The history behind the familiar: the former residents that called Clarke Avenue their home
By Michael Walsh
September 28, 2022
Perhaps fewer interesting stories could be told than that connected with the family of Clarke who formerly owned all the land from, at least, as far down as St. Catherine street, to Cote des Neiges, over the Little Mountain.
– Adèle Clarke, 1906
What word comes to might when one mentions “Clarke Avenue”? My response would be “steep”. I recall walking up its length during a severe snowstorm. With no cars in sight and near white-out conditions, I remember having visions of being discovered buried neck-deep in snow.
The street’s steep incline was used by the Montreal Ski Club in the 1900s. In fact, there was a ski jump near the Boulevard used for their team competitions. Spectators described the ascent as “the hill being so steep that (we) had to hang onto bushes to prevent falling back.”
Like many streets in Westmount, Clarke Avenue offers two historical perspectives: the stories behind the beautiful residences that grace the street and the history of the name’s origin. In this instance, the latter provides a unique insight into life in Canada in the 1800s.
The street is named in honour of Simon Clarke whose land holdings were described as:
“The property extended from Cote St. Catherine Road north to the boundary of St. Laurent, covering an area of nearly 50 acres. It had the finest garden in the locality noted for the excellence and variety of its apples, pears, plums and small fruits, and where luscious melons and other products of the ground vines flourished as if in their native habitat or in more genial climes…”
– The Canadian Horticultural Magazine, November 1897
Fortunately, Simon Clarke’s granddaughter, Adèle Clarke, in her later years, penned a monograph describing her memories of Canada in the 1800s. Entitled John Clarke: His Adventures, Friends and Family. Published in 1906, it chronicles life during the early days of Westmount.
The Clarke family home was located at the corner of Clarke Avenue and Cote St. Antoine Road and is described as follows:
“This quaint old house sat in a delightful rambling garden with a great cherry orchard on the slope behind for background and was renowned for the hospitality of its owner and its inmates. The orchard in season was a mass of lovely white blossoms. Often, on summer evenings, an old lady in a high-backed chair sat under the wide-spreading trees, intent on her knitting, while her husband opposite busied himself reading to her. The couple was Mr. Simon Clarke and his wife, formerly Miss Waldorf, born in Neuchatel in Switzerland. What would they think of their once beautiful home if they could see it now? The flower garden in front is now a sward; the house is torn down; and on the slope of the Mountain, the site of the orchard is replaced by Montrose Avenue and surrounding streets and private grounds.”
– Adele Clarke, John Clarke: His Adventures, Friends and Family, The Herald Publishing Company, 1906
The fate of the original house is rather controversial. Adele Clarke recalls that it was demolished. Other sources mention it was destroyed by fire in 1844. Whereas others state that it is still extant, at 512 Clarke Avenue (“Edgemont”), unrecognizable due to extensive modifications.
Another mystery concerns the Clarke family’s burial grounds originally located at the top of Clarke Avenue. Adèle Clarke describes it as follows: “Upon the slope of that mountain at no distant date could be seen the Clarke family burying-ground, which was consecrated in the time of Missionary Mountain, afterward Bishop.” (Interestingly, Bishop Mountain – George Jehoshaphat Mountain – was installed as the first Principal of McGill College (1824-1835).)
It appears the family’s burial ground was lost during the opening of Montrose Avenue (ceded in 1898) with the surrounding private grounds.
‘Were the bones later removed somewhere else? Or are the graves of the Clarkes today in someone’s lawn or garden?…’
– Edgar Andrew Collard, November 8, 1975
One tantalizing clue occurred in the 1970s during foundation repairs at 3255 Cedar Avenue – human remains were discovered at a depth of nine feet. As Edgar Collard (writing in The Gazette) surmised, Cedar Avenue is less than two blocks from Clarke Avenue, placing its location within the Clarke family estate. It is not clear where those remains are today – nor the location of others yet to be discovered.
As for Adèle Clarke’s father, John Clarke, his life experiences are worthy of a separate article. In short, he was born in 1781 and by the age of eighteen, had established fur-trading stations west of the Rocky Mountains. By 1811 he partnered with John Jacob Astor to establish fur trading stations along the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Adèle Clarke describes these expeditions in detail and does not attempt to gloss over the atrocities inflicted on the First Nation tribes he encountered.
“It was the plan of Mr. Clarke to lay up his boats… and proceed by land to his place of destination, which was among Spokane tribe of Indians… He accordingly endeavoured to purchase horses for the journey but in this, he had to contend with the sordid disposition of these people… Mr. Clarke was detained for seven days among them before he could obtain a sufficient number… he laid up in his heart a bitter grudge against the whole (Chipunnish) race which it will be found he took occasion subsequently to gratify in a single manner. (He) had one of the race hung upon his return to them…”
– Adèle Clarke, 1906
By 1815 John Clarke was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and remained in their employ during his lifetime. During this period, he married Sapphira Spence, whose mother was of First Nation origin and returned with her to his father’s homestead. She died at an early age and was consecrated in the family burial grounds along the side of the mountain. A few years later, he remarried, and their family grew to include eight children. He and his wife resided in the family home until his death in 1852.
“Four of the family are still living on Clarke Avenue – the widow of John Clarke, at the advanced age of over one hundred years, and three of his children, two daughters and one son.”
– Adèle Clarke, 1906
Perhaps one day, a more thorough historical analysis of John Clarke’s life will absolve him of these atrocities. In fact, when confronted with these, former Mayor W. D. Lighthall wrote, “the material in possession of Mr. Clarke’s family vindicates him completely”. Perhaps it will, and perhaps it will not – only time will tell.
With that rather lengthy treatise behind us – I trust you agree it is a story that needed to be told. As we will see, the history behind the actual street is quite unremarkable in comparison to whom the street honours.
In the 1890s, the Montreal Light, Heat & Power Company (taken over by Hydro-Québec in 1944) had a pumping station located on Clarke Avenue. The company had a reservoir on Cote des Neiges that supplied water to the cities of St. Louis, St. Henri, Ste. Cunegonde, Westmount, and Verdun. The presence of this pumping station was the result of several lawsuits between the company and a local resident. The latter argued that the street was residential and that the station kept running day and night and soot and exhaust steam fell upon the plaintiff’s property so as to render it uninhabitable. The station was relocated to St. Gabriel in 1930, with water supplied from a larger reservoir in Outremont. The upper level of Westmount continued to receive its water from the Cote des Neiges reservoir. The power company’s building was demolished in 1935.
‘Interestingly, the first traffic lights on the Island of Montreal were installed on Sherbrooke Street at Clarke and Greene Avenues in 1927.’
Other items of note include the purchase of land, in 1908, by the Protestant Infants Home for their institutions. The City was not in favour of this plan and passed a by-law preventing non-residential construction on the street. One year later, the institution sold the parcel of land to a local developer.
In 1910 the Catholic School Commission procured land on Clarke Avenue for relocating Elm School, today known as Saint-Léon-de-Westmount School. As an aside, the first school in Westmount was located on Clarke Avenue at Cote St Antoine – the date is uncertain; however, their first teacher was a Miss Turnbull.
An area called Grove Park Estate existed as a vacant lot between Clarke and Mountain Avenues. It was subdivided into building lots in 1921, and a new street (today called Grove Park) was constructed through the area. In addition, a subdivision at the head of Clarke Avenue was known as Clarke Place.
Several churches graced the street – Ascension of Our Lord, Bethlehem Church (1896) and the English Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (1928).
Interestingly, the first traffic lights on the Island of Montreal were installed on Sherbrooke Street at Clarke and Greene Avenues in 1927.
Further development along the street occurred in a relatively quiet fashion. However, in 1959, when a major gas and water main bust occurred just north of Sherbrooke Street, the street came to national attention. Luckily, nobody was injured.
Finally, Council added additional green space to the municipality by constructing a park on Clarke Avenue at Saint Catherine Street in 1974.
That brings us to the end of Clarke Avenue’s background – with the story of the Clarke family overshadowing any occurrences during the street’s development.
There are more stories to be uncovered – those hidden within the stately homes that grace one of Westmount’s many beautiful streets. Let us take a walk along Clarke Avenue and discover the forgotten history (some tragic) waiting to be shared.
The residence was converted into a two-family dwelling in 1944.
“A profusion of palms, ferns, spires, Easter lilies, pink and white carnations and roses decorated the home of Major and Mrs. R. Sullivan David… yesterday afternoon for the wedding of their only daughter, Miss Gwendoline L. David, to Mr. Gustav A. Vorstcher… of Barman Germany…”
– Montreal Gazette, April 26, 1912
Joseph Louis Archambault K. C., Batonnier of the Bar of Montreal and city attorney (1925)
Emanuel Emery, Assistant Auditor, passenger receipts, Canadian Pacific Railway (1937)
Paul Rivet (1954)
The home was the scene of a shooting, between in-laws, during a wedding reception. Paul Rivet was accused of wounding several guests.
The Royal Westmount, known today as La Royale (1966)
George Ian Craig, Alderman, City of Westmount (1974)
English Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (1928)
“The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Montreal, Quebec, was established on January 15, 1905. From 1905 to 1910, the congregation met in a house located on Mountain Street in Montreal, Quebec. In the spring of 1910, the church moved to a new location on Essex Street (now Dorchester Boulevard). In spring 1912, the congregation purchased the former Bethlehem Congregational Church located on Clarke Avenue. In 1962, the old church building was demolished, and a new church was built. In 1996, the congregation merged with Christ in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, and became Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, part of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.”
– Wilfrid Laurier University Archives & Special Collections
The Sign of the Theotokos Church
F. Evans, Zenana Bible and Medical Mission (1927)
“In 1821, Mary Ann Cooke (soon to be Wilson) landed in Calcutta with the intention of setting up a school to educate young Hindu women. Although she experienced significant opposition from people unwilling to countenance the thought of women receiving an education, she worked closely with the Church Mission Society to set up a school to teach girls. In 1852, Mrs. Mackenzie, a colleague of Miss Cooke’s, wrote to the social activist Mary Jane Kinnaird (who later founded the YWCA) to ask for her assistance in expanding the organization’s work. Lady Kinnaird’s involvement led to the rapid growth of the organization and its expansion across India. Fundraising in Britain was led by enthusiasts such as Harriett Urmston, who began her support in 1875. In 1880, internal disputes within the organization resulted in the Church of England Zenana Mission breaking away.”
“From 1880 the organization became known as the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission as its focus expanded to include medical work. In 1881, a Zenana worker, Miss Bielby, met Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle to ask for her support in publicizing the organization’s work, a request to which the Queen agreed. At this time the organization began to expand its sending bases as well, and workers were sent from Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and the USA, as well as from Britain.”
Warwick Apartments (1930)
John James Robertson, Customs broker (1932)
William Francis Smith, Superintendent, Excelsior Life Insurance Company (1940)
Christian Action for Abolition of Torture (1992)
The Berkeley Apartments (1915)
“Housekeeping suites… modern appointments and no inside rooms… Suites containing 5, 6 and 10 rooms. Fair rentals.”
– Advertisement, 1915
James Renwick (1926)
“He was connected with the firm of Cassils & Cameron. He afterwards was employed with the Canadian Pacific Railway and then was associated with Kyle, Cheesbrough & Company. Mr. Renwick was formerly a member of the Victoria Rifles and served in the Fenian Raid of 1870…”
– Montreal Gazette, July 14, 1926
Wykeham House School, boys’ preparatory school with boarding facilities (1899)
John Tooke, Tooke Brothers (1915)
Allan C. MacKenzie, Engineer, Maintenance of Way, Eastern Line, Canadian Pacific Railway (1933)
Reverend M. S. Oxley (1903)
The residence was used as a parsonage.
“THAT the Merit of Honour Certificate be awarded to Lieutenant J. Hale and fireman R. Hearn for saving the life of Master Garran Pennington, at a fire which occurred at 370 Clarke Avenue, on Saturday, the 5th November 1977.”
– Council Minutes, 1977
Soon Hum, Laundry service (1903)
“Soon Hum, a Chinese laundryman living at No. 375 Clarke Avenue Westmount, was found hanging by the neck in a room in the rear of his store at 6.30 o’clock last evening… a letter was found on a table, written by Hum, declaring his intention of committing suicide…”
– Montreal Gazette, August 24, 1903
Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue
Misses Sarah and Jessie Shanks (1898)
The residence was used as a school.
James Matthew McMahon, James Linton Shoe Company (1943)
The residence was converted into a two-family dwelling in 1944.
William H. Davies, Purser, SS Campana (1926)
Arthur Francis Renault, Sales representative, Nova Scotia Textile Company (1941)
Savoy Plaza (1967)
Venezuelan Consulate (1943)
Mr. Justice Louis Loranger, Senior Judge, Quebec Superior Court (1951)
Board of Management, Protestant Infants’ Home (1932)
George E. Cross, Drafting instructor, Montreal Technical School (1939)
William George Slack, Treasurer, Bell Telephone Company of Canada (1934)
Major Charles Hope (1944)
His son, Pilot Officer John Charles William Hope, was killed in action.
Peter Michael McEntyre, Chartered accountant, Alderman, City of Westmount (1962)
J. Alfred Herbert, President, C. W. Lindsay & Company Limited (1942)
“C.W. Lindsay & Co. Retail chain selling pianos, phonographs, and sheet music. The enterprise originated in 1877, when Charles William Lindsay (born Montreal 6 April 1856, died there 7 November 1939), who had been blind since adolescence, returned from Boston after studying piano tuning and repair at the Perkins Institute for the Blind.”
“He started practising his trade but soon began to sell reconditioned pianos. He became the agent for Heinzman in 1883 and then obtained contracts with two Boston companies. In 1902, the business became a limited liability company, and Lindsay built his own seven-storey building on Ste-Catherine St West. He bought out other enterprises: part of Orme & Son of Ottawa (1909), Cordingly of Brockville, Ont (1910), the Montreal branch of Nordheimer Piano & Music Co (1911), Foisy Frères of Montreal (1914), Riggs of Belleville, Ont (1916), and in 1917 J.-A. Hurteau and the Compagnie générale des phonographes de Montréal. In 1915 he also had built a five-storey building in Quebec City on the corner of St-Jean and St-Eustache streets, managed by C. A. Hurteau.”
“Besides selling player-piano rolls, phonographs, sheet music, and records, the Lindsay Co bought pianos, particularly those manufactured by Lesage and Craig, and sold them under its own name. The Woodhouse department store in Montreal bought out C.W. Lindsay & Co in 1944 and gradually acquired the different branches by the 1950s. An advertisement dated 1947 mentions three stores in Montreal, as well as branches in Kingston and Ottawa, Ont, and in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, and Verdun, Que.”
– The Canadian Encyclopedia
“Mrs. H. Bernstein, aged 86, was asphyxiated by smoke… when the residence of Max Rothschild… was partially destroyed by fire… Nothing in the house was saved… The upper floor of the house was badly damaged, while the lower floor suffered heavily from water. The home is one of the oldest in the City of Westmount, having been built 75 years ago by the Greenshields family. The last member known to Westmounters was Mrs. Greenshields, who finally sold the property and left for England. The property is now owned by the National Trust Company…”
– Montreal Gazette, September 18, 1922
Michael Arthur Phelan, Phelan, Fleet, Robertson and Abbott, law firm, and Vice President, Montreal City and District Savings Bank (today Laurentian Bank of Canada) (1945)
Westmount Cricket Club (1925)
E. A. Reinhardt, Reinhardt Manufacturing Company (1908)
“Mr. E. A. Reinhardt, until a short time ago head of the Reinhardt Manufacturing Company, committed suicide yesterday… the wounds were inflicted while the victim was confined to his home, 473 Clarke Avenue, Westmount…”
– Montreal Gazette, March 7, 1908
Arthur E. Cook, Assistant Manager, Elder & Dempster & Company Limited (1923)
Sir Henry Thornton (1924)
“In 1922, Thornton became president of the newly formed Canadian National Railways (CNR), moving to consolidate many of Canada’s main railroads and integrate the Canadian National Steamship service into the national transportation system. He also moved the CNR into the development of hotels and resorts. The result was the movement of a significant part of the Canadian population to the interior of the country. He established a radio system to support the trains, and it evolved into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Thornton’s lavish lifestyle and political connections caused major problems when the government changed in the Great Depression.”
– Orders and Medals Society of America
“The appointment of the Royal Commission on Railways and Transportation in 1931 spelled the end of Thornton. He was bullied into submitting his resignation the following summer by a group of Conservative MPs who became known as the Wrecking Brigade. He was also stripped of his pension in what one Liberal MP called “the rawest deal any man ever received from the Government of Canada.” Uncharacteristically timid, he had refused to fight back against the Bennett government at a critical hour. He sought to go quietly. When Liberal MPs called for the handing over of his personal papers, he burned them rather than have them used for political purposes.”
“On the night of August 1, 1932, Thornton and his wife boarded his radio-equipped private coach and departed Montreal’s Bonaventure Station for New York. In a series of final, spiteful moves, the Bennett government had strong-armed a major Canadian bank into removing him from their board and then poisoned his chance to head the Indian State Railways. He died, broke, of cancer in New York on March 14, 1933, the night he was to have been back in Canada for a dinner given by CNR employees. The railway unions were later credited with organizing massive campaigns against every member of the Wrecking Brigade, and had the pleasure of watching them all go down to defeat, along with Bennett, in the 1935 federal election.”
– History of Canadian Broadcasting
Reported, in some publications, to be the original Clarke family home.
The residence’s gardens won an award, in 1902, from the Montreal Horticultural Society.
William Lyall, Peter Lyall & Sons, Construction Company (1915)
The company was one of Canada’s leading contracting firms and completed many of the country’s notable buildings including Parliament’s Center Block after it was destroyed by fire in 1916. Other works include the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg, Sherbrooke Building (SH) UQAM, Board of Trade Building and the Viger Railway Station.
The residence was destroyed by an exploding furnace in 1922.
Reverend W. J. Clark, Pastor, St. Andrew’s United Church (1947)
George William Oliver, Dentist, President of the McGill Dental College (1933)
H. Lawrence Davis (1943)
His son Fight-Sargent Philip Weir Davis was killed in action.
Alexandre Casgrain, Wainwright, Elder and McDougall, legal firm (1941)
Killed in action while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
W.H. Trenholme, Former Mayor of Westmount and President, Guaranteed Pure Milk Company (1907)
The residence was damaged by a basement oil fire in 1948.
Donald Newton Byers, Advocate and Queen’s Counsel, Alderman, City of Westmount (1964)
Joseph Irvine Hobson, Treasurer, Canada Steamship Lines (1937)
Blair Russel (1940)
His son, Flying Officer B. Dalzell Russel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while serving with the Royal Canadian Airforce’s 1st Fighter Squadron.
Lord Congleton, John Brooke Molesworth Parnell (1922)
“Lieut.-Commr. Lord CONGLETON, R.N., Emergency List, whose death occurred on 21st December 1932 in London, was the second son of the fourth Baron Congleton. He was born at Clonmel, Tipperary, in 1892, and succeeded to the title when his brother, the fifth Baron, was killed in action in 1914.”
“He was appointed a director of Messrs. G. D. Peters and Company, Windsor Works, Slough, in 1923, and later, as works director, he had the entire control of his firm’s productions. He was particularly interested in the development of power signalling apparatus in which one of the subsidiaries of this company, namely the British Power Railway Signal Company, specialized.”
“Lord Congleton (then the Hon. John Brooke Molesworth Parnell) received his naval training at Osborne and Dartmouth during the years 1905-1909, and passed out as midshipman, R.N. He was promoted to sub-lieutenant in 1912 and lieutenant in 1913. Whilst in China in 1912, he was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for saving life. In 1916, he qualified in gunnery, and later gained the engine-room watch-keeping certificate and retired from the Navy in 1919 with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander.”
“Lord Congleton then took a five-month course of engineering studies at University College, London, and afterwards proceeded to Canada where he continued his studies at the McGill University, Montreal, from 1919 to 1921. During the summer vacation in 1920, he worked as a fitter at the works of Messrs. Canadian-Vickers, Montreal. In the following year, he gained a B.Sc. degree from McGill University, with honours in mechanical engineering. He subsequently entered the Lachine Works, P.Q., of The Rapid Tool and Machine Company.”
“Lord Congleton was elected an Associate Member of the Institution in 1927 and was transferred to Membership in the following year. He served on the Committee of Management of the Benevolent Fund of the Institution and also upon various other benevolent and educational organizations connected with the engineering profession.”
– Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History
John Clarke Stanton, Manager, Canadian division, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (1936)
John Crosbie Cushing, Mayor, City of Westmount (1957)
Arthur W. McMaster, Library Trustee, City of Westmount (1948)
Dr. C. P. Howard (1933)
“Campbell Palmer Howard was born April 2, 1877, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His father, Robert Palmer Howard, was a physician, and his godfather, Sir William Osler (1849-1919), was a widely respected physician. Howard graduated from Montreal High School, followed by the Montreal Collegiate Institute. He received a Faculty of Arts B. A. degree from McGill Medical College (later named McGill University) in 1897. He took the M.D.C.M. medical degree at McGill in 1901.”
“After graduation, he completed a one-year internship at Montreal General Hospital and served as an assistant resident physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1902 until 1906. Howard completed graduate work at the University of Munich from 1906 to 1907. Over the next three years, he taught clinical chemistry and a course in adolescent diseases at McGill University while he served concurrently as a physician at the Royal Edward Institute for Tuberculosis in Montreal.”
“Dr. Howard joined the State University of Iowa faculty in September 1910 as professor and head of the Department of Theory and Practice of Medicine, with his focus in bacteriology. He was recruited because of his training, which was one of the changes suggested for SUI by Abraham Flexner, following Flexner’s 1910 report on medical education in the United States and Canada. Flexner had praised McGill Medical College in his report. In 1921, Howard was also named Physician-in-Chief of University Hospital and was successful in attracting talented physicians to the faculty.”
“Howard resigned July 1, 1924, to become professor of medicine at McGill University and physician to the Montreal General Hospital. During his medical career, Howard served as president of the Association of American Physicians and the Society for Clinical Investigation. He was a guest speaker for the Iowa State Medical Society at the Des Moines session in May 1931.”
“In 1911, Howard married Ottille Frances Wright, a niece of Osler’s, and they had a son, R. Palmer Howard, M. D., who became director of the History of Medicine Program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. C. P. Howard died on June 3, 1936.”
– University of Iowa Archives
E. H. Smith, Duke of Gloucester Chapter, I.O.D.E. (1939)
John H. Molson, Vice President, Molson’s Brewery (1941)
Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1945.
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