, assistant manager, Asbestos Manufacturing Company – 1895
“… Previous to last year practically the total production of asbestos was exported, both in the United States and in Europe. Now a part of it is manufactured in Canada, the Asbestos Manufacturing Company having put up important works in Lachine, P.Q., where they make textiles, millboards, paper, cement, asbestos slates, shingles and sheathings. These latter products seem to meet with favour from the building trade. The office of this company is 236 St. James Street, Montreal.”
Mining Operations in the Province of Quebec during 1910, Province of Quebec, Department of Colonization, Mines and Fisheries
138 Abbott (Former civic number)
W. J. Camp, electrician, Canadian Pacific Railway – 1895
W. M. McCunn, bank clerk – 1899
A. Glover, Glover Brothers – 1899
Mrs. C. McCauliff, widower, William Ferguson, broker – 1895
A. Hannaford, milkman – 1904
Rear of 147 Abbott showing the former couch house where (quite possibly) the milkman’s horses were housed.
Albert Loignon, bookbinder – 1895
William Loignon, plumber – 1895
160 Abbott (Former civic number)
(An interesting change of name to one that is more anglicised)
Sing Quong, Chinese laundry – 1899
J. Thomas, Chinese laundry – 1904
Read also Westmount places and their stories /12
Michael Walsh is a long-time Westmount resident. He enjoys walking with the family’s Saint Bernard while photographing the beauty and hidden history of Westmount through his blog at Westmount Overlooked.