Westmount has its fair share of anecdotes among its familiar storied streets
By Michael Walsh
First published February 10, 2016
When I am asked what I believe in, I say that
I believe in architecture. Architecture is the mother
of the arts. I like to believe that architecture
connects the present with the past and
the tangible with the intangible.
– Richard Meier
We have all come across the term “storied streets”. What does that really mean? In a literary sense perhaps it is Dickens’ comment that he was “equally at home” in the back streets, as he was on the main thoroughfares of London because he “had a key to the streets” and could read their stories.
Westmount has its fair share of storied streets – some date back to 1897 when they were opened: Burton, Claremont, Elgin (now Melville), Springfield, Windsor and Winchester.
Interestingly, Winchester’s houses, along with those on Burton, have been described as having “tilted window sills” and “sloping transoms” over their front doors due to a river that still runs below both streets. Archival photographs of these streets provides a view of the houses that looks the same to this very day, other than the wooden sidewalks and unpaved roads.
‘Archival photographs of these streets provides a view of the houses that looks the same to this very day, other than the wooden sidewalks and unpaved roads.’
What follows is another sample of Westmount’s places (and their artefacts) with their stories:
Cote St. Antoine and Forden.
The last road post in Westmount.
Used by the Sulpicians in the early 1700s.
Where Cote St. Antoine meets Sherbrooke
In the 1800s Sherbrooke Street West turned directly into Cote St. Antoine – it did not continue west as it does today. There was a toll-bar at this junction. It seems it was quite profitable. The Legislative Assembly for the Province of Canada, in 1854, reported that the St. Antoine toll-bar collected 817 pounds, 17 shillings and 4 pence in the period between December 1852 and March 1853.
352 Metcalfe Avenue
F. Ramsay of A. Ramsay & Son (1900s) – Montreal Paint Makers (est. 1842) – “The right paint to paint right”. Importers of paints, oils, colours and artists’ materials, English and Belgian sheet and polished plate glass.
259 Metcalfe Avenue
Former home (1900s) of William Ross. “During his business career he served either as president, vice-president, director, managing director, or general manager of 19 firms, including many related to transportation (such as Montreal Tramways Company and Pay-As-You-Enter Car Corporation), several electric companies (Beauharnois Electric Company, Canadian General Electric Company), others involved in resource development (Dominion Iron and Steel Company Limited, Asbestos Corporation of Canada), and a variety of financial and land companies.” (Dictionary of Canadian Biography)
250 Metcalfe Street
Alfred Hawksworth, Manager Merchant Cotton Company (1900s). In partnership with four other companies formed Dominion Textiles (1905). The company, located in St. Henri, was the second largest Canadian cotton mill.
12 Melbourne Avenue
Former home (1900s) of Horatio W. Nelson of the H. A. Nelson & Sons Co., Ltd. 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’s Bank (merging, in 1921, with the Bank of Montreal) and President of the Loan and Investments Association.
400 Mount Pleasant Avenue
Doctor J. M. Elder House 1900s. “The Elder house, however, features an office and a waiting room at the front of the ground floor, most probably the owner’s medical offices, with a separate entrance on Sherbrooke Street. The private entrance hall in axis with the Mount Pleasant side entrance features a seat nestled within the curved main stair. The dining room and kitchen are to the rear. Upstairs above the offices to the front, a full-width drawing room is lit by a semicircular oriel window, while the main chambers overlook the rear. The attic floor features three more chambers, a maid’s room, a bathroom and a sewing room. The elevations reveal a playful rendition of Dutch urban houses with their stepped gables. One is centrally placed on the Sherbrooke front elevation and two are found on either side of the entrance on Mount Pleasant Avenue.” (Canadian Centre of Architecture)
The Oaklands – built in 1906. The original owner was George Sumner. Former residence of Sam & Saidye Bronfman.
Remember the game Trivial Pursuit? This is the former home of the game’s inventor.
The last Westmount estate – two-thirds of the property have been previously subdivided.
Royal Bank of Canada – Sherbrooke at Victoria
The Royal Bank of Canada (now named RBC) at Sherbrooke Street at Victoria. Built in 1907 and designed by Howard P. Stone. The building has gone through (at least) 3 alterations. The upper most floor was originally a residence for the bank’s director.
This residence was owned by A. Y. Jackson – founding member of the Canadian artists’ Group of Seven.
4410-14 St. Catherine Street West (near Kensington)
The site of the former Quinlan Apartments. Their fate contains an interesting story. They were slated for demolition in 1976; however, the Quebec government stated that their porticos were worthy of preservation. During the demolition process, the building’s facade was found to be unstable and, as a consequence, was torn down. The building’s porticos eventually became a garden fixture, outside a house on Trafalgar Road close to Cote de Neiges. Interestingly, the house on Trafalgar Road, at the time, belonged to the grandson of the original portico’s stone mason – evidenced by beautifully sculptured stone facing the house’s driveway. The house is still standing, although currently undergoing major renovations. The bases of the porticos are largely forgotten, “parked” by the side of the house – their columns serving as driveway posts.
Images: Michael Walsh
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