The history behind the familiar: Exploring quiet and friendly Columbia Avenue’s historical roots
By Michael Walsh
Previously published November 21, 2019
Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.
– Mark Twain
Don’t you love dead-end streets? I do, they remind me of a childhood place playing street hockey with friends while using our rolled-up jackets are goal posts. Far from traffic, and most pedestrians, it was a place where we could be children – free from the constraints pending adulthood.
Luckily for us, several such areas still exist in Westmount. One is named Columbia Avenue. For me, like many people, childhood is a distant memory; however, walking along this street I can recall playing jumping jacks on the road and drawing circles in the dirt to play a game of “keeps” with a bag of my favourite marbles.
How else can one describe Columbia Avenue? Tucked away from most pedestrian traffic, yet minutes away from Greene Avenue’s shops, restaurants and local transit to downtown. In looking for inspiration, I turned to the local real estate listings – superlatives such as “quiet” and “child friendly” were used – others such as “ancestral homes” were a bit of an over-statement. I would describe it as a street lined with beautiful houses in an area that time forgot.
Historically, the street is fascinating, and the lives of original residents are even more so as we will discover. The region, located in the territory of New France, was part of many concessions granted by King Louis XIV.
As such, Columbia Avenue was originally part of the seigneurial system used by the French Crown whereby land was granted to a Seigneur (Lord) who conceded fiefs (tracts) to tenants (habitants) who settled and farmed their portion. In addition, as a form of feudal tenure, those working the land paid the Seigneur an annual “rent” (rentes seigneuriales) as well as other obligations that legally were past on to the tenants’ heirs. This system of land tenure remained in place until 1854 when it was abolished by the Legislative Assembly for the Province of Canada, through the Seigneurial Act.
More specifically, in the 1660s today’s Columbia Avenue was part of Fief Saint-Joseph (the patron Saint of Canada), a 200-arpent track of land owned by la Congrégation des Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph. The Congrégation still has a religious presence in Montreal with their Maison Générale located on avenue des Pins.
With that piece of history behind us, let’s fast-forward 200 years and examine how this portion of land became incorporated into the City of Westmount.
The land was owed by Messrs. Greene and Atwater (now you know the origins of two other street names) and ceded to the Town of Côte Saint-Antoine in 1896.
“Moved by Councillor Bulmer… and unanimously resolved…That inasmuch as Messrs. Greene and Atwater are prepared and have offered to cede, by valid conveyance and unconditionally, the lots of land forming Columbia and Bruce Avenues in said Town. That the Mayor and the Secretary-treasurer be and they are hereby authorized to sign such Deed of Cession…”
– May 4, 1896
Other than the preceding cessation, the Town of Saint-Antoine (and later City of Westmount) minutes make little mention of Columbia Avenue – except for the installation of a power arc lamp (1898) and a continuation of the sidewalk to Dorchester Street (1902).
In terms of news reporting, the street is mentioned only once in 1929 in a ruse that exists (in many variations) to this present day:
“Occupants of Westmount Residence Had Visit From Bogus Bell Employee – Well madam, I am from the Bell Telephone Company of Canada and I am here for the installation of the new automatic telephone, said a man to the occupant of a home on Columbia Avenue Westmount… After having shown a badge, the man walked into the house and searched throughout the home and cupboards claiming he was looking for wires. When one of the occupants insisted upon the point that there did not exist any wires in the cupboards, the man cut the telephone connection and left shortly after. A sum of $10 was reported as missing to the officers of the Westmount police…”
Montreal Gazette, September 7, 1929
Finally, what or whom does the name Columbia commemorate? If you guessed Christopher Columbus, you are correct – assuming you reside in the United States. Most Canadian sources, however, suggest the name’s origin refers to the Columbia River, the second largest in the Pacific slope of North America (the Yukon River being the largest). It originates from lake Columbia, in the Kootenay region, around the Selkirk range, forming the northern border of Oregon before entering the Pacific Ocean.
Armed with these historical (and geographical) facts, lets take a late autumn stroll along Columbia Avenue and become acquainted with some of the original residents and their long-forgotten stories.
W. H. Blackadder (1901)
“In the neighbourhood of 5000 Sunday school children… took part in the New Year’s Day rallies, gatherings which have been for many years a feature of the celebration of the opening of the year… The proceedings included the brief ceremony of saluting the flag to the tune of ‘The Maple Leaf’… Mr. W. H. Blackadder of the Westmount Sunday School occupied the chair, and conducted the exercises which included singing, the exchange of greetings with the Sunday schools of the other denominations…
Montreal Gazette, January 2, 1908
James Powell, chief draughtsman (1901)
“At the seventeenth annual meeting of the Canadian Railway Club at the Winsor Hotel last evening Mr. James Powell, who had been secretary of the club for the past fourteen years, handed in his resignation, due to the fact that he had retired from the Grand Trunk to take a responsible position with the vocational classes for the re-establishment of returned soldiers, as an instructor in mechanical drawing…
Montreal Gazette, May 14, 1919
Private H. E. Provost, son of Mr. and Mrs. L. E. Provost, killed in action while serving with the Canadian Army overseas. (1944)
Arthur E. Patton, inspector, Grand Trunk Railway (1901)
G. Climie, Telfer & Climie Company Limited (1901)
Livestock, commission and insurance agents. Horse stables located at 131-135 Inspector Street and offices at 43 Sacrament Street.
James Watson (1914)
“Mr. James Watson died yesterday at his residence, 55 Columbia Avenue, Westmount… (he) was born in Krieudbrightshire Scotland, in 1830, and after being connected with the Bank of Scotland for ten years, came to Canada in 1856 to join the staff of the Bank of British North America… his widow, five sons and four daughters survive him.”
Montreal Star, December 24, 1914
Mrs. Mary Lowery, widow of James Lowery, foreman (1901)
Edward Powers, accountant (1920)
F. Chapman, Dart and Chapman (1901)
Rev. James McAvoy, Minister of Calvin Westminster United Church (1933)
“In 1940 Central United joined with Calvin Westminster to form Westminster Central United Church. In 1960 the original Calvin Presbyterian Church near Seigneurs Street was occupied by a dairy. The former Central United now houses the Old Brewery Mission.”
United Church Archives
Mrs. J. D. Roche (1933)
“Mrs. Roche was known for her philanthropic activities. She had taken great interest in the St. Ann’s baby clinic for many years, and during the war devoted much of her time and energies to social welfare work. She was a member of the Catholic Women’s League and took part in its enterprises in aid of charities.”
Montreal Gazette, April 10, 1933
‘Rooming House – 57 Columbia Avenue – Solid stone and brick property… consisting of 8 rented rooms, large basement, all beautifully furnished with privileges. Bringing in a revenue of $4,600 per year. Must be sold immediately for $16,500. Make an offer.’
– Advertisement, December 1954
Charles Webster, clerk (1901)
H. C. Campbell, clerk (1920)
H. Walker, buyer, Greenshields Limited (1901)
“Greenshields had begun his apprenticeship in the family wholesale dry goods firm, S. Greenshields, Son & Company, in 1869. Initially known as Samuel Greenshields & Son, the business had been established by his grandfather Samuel, a merchant from Glasgow, and his father, John, in 1833. Edward Black became a partner in 1876, head of the firm in 1888, and president of Greenshields Limited in 1903. He presided over the expansion of the business across Canada. By 1907 the company was the country’s largest supplier of both imported and domestic dry goods. It handled cottons, woollens, carpets, household furnishings, dress goods, and notions such as gloves, hosiery, and laces. In addition, it was the exclusive agent in Canada for several prestigious British and European manufacturers.”
The Canadian Encyclopedia
John Fisher, Second Engineer Officer, lost at sea while serving with the Merchant Marine (1944)
Signalman Albert Victor Ward, R.C.N.V.R., son of Mr and Mrs. Ward, previously reported missing, now presumed dead as a result of the sinking of H.M.C.S. Valleyfield by enemy action in May 1944.
J. H. Cayford, bookkeeper, Evans Brothers (1901)
John Glegg, commercial traveller – (1901)
Ramsey Traquair, architect (1901)
“Architect Ramsay Traquair was born in Edinburgh and educated at Edinburgh University, the Edinburgh College of Art, and the University of Bonn. In 1913 he emigrated to Canada and became Professor of Architecture at McGill University. The following year he was named Macdonald Professor of Architecture and from 1933 until his retirement in 1938 he served as director of the School of Architecture. In 1939 he became Emeritus Professor. Traquair’s major work was a book on The Old Architecture of Québec, but he also published studies of Québec silversmithing and a number of articles on aesthetic and social aspects of architecture. He designed McGill’s flag as well as book-plates and windows in University buildings.”
McGill Teaching and Research
Roderick McLennan, commercial traveller (1901)
Trooper Edgar Frank killed in action, his aunt, Miss Jane Isabel Davidson residing at 66 Columbia Avenue. (1944)
Joseph E. Cookson, Kingman & Company, Law firm established 1879 (1901)
Frederick G. Cope, Assistant Secretary, Superintendent of Agencies, Sun Life of Canada (1901)
Walter S. Barker, Secretary-Treasurer, Tooke Brothers Limited (1940)
C. D. Wolfkill C.E., Dominion Bridge Company (1901)
“The Dominion Bridge Company, founded in Toronto in 1879 under the name Toronto Bridge Company, moved to Lachine in 1883 to manufacture iron and steel superstructures for bridges and buildings. Attracted by the vast expanses of low-cost land along the canal, the company was directly linked to Lachine’s development. It gradually expanded its complex, buying more land and adding a machine shop in 1897, then making more additions between 1925 and 1935.”
“A major employer in Lachine, Dominion Bridge built numerous skyscrapers and bridges across Canada, including the Reversing Falls railway bridge in Saint John, New Brunswick, and the bridge between Kanahwake and Lachine. The company and its subsidiary, Davie Industries, went bankrupt in 1998, and, following the concerted efforts and protests of the unions, the assets were bought by the Group ADF Inc and the FTQ Solidarity Fund. In 2003, the ADF threatened to close down the facilities, which were then bought by Cintube, a former partner of Dominion Bridge specialized in the precision bending of tubes, pipes, beams, and channels.”
The company also provided ironwork for the Westmount Public Library in 1898.
James Douglas, builder (1899)
Henry Timmins (1901)
George C. Wells, chief clerk, Canadian Pacific Railway (1901)
John McBoyle, clerk (1901)
John A. Gordon, plumber (1901)
W. J. Agnew, manager, North American Cigar Company Limited (1901)
A. J. McBride, Assistant Manager, Crescent Manufacturing Company Limited (1906)
“Crescent Foods Inc. is a Seattle-based spice and seasoning firm which began in 1883 under the name Crescent Manufacturing Company as a small supplier of vanilla extract. After the discovery of gold on the Klondike River in Canada in 1897, the company expanded rapidly by selling a spice-and-preservation packet popular with the gold rushers. In 1905, Crescent struck gold itself when a company chemist and salesman concocted an imitation maple flavouring dubbed Mapleine. Mapleine won a worldwide market and dramatically expanded Crescent’s scope.”
“Mapleine was the company’s signature product for much of the twentieth century. Cash-strapped housewives used it as a substitute for maple syrup during the Depression of the 1930s, and it remained popular with cooks and bakers for decades. It was also used as a flavouring agent in commercial cigarette manufacturing. Crescent promoted Mapleine and other products by publishing small cookbooks, with titles such as Mapleine Dainties: How to Make Them; A Guide to Spices: How to Buy Them, Store Them, Use Them; and Pickles and Relishes.”
William Rutherford junior, William Rutherford & Sons Company (1901)
“Westmount Loses Prominent Citizen In W. Rutherford / Former Mayor and Alderman of Suburban City Dies in 68th Year / Leading Industrialist / Was Director of Lumber Business Bearing Family Name – Had Various Sporting Associations. – Over the city hall of Westmount a flag flew at half-mast yesterday. It signified that the municipality is mourning one of its most distinguished sons – William Rutherford, ex-alderman, former mayor, and widely known business man, who died on Saturday evening at his home, 458 Mount Stephen avenue. He was 67 years of age and had been ill for a long time.”
“Always interested in civic affairs, Mr. Rutherford was elected by acclamation to the highest post the municipality could offer, that of chief magistrate. He occupied the mayoral chair for the term of 1911-12 and previous to that had been an alderman for three years.”
“His business activities were centered in the Rutherford Lumber Company, formerly known as the William Rutherford and Sons, Company, Limited. This firm was founded by Mr. Rutherford’s father. At the time of his death he was a director of this firm having served for many years as treasurer.”
Montreal Gazette, February 29, 1932
David Guthrie (1911)
“Mr. David Guthrie and Mrs. Guthrie celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding at 92 Columbia… Killarney roses and white carnations, flags, palms and clusters of tiny electric lights in red, white and blue decorated and illuminated the halls and reception rooms. On a side table was a beautiful basket of rich Gloire de Dijon roses… in a bow window, banked with palms, hung a huge bell of white daises under which they received their guests…”
Montreal Gazette, July 18, 1911
“Venerable Scot, Grand Old Man of Curling, Passed Away Yesterday. David Guthrie… one of the founders and past president of the St. Lawrence Curling Club, past president of the Canadian Branch of the Caledonian Curling Club of Scotland and probably the curler of oldest standing in the Dominion… No New Year’s day celebration in recent years was complete unless graced by the presence of the venerable Scot, his tall stalwart figure clad in Highland kilts and Tam o’ Shanter, his flowing white beard and twinkling eyes, make him one of the most striking figures on the ice… (he) typified all that the winter sport stood for…”
Montreal Gazette, January 5, 1917
T. M. Todd residence, Manager, Allan Line (1899)
“Lieut. B. G. Todd, reported killed in action, is the son of T. M. Todd accountant, H. A. Allan Steamship Lines. Before going overseas he was engaged as a commercial traveller… Lieut. Todd was twenty-eight years of age, and his brother is Major Guy M. Todd, deputy paymaster of Canadian forces under Col. Ross in London.”
Montreal Gazette, November 13, 1916
“Allan Line was a Scottish-Canadian shipping company founded by Captain Alexander Allan (1780-1854) with his newly purchased brigantine, Jean, which sailed from Greenock, Scotland, to Québec in 1819. In 1826 his second son, Hugh Allan, came to Montréal and developed a successful shipping business there; in 1839 Hugh was joined by a younger brother, Andrew. Two other brothers established offices in Greenock and Liverpool. In 1854 the Allan consortium incorporated the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company, which in 1856 won the government mail contract from Montréal to Liverpool.”
“With innovative engineering and design the Allan ships prospered on the Atlantic and other trade routes. The first steel liner to sail the Atlantic was the Allan Line’s Buenos Ayrean in 1880. After the turn of the century the company had difficulty financing new ships and was sold to Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd in 1909.”
The Canadian Encyclopedia
The building was converted into a two-family dwelling in 1940.
C. S. Peverley, Imperial Oil Company (1901)
Imperial Oil, founded in London Ontario (1880) has a long association with Standard Oil’s ExxonMobil who gained controlling stake in the company in 1889. As such, their service stations use the parent’s company brands: Esso and Mobil.
Private Philippe A. Bieler, P.P.C.L.I., Son of Prof. & Mrs. Charles Bieler, Died of Wounds (October 16, 1917)
The property was converted into a two-story dwelling in 1926.
H. A. White, accountant, Motive Power Department, Grand Trunk Railway (1901)
Henry Addison White (1939)
“… born in Birmingham, England, he came to Canada with his parents in 1864, and for 55 years was connected with the Grand Trunk Railway System in Montreal… A veteran of the Fenian Raid and a life member of Beaver Lodge No. 6, I.O.O.F., he was also secretary-treasurer of the Imperial Mutual Building Society…”
Montreal Gazette, December 8, 1939
E. C. Bentley, printer, D. Bentley Printing House (1901)
Harry Roffey, Boucher & Roffey (1901)
Merchant Tailors located at 330 Notre Dame St. West
J. D. McLennan, auditor, Freight Accounts, Grand Trunk Railway (1901)
Olaf E. Granberg, Vice-President and Eastern Manager, Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company of Canada (1920)
Edward David Jones, Secretary, Hampton Manufacturing Company (1950)
“Construction of the building was commissioned in 1909 by Campbell Manufacturing, a manufacturer of men’s clothing. Campbell took on a women’s clothing manufacturer known for its blouses, the Hampton Manufacturing Company, as a tenant in 1910, occupying the top floor and part of the basement, with its access through a back door on Colonial. After Campbell’s move in 1916 to smaller quarters near the railroad tracks, Hampton took over ownership of the building and occupied the entire building. Hampton remained the building’s primary occupant throughout the 20th century.”
Rachel Boisclair, Laboratoire d’histoire et de patrimoine de Montréal – UQAM, et Yves Desjardins et Justin Bur, Mémoire du Mile End; Michelle Comeau, UQAM
Bernard McNallly, secretary treasurer, St. Lawrence Sugar Refinery (1901)
“The St. Lawrence Sugar Refining Company, an extension of the Decastro refinery, was originally located near the Lachine Canal. After it burned to the ground in 1887, the owner, Alfred Baumgarten, was attracted to Maisonneuve by twenty-year tax exemptions and the promise of a right of way for a railway line. He had a large cane sugar refinery built – the first factory in the City of Maisonneuve, now a Montreal neighbourhood.”
“Located on either side of Notre Dame Street, the operation reached its peak in 1906, when it was Canada’s leading refinery, surpassing the Redpath (then known as the Canada Sugar Refining Company) in Pointe Saint-Charles. It even boasted a railroad service line to Sutherland Quay, built to meet the company’s needs in 1889. Expanded in 1910, 1920, and 1950, the refinery closed temporarily during World War II. It was purchased by Lantic Sugar in 1980.”
Dr. William Grieve Nichol, Ship Doctor, Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (1924)
Joseph P. Ramsey, shoe manufacturer (1941)
Dr. Bruce Gibbard, staff psychiatrist, Allan Memorial Institute (1969)
Images: Michael Walsh, unless indicated otherwise – 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 evaluating 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 michaelld2003 @hotmail.com or through his blog Westmount Overlooked