and their stories /23
The history behind the familiar: Melbourne Avenue, a short street between Metcalfe and Melville
By Michael Walsh
Previously published March 16, 2019
Viscount Melbourne had two lives – the first as the cuckolded husband in one of the most scandalous affairs of the 19th century, and the second as senior statesman and mentor to Queen Victoria.
– Gov.UK, Past Prime Ministers
Have you ever wondered what constitutes an avenue? In Westmount, there is a historical rationale behind this nomenclature: all streets running in a westerly direction.
“Moved by Councillor Murray, seconded by Councillor Warmington, that from the City limits, all roads running westward be called Avenues… – and that all roads running north and south be numbered from 1 to 17.”
Municipal Council Minutes, Municipality of Cote St Antoine, June 4th, 1877
Today, there are many exceptions to these rules; however, many streets and avenues, for historical reasons, retain their original descriptions.
One example is Melbourne Avenue, a short street running westerly between Metcalfe and Melville Avenues. A quiet street lined with houses appearing today as they did over a century ago.
Interestingly the street was originally owned by a private company that attempted, on two different occasions, to cede their rights to the Town of Cote St Antoine.
“Read letter from Mr. J Stevenson Brown dated 8th May stating that the company he represents are willing to hand over Melbourne and Springfield Avenues free. The Council after consideration of the proposal they regret that in the meantime they cannot take over the streets and instruct the Secretary to write to Mr. Brown accordingly.”
Municipal Council Minutes, Town of Cote St Antoine, May 11th, 1891
Nevertheless, the town macadamized the road surface, in 1894, with the costs levied (in 14 annual instalments) to the proprietors of the fronting properties. During that period, there were five houses bearing civic numbers 13, 15, 17, 21 and 26.
Two years later, the Town incorporated the street into their municipality.
“That the Mayor and Secretary-Treasurer be and they are hereby authorized to sign a deed of unconditional cession of both Springfield and Melbourne Avenues.”
Municipal Council Minutes, Town of Cote St Antoine, November 2nd, 1896
At this point, one can see that the story is far from “gripping”. However, as we shall see, the story of Melbourne Avenue takes an interesting turn as we become acquainted with William Lamb. As the name suggests, the street’s name honours William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, whose political career was embroiled in one of Britain’s most notorious scandals when his wife, Lady Caroline Ponsonby-Lamb, had a pubic affair with the poet Lord Byron.
As the proverbial saying suggests, “truth is stranger than fiction” – the story unfolds:
“Lady Caroline Ponsonby-Lamb was not a typical politician’s wife. The daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, and the granddaughter of the 1st Earl Spencer, she was born in 1785.
Lady Caroline married Lord Melbourne, in 1805. After 2 miscarriages, she gave birth to their only child, George Augustus Frederick, in 1807, and was devoted to him. He was epileptic and mentally handicapped and had to be cared for almost constantly.
In 1812, Caroline read Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and declared: “If he was as ugly as Aesop, I must know him.” On meeting Byron that summer, she famously noted in her diary that he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. They began an affair, which lasted until 1813, but even after it finished Lady Caroline’s obsession with the poet continued. She published a novel, Glenarvon, in 1816 containing obvious portraits of herself, her husband, Byron and many others.
Embarrassed and disgraced, Melbourne nevertheless decided not to part from his wife, and the formal separation did not occur until 1825. Lady Caroline died in 1828, aged 42, her death hastened by the consumption of alcohol and drugs. Lord Melbourne, not yet Prime Minister, was by her bedside when she died.”
Gov.UK, Past Prime Ministers
Lord Melbourne was appointed Prime Minister by King William IV and served in that role from 1833-1870 – except for a five-month period in 1834 when Sir Peel was in office.
He was Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister and became her mentor in political matters. Their close relationship ran quite deeply. In fact, Lord Melbourne was awarded a private apartment in Windsor Castle.
Following his retirement from politics, he resided at Brocket Hall, in Hertfordshire, until he passed away in 1848.
This brings us to the end of Lord Melbourne’s “imprint” within the City of Westmount. Clearly, a street whose name is worthy of a novel!
At this point, let’s stroll down Melbourne Avenue and become acquainted with some of the original residents and discover their stories.
Frank Cooper, Manager, A. J. White and Company (1900)
(Although it is not a purely Quebec (or even Canadian) company, I include it here because it had a large branch in Montreal.)
“This corporation was founded in New York, and the headquarters was relegated to London in 1884. Mr. A.J. White, a New Yorker, was the president of the company, and a certain H.K. Packard was in charge of the London facilities. Branches were established in New York, Montreal, Sidney, Bombay and Lille. The Montreal branch was opened in 1885 at 71A rue St-Jean and was under the direction of a Mr. F. Cooper from 1888.
All of the company’s products were manufactured in the London laboratories and then sent in bulk to the various branches where they were bottled and distributed.”
Montreal illustrated, Consolidating Illustrating Co, Montréal, 1894, p. 237
Horatio W. Nelson, H. A. Nelson & Sons Co. Ltd. (1900)
The company was a wholesale dealer of accessories and toys. They also manufactured wood cleaning items, such as brooms and brushes. A warehouse fire, in 1901, forced the closure of the company.
H. W. Nelson was also the director of the Molson Bank (merging, in 1921, with the Bank of Montreal) and President of the Loan and Investments Association.
W. B. Kingsley, superintendent, Canadian Rubber Company (1900)
“Canadian Rubber Company of Montreal was the first company in North America to manufacture rubber. Plant (located at 1840 Notre Dame East) damaged by fire in 1916. Occupied by Uniroyal Tire factory until 1982. The oldest section was demolished in 1995.”
Industrial Architecture of Montreal
Honorable F. E. Gilman, Gilman & Boyd (1910)
J. H. Wallace, R. Moat & Company (1905)
R. N. King, Manager, Ontario Bank (1900)
“The bank and its 30 branches across the province were absorbed into the Bank of Montreal in the fall of 1906 after its general manager Charles McGill was found to have been speculating in the U.S. stock markets with bank funds and sustained an estimated $1.25 million in losses from ill-timed short sales. McGill was convicted of filing false tax returns and sentenced to a five-year prison term early in 1907.”
18 Melbourne Avenue
Ransom H. Howard, Merchant (1902)
Charles A. Senez, Percival & Senez (1901)
D. C. Dewar, Manager, Bell Telephone Company (1900)
Frank A. Ramsay, glass manufacturer (1905)
25 Melbourne (former civic number)
A. E. Gagnon, Manager, A. W. Ogilvie (1900)
“Due to their westerly expansion, the Ogilvie mills became involved in the developing grain trade of western Canada and they built many grain elevators along Canadian Pacific Railway lines in Manitoba. At the time, because the Canadian Pacific Railway wanted to generate traffic for themselves, they offered incentives to build grain elevators along their railway lines that could not be passed upon by the Ogilvies. The result was a pseudo monopoly in grain purchasing because the CPR would not load grain directly from farmers or non-mechanical warehouses where there was a steam-powered elevator present, such as those of the Ogilvie’s.”
“By the end of the 1800s, A.W. Ogilvie and Company was the largest miller in the dominion and had garnered a worldly reputation for producing flour of the finest quality. After the death of William Watson in 1900, a Canadian syndicate bought A.W. Ogilvie and Company and renamed it Ogilvie Flour Mills Company. The aggrandizement continued through mill building and acquisitions then, in 1968, John Labbatt Ltd. purchased the outstanding shares of Ogilvie. Subsequently, Archer Daniels-Midland Co. bought Ogilvie from John Labbatt Ltd. in 1993.”
Wilfrid Gagnon, Architect (1900)
E. H. Brown, Secretary, Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (1905)
Images: Michael Walsh – Feature image: Andrew Burlone
Michael Walsh is a long-time Westmount resident. He is happily retired from nearly four decades in the field of higher education technology. A “professional student” by nature, his academic training, and publishing include statistical methodology, mycology and animal psychology. During this period, he was also an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. Prior to moving to Montreal, he was contracted by the Ontario Ministry of Education to evaluate bilingual primary and secondary school programs. Today, he enjoys spending time with his (huge) Saint Bernard while discovering the city’s past and sharing stories of the majestic trees that grace the parks and streets. He can be contacted at email@example.com or through his blog Westmount Overlooked