and their stories /30
The history behind the familiar: Argyle Avenue, a street full of surprises, including a long-forgotten bird sanctuary
By Michael Walsh
Previously published May 16, 2020 – edited
It was true that the city could still throw shadows filled with mystifying figures from its past, whose grip on the present could be felt on certain strange days, when the streets were dark with rain and harmful ideas.
– Christopher Fowler, Ten Second Staircase
What comes to mind when you think of “Argyle” (or the British pronunciation “ah guile”)? My earliest memory is wearing patterned Argyle socks with contrasting stripes. It was until many years later that I learned this design is based on the Argyll branch of the Scottish Campbell clan. Interestingly, the word also refers to a vessel, for serving warm gravy, shaped like a coffee pot with the spout close to the bottom.
The design is attributed to John Campbell, the fifth Duke of Argyll, and his wife Elizabeth Gunning as a means of keeping gravy warm during Scottish winters.
At this point, having digressed far enough, let us turn our attention to the toponymy of the street.
The street was (most probably) named in honour of John Campbell, Ninth Duke of Argyll and fourth Governor General of Canada (1878-1883). He married Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter. While in office, they were instrumental in establishing the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the National Gallery of Canada.
Princess Louise is remembered for her writing and artistic works – one of which is a statue of Queen Victoria that graces the entrance to McGill University’s Schulich School of Music on Sherbrooke Street.
Originally, the street traversed several properties and it wasn’t until 1989 that the City of Westmount obtained total ownership. In fact, the street is full of surprises – including a long-forgotten bird sanctuary. Let us follow that part of the story beginning with the earliest efforts to transform a hilly rural path to the street as we know it today.
The first mention of Argyle Avenue occurs in the council minutes in May 1877, in a discussion involving the southward projection of the street from Cote St. Antoine to the municipality’s southern boundary.
The street was first surveyed, officially recorded and acquired by the town in 1887 and its mountainous grade lowered in 1891. The town, looking for a permanent town hall location was offered a piece of land at the corner of Cote St. Antoine and Argyle Avenue by Mr. T. J. Claxton in 1892. The street was used as one of the lines for the Mountainside Railway Company; in return the company was responsible for grading the street at their expense.
The first houses were constructed in 1893 by H. J. Jackson. One year later, the street was macadamized and paid for by the fronting proprietors in 14 annual instalments. The following year water mains and drainage pipes were laid along the length of the street.
‘In 1898 a gardener at the Earle residence on Argyle Avenue unearthed a First Nations burial site…’
In 1897 there was a proposition to make a public space at the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Cote St. Antoine Road “including all of the gore up to the line of Argyle Avenue”.
In 1898 a gardener at the Earle residence on Argyle Avenue unearthed a First Nations burial site:
“The new one (burial place) is… over an area of about 600 by 300 yards, nearly bounded by Argyle, Montrose and Aberdeen Avenues and the Boulevard… A number of years ago a skeleton was discovered, near the surface, on the cutting of Argyle Avenue on about a westerly line from the residence of Mr. Earle… On another occasion… a skeleton was found, also lightly buried… just east of the residence of Mr. John MacFarlane on Montrose Avenue, during the digging of a flower bed…”
A New Hochelagan Burying-Ground, W. D. Lighthall, 1898
Adjoining streets were projected and connected to Argyle Avenue: Montrose (1900), Westmount Avenue and The Boulevard (1902).
How many Westmount residents know of “Argyle Park” – or are aware of the location of such a park. In 1905, at a cost of $5000 the town acquired a “triangular-shaped piece of land bounded by The Boulevard, Argyle and Westmount Avenues and set aside as a public park”.
Council Minutes, 1905
It appears that the town spared no expense in beautifying this parcel of land as reported by the Montreal Gazette:
“Argyle Park, Westmount, which for the past six years has been a bird sanctuary in name only, will shortly become comfortably equipped for members of the feathered species… The Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds… has recognized the attractiveness of Argyle Park as a sanctuary… Its members have for some time been wishing to study the value of distributing birdbaths… in connection with their programme of activities. So they had one made recently and gave it to the City of Westmount. With this gift was forwarded the recommendation that the bath be placed in Argyle Park.”
“As soon as the frost is out of the ground, a system of drainage will be laid in Argyle Park, and with this there will be connected to the birdbath a cement basin on a five-foot pedestal. With the turning of a tap within the bath, fresh water will (be) provided to the birds every day… the bath will be marked with a suitable inscription…”
Montreal Gazette, February 7, 1927
Surprisingly, in 1908, a second public park was created by the acquisition of the property bounded by Cote St. Antoine Road, Argyle Avenue, Sherbrooke Street and Kensington Avenue – a by-law was enacted to this effect that same year. The following year the area between Clarke and Argyle avenues was named “Garden Point”. (Renamed Vimy Park in 2017.)
Finally, in 1989, the total acquisition of Argyle Avenue occurred when the City of Westmount took control of the street’s final lot.
A long street with an even longer history. Let us change direction and spend some time with some of the street’s early residents.
Peter W. McLagan, Peter F. McLagan Ltd, cheese and butter exporter (1899)
F. William Frith, classical master, Bishops College School (1934)
F. Fowler, produce exporter (1901)
Hon. Séverin Létourneau, chief justice, Province of Quebec (1945)
“Born in Saint-Constant on May 23, 1871, son of Hubert Létourneau, farmer, and Claire Vadney Lanctôt, Severin Letourneau studied at the École normale Jacques-Cartier and at the Université Laval in Montreal.
“He did his clerkship with Me Louis-Conrad Pelletier, member of the House of Commons from 1891 to 1896. He was admitted to the Bar of the Province of Quebec on July 9, 1895, and was created King’s Counsel on June 30, 1906.”
“Severin Letourneau practiced his profession in Montreal. Member of several law firms, notably Pelletier and Letourneau from 1895 to 1909, Pelletier, Letourneau and Beaulieu from 1909 to 1915, then Letourneau, Beaulieu, Marin and Mercier from 1915 to 1918.”
“President of the Saint-Henri Liberal Club in 1908 and 1911. Organizer of the Liberal Party of the district of Montreal from 1911 to 1921. Elected Liberal deputy for Montreal-Hochelaga in 1912. President of the Federation of Liberal Clubs of the province of Quebec in 1914. Re-elected unopposed in 1916. Did not seek re-election in 1919. Legislative councillor for the division of Rigaud from December 5, 1919 to January 25, 1922.”
“Appointed Judge of the Court of King’s Bench on January 25, 1922 and Chief Justice of the Province of Quebec on January 9, 1942. Was Administrator of the Province in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor in 1942.”
“Doctor of Law honoris causa from the University of Montreal in 1943. President of the Union Saint-Joseph de Saint-Henri. Founding member of the Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal. Member of the National Athletic Association and the Reform Club. Director of the Hunting and Fishing Association of the Province of Quebec. Life member of the Chapleau Club and the Cercle universitaire France-Amérique.”
“Died in Montreal, December 17, 1949, at the age of 78 years and 7 months. Buried in the Saint-Mathias cemetery, on May 3, 1950.”
“Married in his native parish, on June 30, 1896, Antonine Lanctôt, daughter of Alphonse Lanctôt, merchant, and Mélina Riendeau.”
Quebec National Assembly
Peter William McLagan, merchant, Mayor, City of Westmount (1919)
The Penguins Ski Club (1935)
The Penguins Ski Club (1932-1972) was the first Canadian all-women ski club. Their clubhouse (The Penguin Ski House) near Saint Sauveur was constructed through the generosity of the Molson family.
“A meeting of the Ladies’ Rifle Association will be held at the Edinburgh Café… The usual parade for drill instruction will be held tomorrow evening at 7:15 at 437 Argyle Avenue, Westmount.”
Montreal Gazette, July 12, 1915
Peter Ogilvie (1942)
Converted into a two-family dwelling (1942)
Alphonse Mallette, butcher (1899)
“That a special permit be issued to the authorities of Selwyn House School Inc. to place lockers in the basement of its house at 442 Argyle Avenue for the use of its pupils.” (1961)
Wilbrod Lefebvre, horse dealer (1899)
James Brown, Sun Life Assurance Company (1899)
Converted into a two-family dwelling (1937)
“Flames broke out on (448) Argyle Avenue… sending thick smoke into the air… no one was injured.”
– CTV News, September 2011
H. R. Beveridge, Manager, John B. Ellison & Son, manufacturer, exporter and importer of woollens (1899)
“While in a fit of despondency, H. R. Beveridge… took his life at his home, in Westmount, at 7 o’clock yesterday morning. Worry over the loss of his position is the cause assigned… The room where the man killed himself was formerly occupied by a servant…”
– The Gazette, April 15, 1902
Sergeant Harry R. Beveridge, M. M. Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, killed in action (1918)
Charles Cornell, printer (1899)
G. C. V. Buchanan (1910)
“Myra Hope Lee, 35 years of age, who was employed as a domestic in the family of Mrs. G. C. V. Buchanan… was the woman who attempted to end her life in a room at 412 St. Lawrence street Friday night, by turning on the gas… It was learned from one of the other maids in the house… that the woman had been despondent… following a receipt of a letter from the old country.”
– Montreal Gazette, October 31, 1910
William Mackay, assistant manager, Royal Insurance Company (1897)
The company still exists as RSA Insurance. The company, founded in Liverpool, came to Montreal in 1850 and erected a building equal to its reputation. Designed by British architect John William Hopkins, its massive size dominated Pointe à Callière. The Royal Insurance Company occupied the building until 1870 when the Canadian Government used it as a customs house. Abandoned in 1921 and damaged by fire in 1949 it was demolished in 1951.
George Brooks, commercial traveller (1899)
Harry Freed, Freed Paper Box Company, company located at 4523 Clarke street (1931)
Theobold H. Messmer, proprietor, Montreal Quilting Company (1897)
“The company’s main office was located at 524 Guy with branches in Rhode Island and New York City. Their business comprised the manufacturing of tufted goods and garments, stair pads, carpet lining and articles for clothing.
– Report of the Secretary of State of Canada, 1886
Robert Aikman (1917)
Alex J. Duncan, merchant, Alderman, City of Westmount (1927)
Misses Shanks, young ladies school (1899)
Woodside Seminary, Girls’ School for ages 7-17 (1911)
F. J. Jackman (1937)
The building was considerably damaged by a fire in December 1937.
H. F. Jackson, druggist (1897)
Richard A. Allan (1920)
John Gentles, surgeon dentist (1897)
Dr. Gentles drowned in a tragic accident during a fishing trip.
A. J. Corner, Birks, Corner & Company, tea importers and wholesale grocers (1899)
The company was founded by Arthur Birks, the brother of Henry Birks, president of Henry Birks and Company known for their distinctive jewellery stores.
Dr. John Gentles (1897)
A. H. Scott, Goodhue & Scott (1899)
Andrew Lane Wark MacCalllum, Montreal manager, Marconi Wireless Company (1919)
“A romance which had its inception amid the stress of war work in England culminated in a wedding… when Rev W. R. Robinson, united in marriage Captain Andrew Lane Wark MacCallum… son of John MacCallum of Fairlie, Ayrshire Scotland and Miss Enid Tudor Evans… of Carnarvon, Wales… Captain MacCallum went overseas from Montreal with the 35th Field Artillery, and after service in France was promoted to the Headquarters Staff in England.”
Montreal Gazette, January 28, 1919
Charles E. Hyde went overseas with the 13th Battalion and was killed in Amiens in 1918.
Alexander Ramsay, A. Ramsay & Son Company, paint and oils distributor (1899)
“Importers of paints, oils, colour and artists’ materials, English and Belgian sheet and polished plate-glass… Warehouse and office 37, 39 and 41 Recollet Street; St. Lawrence White Lead and colour works, 10 to 22 Inspector Street; Varnish factory, St. Patrick Street… The firm also manufactures double-body concentrated zinc… and coach colours. Firm has recently added… the silvering of plate and other glass for mirrors… which they turn out of superior quality.”
Industries of Canada, City of Montreal, 1886
University School, incorporated Shields School, provided a six-year secondary course for boys aged 12 to 18 (1935)
Purchased in 1957 by Benjamin Gersovitz and subsequently demolished.
Jacques Des Baillets, freelance radio announcer with programmes on CKAC and CBF (1948)
William W. Moore, Montreal Gas Company (1897)
“While the production of electricity was still at an experimental stage, coal gas was being used in large Canadian cities, mostly to light the streets. In 1837, the Montreal Gas Lighting Company installed streetlights in Montreal and, in 1841, the Toronto Gas, Light and Water Company (which became Consumers’ Gas Company in 1848), introduced them to Toronto. Gaslight, generally controlled by municipal corporations, spread to Halifax (1843), Quebec City (1849), Kingston (1850), Hamilton (1851) and Ottawa (1854).”
“The use of coal gas caused many problems. Lamplighters became increasingly busy maintaining the streetlamps. They had to check the flames constantly as they could be extinguished with the slightest breath of wind. Consumers complained that the lanterns were dirty and smelled bad; the gas lamps were left unclean and sometimes were not lit at all or for limited periods of time only, causing safety problems when it was dark.”
“This dissatisfaction with gaslighting and other factors prompted the gradual introduction of electric lighting to Canada’s cities in the 1880s. With the United States so close, American inventions quickly penetrated the market and entrepreneurs like Charles F. Brush, Thomas Edison, Elihu Thompson and Edwin James Houston took an interest in marketing their products in Canada.”
William Laidlaw Hogg (1945)
George Hogg (1945), Mayor, City of Westmount (1927)
Allan Turner Bone, construction engineer, Chairman of the National Joint Committee on Winter Construction (1955)
Jacob Goldstein, tobacco merchant (1929)
“… He was one of a small group of Jewish citizens that founded the first Jewish social club here in 1880, naming it for Sir Moses Montefiore, great Anglo-Jewish philanthropist… he started the first night classes at the Baron de Hirsch Institute… He helped found the first reform Jewish congregation here, the Temple Emanu-El… His only son Edgar was killed overseas at Vimy Ridge in 1917.”
Montreal Gazette, May 6, 1929
S. H. McDowell (1926)
“Your committee recommends that Council authorize the granting of a permit to Mr. S. H. McDowell to make alterations to his property… by placing cement stucco on metal lath over the wood house.” (1926)
Henry A. Hodgson (1899)
“Funeral services over little Gladys, the nine-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry A. Hodgson, will be held at 3 o’clock this afternoon at the family residence… Gladys, while bathing with her maid, Miss Edith Judge, at the heads of Lake Brule, Ste. Agathe, went beyond her depth was drowned. Her faithful maid, to whom she was deeply attached, also lost her life, probably in an attempt to rescue her charge.”
Montreal Gazette, July 29, 1899
Matthew Hicks, importer of antiques (1913)
“Mr. Hicks came to this city from Cloonara, Roscommon, Ireland in the year 1866… For the last thirty-six years, he has each summer paid a visit to his home in Ireland, bringing back with him, usually, valuable consignments of oriental rugs, and other antiques of artistic design… These it was his habit to sell by auction at his establishment at 191 Metcalfe street. (He) was the original importer of Oriental rugs to Montreal.”
Montreal Gazette, October 1, 1913
L. B. Unwin (1947)
Vice-president of finance, Canadian Pacific Railway Company, president of Canadian Pacific Air Lines Limited, Montreal, administrator of consumer rationing (1942-1943)
Samuel Laurence de Carteret, vice-president and general manager, Canadian International Paper Company (1940)
Paul B. Earle, clerk, C.P.R. (1899)
Frank Barton, master brewer, Montreal Brewing Company (1899)
Until recently, an independent brewer sold a brand bearing his name.
Montreal Flying Club (1930)
John Gilmour Watson, boot and shoe merchant (1925)
Business located at 201 Notre Dame street east
Tancrede Beaudoin (1949)
Arraigned in criminal court for illegal conversion of Hollinger Gold Mine shares to his own use.
Henry Lawrence Rutherford, governor, Montreal General Hospital (1954)
Feature image: Andrew BurloneRead other articles by 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog Westmount Overlooked