The history behind the familiar: the former residents who called Lansdowne Avenue their home
By Michael Walsh
January 24, 2024
The Secretary Treasurer submitted a letter from Mr. A. P. Jones, #536 Lansdowne Avenue complaining of children using the sidewalks on Lansdowne Avenue as a toboggan slide.
– Council Proceedings, March 5, 1918
Is this street named Landsdowne or Lansdowne? For some reason, the former misspelling (and pronunciation) is common, which is quite surprising given the same name also occurs on Upper Lansdowne and Lansdowne Ridge.
Before 1887, this wasn’t an issue because the street was named Dolan Avenue after (the far from modest) Francis Dolan. Dolan was a native of County Cavan, Ireland, before coming to Canada accompanied by his wife Sarah Jane McGee. He was initially employed at the prominent dry goods firm Greenshields and Company before setting up his own company, which he managed for nearly fifty years.
In 1874, he partnered with a consortium of businessmen, notably St. Germain (whose property forms today’s Upper Lansdowne), forming the Montreal West End Building Society, whose purpose was “…erecting and maintaining of buildings to be leased and the acquiring of property thereafter”.
In 1882, Dolan purchased several lots of land from the Society that were located above Cote St. Antoine and bounded in the rear by Belmont Avenue. Far from a modest approach, following this purchase, he named the street in his honour. (Interestingly, he and his wife never resided on the street – their residence was located at 236 Cote St. Antoine.)
The current residents of the street were opposed to the street’s name, and in 1887, presented a petition to Council asking that the street be renamed – Francis Dolan was the sole person objecting to any change in name.
“A petition (signed by a majority of the street’s residents)… to change the name of Dolan Avenue… Mr. Dolan appeared before the Council and opposed any change of the name and the matter was left over for consideration.”
– Council Minutes, Village of Cote St. Antoine, July 4, 1887
One month later, Council unanimously voted to change the name to Lansdowne Avenue in honour of Canada’s current Governor General, The Marquess of Lansdowne. Dolan, not pleased with this decision, promptly placed a barrier across the street to prevent any vehicular traffic, a rather petulant move, which was promptly dismantled by the City’s road crews.
In my opinion, a street honouring Canada’s Governor General is in line with many of the City’s other street names – each providing a short course in Canadian history.
Henry Charles Petty-Fitzmaurice, fifth Marquess of Lansdowne, was appointed Governor General of Canada from 1883 to 1888. Fluent in French (his grandfather was a general in Napoleon’s army) made him very popular in Quebec.
‘In my opinion, a street honouring Canada’s Governor General is in line with many of the City’s other street names – each providing a short course in Canadian history.’
Interestingly, the Marquess of Lansdowne was created for William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, who served as Prime Minister of England from 1782 to 1783, for negotiating peace with America after the War of Independence. During his tenure as Governor General, he effected an agreement that ended the 1885 district of Saskatchewan’s (at that time, part of the Northwest Territories) Northwest Rebellion brought about by the Métis’ lack of formal titles to their lands and lack of political representation.
In 1888, he negotiated the Canadian Fisheries Treaty between the United States and Canada that would have restricted American fishing vessels from entering Canadian waters and using uninhabited coastal areas for drying and curing their catches. Tensions between the two countries over this issue were so strong that either side was prepared to declare war. Although the treaty failed in a Republican-led Senate, portions were used in subsequent treaties still in effect today.
Lansdowne departed Canada in 1888 following his appointment as Viceroyalty of India.
Turning our attention to the street itself, one can visualize the grandeur of the early residences. One such description is of the residence of H. A. Watson (date unknown), comprising both a main house and summer residence surrounded by a huge parcel of land. Of course, the roof’s Union Jack was raised above the main house whenever the family was in residence. The street’s early residents took advantage of the street’s steep grade by constructing a slide used by their toboggan club.
In the 1890s, the street was traversed by two bridges: one at Western Avenue (today Boulevard De Maisonneuve) for vehicles and pedestrians and another across the Glen’s ravine near St. Catherine Street.
The raising of the road’s level in 1883 allowed the construction of a Methodist Tabernacle at Western Avenue one year later.
That same year, the Cote St. Antoine Glen Bridge was constructed. This allowed the extension of St. Catherine Street and Lansdowne Avenue. In addition, the bridge was deemed essential for the Town’s drainage system and to provide an easy grade to the Town of St. Henri. Surprisingly, although the bridge was used exclusively by the Grand Trunk Railway (and today by the Canadian Pacific Railway), the cost was paid (through a special assessment) over forty years by the Town’s residents.
In 1896, the head of the street (today The Boulevard) was used as a shooting ground for the Westmount Gun Club. During the shooting season, tournaments were held every two weeks with the winner receiving the Westmount Challenge Cup.
‘In the 1890s, the street was traversed by two bridges: one at Western Avenue (today Boulevard De Maisonneuve) for vehicles and pedestrians and another across the Glen’s ravine near St. Catherine Street.’
Interestingly, the Town’s first fire station (reel-house) was located on the street before it was relocated in 1896 to Selby Avenue.
The year 1897 saw the construction of “Lansdowne Avenue (upper)” today named Upper Lansdowne. This began with the subdivision of the St. Germain property into building lots. One year later, other proprietors offered the City a free secession of their lots forming the street.
“Petition to Council by A. E. Brock and other proprietors on the land that fronts Lansdowne Avenue, above Cote St. Antoine, offering a free transfer of the street and the condition that the Town open and grade same.”
– Council Proceedings, 1898
By 1905, Upper Lansdowne was graded, had sidewalks laid, and drains installed with a proportion of the costs borne by the fronting proprietors. By 1909, water mains were installed by the Montreal Water and Power Company.
An outstanding issue was addressed in 1907 following complaints about the street’s grade near the Murray estate – one resident described it as:
“… positively dangerous, which would kill horses drawing a load of coal to that part of Lansdowne Avenue.”
In 1909, the ravine at Lansdowne Avenue and St. Catherine Street was filled in at the request of a proprietor (C. H. Hitch) whose residence was constructed at that location. (Today, one cannot imagine altering a town’s geography following a complaint from one resident.)
By 1911, the street was macadamized, had gas mains installed, and the former wooden sidewalks were replaced with concrete. The following year, the City closed the street at the Glen Road. (The street’s initial layout had a southerly extension across St. Catherine Street to Bethune Avenue.)
The street’s public transportation system was provided by means of a beltway operated by the Montreal Transportation Company (in 1913) that provided a service to their double-track system on Sherbrooke Street. In addition, by 1924, Kennedy Taxis operated a stand at the street’s corner at Sherbrooke Street. In addition, the company constructed a waiting room and cabman’s shelter on the northeast corner of Lansdowne Avenue and St. Catherine Street, as well as another at the Boulevard.
By 1919, the street was graced with the Dominion Church at the Boulevard – today named Dominion Douglas United Church.
In 1920, the City needed a roadway to connect Upper Lansdowne with Upper Belmont. As such, they expropriated property from James Baille and Thomas Lamb to construct today’s Lansdowne Ridge. In 1941, the street was connected to Montreal’s limits by means of a stairway.
Before 1926, the street’s upper portion was home to the Westmount Golf Club. Pressure from a growing city and economic realities forced Council to allow the subdivision of this area into building lots.
The ensuing years saw two new churches constructed: Westmount-Park-Melville United Church (1929) and the First Church of Christ Scientist (1935).
A pedestrian safety issue occurred in 1958 with the street’s sharp turn at The Boulevard. This was caused by the projection of property owned by the Dominion-Douglas Church. To resolve this issue, the church granted servitude to the City for that portion of their property to straighten the roadway.
Finally, many streets have tragic stories and Lansdowne Avenue is no exception. On May 17, 1963, Warrant Officer II Walter Rolland Leja (Royal Canadian Engineers) was dismantling bombs placed throughout Westmount by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ). He successfully disarmed two bombs placed in mailboxes, however, a third was found at the corner of Lansdowne and Westmount avenues. In attempting to disarm this device, it exploded, leaving him with serious injuries requiring hospitalization for the remaining twenty-nine years of his life.
Jean-Denis Lamoureux was charged with placing the bomb that injured Leja and sentenced to 33 months in prison. In 1984, he was appointed as the communications director for Premier René Levesque’s office. Subsequently, he was hired at Le Devoir as desk editor. He held this position from 1988-1993 and passed away in 2022. Today, a memorial plaque located at the corner of Westmount and Grosvenor Avenues pays tribute to Leja’s bravery.
Following this senseless tragedy, we should conclude our story. Certainly, other minor changes to the streetscape occurred – such as the relocation of the dog run to Westmount Park (2013) and a bicycle path pilot project (2019) – however, these pale in comparison.
Let us turn our attention to several of the former residents who made this street their home and discover many of the City’s forgotten stories.
Group Secretary, Westmount Alcoholics Anonymous –1953
John Morris Roger Fairbairn, Chief Engineer, Canadian Pacific Railway –1936
Gordon C. Seybold, Director, Frothingham, Starke Seybold Ltd. –1944
Wholesale hardware merchants with offices at 157-161 St. Paul Street West, Montreal
Colonel Sydney E. Francis, Commandant, Montreal Division, Canadian Corps of Commissionaires –1949
Mary Agnes Weaver – 1926
Building converted into a two-family residence – 1946
J. Todd, Boot and shoemaker – 1897
It appears that the original building was replaced by a newer residence.
Archibald Lorne Robertson, Contractor and Alderman, City of Westmount – 1929
James Andrew Dyke, Chemist, National Drug and Chemical Company of Canada – 1921
“National Drug and Chemical Company of Canada Limited was incorporated in Canada in 1905. The company changed its name to National Drug Limited in 1980. The company amalgamated with Nadruco Holdings Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Provigo Inc., to continue under the National Drug Limited name in 1981.”
– McGill University Library, Digital Archives
Do you remember the 1979 board game Trivial Pursuit? Christopher Haney, a photo editor for the Montreal Gazette and one of the game’s founders resided in this residence.
James A. Dyke, Manager, Evans & Sons Ltd., chemists – 1899
William McClennan, editor – 1894
George A. Robertson, roadmaster – 1894
R. B. Coulson, traveller, Dominion Wire Company – 1896
The Dominion Wire Company, with a factory in Lachine, manufactured barbed wire, nails, wood screws and plain wire. The company was unable to compete with the U.S. Consolidated Steel & Wire Company and closed in 1897.
Frank C. Silcock, manager, Oxol Fluid Beef Company – 1900
James Stuart, S. Carsley Company Limited – 1899
“The S. Carsley Company was a ‘departmental dry goods business,’ or department store, operating in Montreal between 1871 and 1909. At the height of its success, the department store was considered among the largest of its kind in Canada. S. Carsley and Co. also published what was considered the first mail-order catalogue in Canada…”
“In 1909, S. Carsley Co. moved (from Notre Dame Street) to premises previously occupied by Scroggie’s department store on St. Catherine Street between University and Victoria. However, within five months of opening its new location, Carsley’s sold its business to A. E. Rea & Company, which later became Goodwin’s Limited. (Today, the site is occupied by the former T. Eaton Company store.)”
– The University of British Columbia, Open Collections
F. W. Graham, R. Graham & Company – 1897
Importers of French, English and German stationery. The company also provided printing services that included the Bank of Canada.
Robert Frank Findlay –1897
A talented and remarkably prolific architect who practised from 1887-1937. Amongst his many works are the Westmount Public Library, Henry Morgan & Company department store (today The Bay), Westmount City Hall and Westmount’s Murray Park Pavilion.
Robert Henry Macdonald – 1898
“Robert Henry Macdonald (1875-1942), was a partner in the highly successful Montreal architectural firm of Ross & MacDonald from 1912 to 1942. He was a native of Melbourne, Australia, and studied at the Technical College there from 1891 to 1894. During this period, he served an apprenticeship with Richard B. Whitaker, architect of Melbourne and, in 1895, MacDonald emigrated to Canada to work as a draftsman in the Montreal office of his cousin Robert Findlay from 1895 to 1900, and again in 1901-03, before moving to New York City. There, he obtained more training in the office of George B. Post in 1903-04 and with William Welles Bosworth before returning to Montreal to join the newly formed office of Ross & MacFarlane as a draftsman in 1904. Their partnership was formed on 15 September 1904, and their Montreal office opened shortly after.”
– Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada
Amongst the many works of Ross & MacDonald are Westmount’s Saint Matthias Church, Toronto’s Union Station, Montreal’s Mount Royal Hotel and Eaton’s department store. Other works include Montreal’s Gleneagles Apartments, the Montreal Neurological Institute and Halifax’s Naval Training Station.
James A. Cuttle, manager, Montreal Transportation Company – 1900
Kindergarten school (1935)
Dame Barbara-Allan McRae, widow, William Ernest Forbes, wholesale grocer – 1930
Building and lot sold by the City of Montreal’s Sherriff’s Office, 1930
C. Theoret – 1905
“…head of one the most important legal publishing concerns of Canada… His connection to the Revue Légale and Le Revue de Jurisprudence, both of which he owned, gave him a high standing among the legal profession of the Dominion, particularly in this province. His place of business is on the corner of St. Gabriel and St. James streets, where he had a well-equipped bookstore, printing room and bindery…”
– Montreal Gazette, May 20, 1905
Tragically, at the age of 40, he shot himself in the head while at his residence.
Pierre Poulin – 1925
The first manager of the Place Viger Hotel (today a business and residential complex) and proprietor of the Corona Hotel. In addition, he was the western agent for the Lawrence A. Wilson Company and Canadian representative of the Noirot distillery of Naney, France.
William Emmet Walsh, journalist, author and noted Celtic scholar – 1946
Author of The Doom of Conaire Mor, a book dealing with Irish mythology. President of the Quebec C.C.F. and Westmount C.C.F. In addition, he established the Native Sons of Canada in Victoria, British Columbia.
James Arthur Cochrane (1933)
“… born in Lowell, Mass., in 1853, Mr. Cochrane, who was the son of the late Senator M. H. Cochrane… was educated at Cirencester, England… he spent the first half of his life assisting his father in the management of the Hillhurst Estate at Compton. This famous farm was established in 1861 and became internationally known as the home of the leading herd of Shorthorn cattle and stud hackney horses… following his father’s death he continued to breed livestock, maintaining his interest in the Shorthorn Breeder’s Association. For many years, he served as a director of the Eastern Townships Agricultural Association.”
“Mr. Cochrane was married in 1886 to Mary Louise, daughter of the late Sir James Grant, M.D., of Ottawa… In 1892, he married Anna Eva, daughter of the late Hon. Alexander Morris, of Toronto, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwest Territories…”
– Sherbrooke Daily Record, February 22, 1933
Following his father’s (Senator Matthew Henry Cochrane) death, James sold the 1,100-acre farm – today, the area is a housing complex named Hillhurst-Sunnyside.
Frank M. Aykroyd – 1939
Frank Aykroyd and his wife, along with his daughters Prudence and Judith survived a torpedo attack on the SS Athenia by a German submarine in September 1939.
T. Ware, florist – 1894
Major Michael Lovett Tucker, DSO – 1946
Awarded Netherland’s Bronze Lion. The citation reads:
“This officer served as Officer Commanding 23 Canadian Field Company during the campaign in Northwest Europe. His efficiency, drive and enthusiasm made important contributions to every operation in which his unit took part. He organized and conducted the evacuation of the majority of the survivors of 1 British Airborne Division from their bridgehead on the north bank of the River Neder Nijn. On the night [of] 25/26 September 1944, his company evacuated 2,600 men by storm boat. This task had been considered hopeless, but by his inspired leadership and courage, the 23 Canadian Field Company were able to complete, successfully, this difficult and hazardous operation.”
– Canadian Military Engineers Association
Property owned by the Montreal Association for the Blind – 1936
William Galbraith, First Mayor, City of Westmount (1904-1908) – 1926
Born in County Longford, Ireland, and came to Canada in 1869. He was a member of the wholesale grocery firm of Carter, Galbraith & Company. Mr. Galbraith was a Mason and Deputy Supreme Grand Master of the Orange Association.
James C. Copping, General Manager, Christie Brown & Co. Limited and Alderman, City of Westmount – 1920
In the late 1880s, Christie Brown & Company was the largest manufacturer and exporter of cakes and biscuits.
Thomas Wesley Mills M.D., Professor, McGill University – 1894
“Primarily a scientist and a science educator, Mills taught within a faculty which viewed physiology as a preclinical science rather than as an end in itself. Mills, on the other hand, held that medicine was applied biology and ought to be taught as such. His views led to friction with his colleagues and sometimes his students; neither could satisfy his ideal that “all medical students… be medical philosophers and… delve into the mysteries of psychology and philosophy.”
“The textbooks he produced for his courses at McGill included an extensive series of laboratory exercises to be carried out in a university physiology laboratory, which was the first of its kind in Canada. Mills also innovated by incorporating experiments on living animals into the teaching of physiology, and he even raised his own laboratory animals on the grounds of his home in Westmount. His approach to physiology was also strongly comparative. He taught physiology and cytology at the Montreal Veterinary College, later the faculty of comparative medicine and veterinary science of McGill, from which he obtained a doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1890. As early as 1885, he founded the Society for the Study of Comparative Physiology in connection with the veterinary college and, over time, the trend of his publications began to take a marked turn in the direction of animal physiology.”
– Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Donald Stuart Roberson, purchasing agent, Montreal Tramways Company – 1920
Walter Alfred Merrill K.C., mayor, City of Westmount (1939-1945) – 1941
C. N. Blakeley, Old Dominion Steamship Company – 1896
The company provided sailings from Montreal to Liverpool.
Alexander Stewart, laundryman – 1900
H. H. Pick – 1946
Residence damaged by fire (1946)
Edward Tighe, Customs Examining Warehouse – 1894
V. S. Benvie, manager, Merchants’ Bank of Halifax (forerunner of the Royal Bank of Canada) – 1900
Thomas H. Hudson, Managing Director, Canada Accident and Fire Company – 1932
The late Lance Corporal Ted Fisher, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Fisher, 576 Lansdowne Avenue, was awarded the Victoria Cross on April 23, 1916, by King George V.
Brigadier General James Arthur de Lalanne, M.C. and former mayor, City of Westmount – 1945
“In September 1915, he joined Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in the field as a private. In May 1916, he was commissioned and transferred to the 60th Battalion (Victoria Rifles of Canada). At the end of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was the leader of the patrol that liberated the village of Vimy. During the war, he was wounded three times and gassed three times. He was awarded the Military Cross with bar.”
“Returning to civilian life, he completed his education at McGill and entered the profession of chartered accountant. He married Mildred Eakin, and they had a son, James.”
“At the onset of the Second World War, he returned to active duty. He served in various staff positions and retired in 1945 with the position of Vice Adjutant General and with the rank of Brigadier General. He was invested as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.”
“In civilian life, he served in a number of significant positions at various times and received numerous honours. He was national president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants; alderman and mayor of the City of Westmount, Quebec; and president of the Graduates’ Society of McGill University. He served veterans’ organizations as Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion; Honorary Governor of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires; president of the Montreal United Services Institute; and president of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Association.”
– Archives, Society of Alberta
William Bitcliffe, grocer – 1927
“Mr. Wm. Bitcliffe saw the great future of the West End, and money was no barrier to the erection of this imposing business structure on Victoria Ave. The finest stock of groceries and sundries are carried and, in addition, a complete hardware establishment where is to be found all the specialties and necessaries for garden purposes, are situated at No. 350 Victoria Avenue, Westmount.”
– The Evening Standard, December 6, 1915
Alexander Barr Parker, Treasurer, Henry Morgan and Co. Limited – 1931
In addition, he was Grand Secretary of the Royal Templars of Temperance.
Hugh Gilchrist, Gilchrist and Munro, livestock dealers and former alderman, City of Westmount – 1925
Charles Francis Crutchlow, physician, Canada Life Assurance Company and founder of the Westmount Rotary Club – 1939
Franklin Railway and Supply Company – 1941
Robert Whitaker Garth, Montreal Stock Exchange Clearing House – 1947
He was a member of the oldest families in Montreal. His grandfather’s firm, the Garth Company (plumbers and steamfitters), started business in 1828. The company was Canada’s manufacturer of gas street lighting for towns and cities throughout the province. The company still operates in Rexdale, Ontario, as Garth Industrial.
805 Upper Lansdowne
“WHEREAS the owner of the property located at 805, Upper Lansdowne has carried out landscaping and the construction of two retaining walls and a fence on public property and, therefore, enclosing a portion of Devon Park for private purposes, without obtaining the City’s permission.”
“THAT the legal firm Fasken Martineau be authorized to file a motion before the Quebec Superior Court for a permanent injunction and any other legal proceedings against the owners of the property located at 805, Upper Lansdowne in the City of Westmount.”
– Council Proceedings, September 25, 2006
Settled out of court with the City and residential owners agreeing on a “tolerance of encroachment.”
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. Before 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 michaelld2003 @hotmail.com or through his blog Westmount Overlooked