Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Montreal's Forgotten History

Founded in 1822, at the British and Canadian School one teacher would oversee hundreds of students, with the older students instructing the younger ones.

Modern day teachers may not approve, but it was an effective way to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to working-class children.

The rebellions of 1837-38 ended that experiment. French parents pulled their students out of the school and it was eventually absorbed by the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Fire, Little St. James Street, Montreal, QC, 1888

During the night of 22 January 1888, a terrible fire destroyed an imposing stone building on Little St. James Street, east of Place d’Armes in Montréal. The five-storey building with a façade of 165 feet was home to different companies, including several American business firms. The New York Times hastened to report the event, characterising the drama as “one of the worst fires that had visited Montréal for many years.”

According to the article, the fire began shortly after midnight on the second floor of the building; an extremely cold night and westerly winds soon caused the water hoses to freeze, while the “firemen were quickly transformed into walking blocks of ice.” Despite the efforts of the fire brigade, the flames spread rapidly through the stairwells and explosions were heard repeatedly. The equipment inadequate, the cold intense, ”the men and horses exhausted,” the only solution was to let the fire to die out of its own accord. In the early hours of the morning, it was reported “the block is to-day covered by a solid sheet of ice.”

The photograph by Notman & Son was no doubt taken during the morning of 22 January 1888. The photographer unites the key elements of the event and succeeds, through a discerning choice of perspective, light and framing, in capturing the drama and conveying the spectacular effect and striking transformation of the building encased in ice.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Steamboat Valleyfied


Arrival of the Steamboat Valleyfied at St. Helen’s Island

©2018 The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 27, 2018

Bouvril Building

Bouvril Building – 1921

Bovril Building art deco building located on the corner of Van Horne and Park Ave was built in 1921-22 by Montreal architect James Cecil McDougall for Food Specialists of Canada Limited, the manufacturers of Bovril in Canada.

In the mid 1800s, John Lawson Johnston, a Scottish butcher, having an interest in food science and preserving, experimented with heating beef trimmings, and came up with a concentrated beef stock, which had a long shelf-life. It became a favorite nourishing beef beverage for Edinburgh’s poor, as it would also have restorative and medicinal values.

Johnston emigrated to Montreal in 1863, where he set up a factory, where he developed “Johnston’s Fluid Beef”. In 1871 he went back and married Elizabeth Elliott Lawson in Edinburgh, Scotland. The couple lived there until 1875. In 1874 Johnston won a contract to produce preserved beef products for the French army of Emperor Napoleon III during the Franco-Prussian War. According to Bovril’s official history, around a million tonnes of beef product were produced, in the wake of it losing the war that year to the Prussians. In 1875, John, his wife and their first three children moved back to Canada and settled in Quebec City. There their last two children were born. He kept working on his liquid beef and re-invented it as a concentrate, which he made from beef parts leftover from the French government order of tinned beef. In 1879, John moved the business from Quebec City to Montreal. When, in 1884 his factory was destroyed by fire, he decided to move back to Europe, where he set up business in London selling his concentrate to grocery stores and pubs. In 1887 the name “Bovril” was registered, and a new brown-glass bottle was introduced. In 1895 John bought Kingswood House in Sydenham, London, and enlarged it by adding a wing and a large entrance. The Victorian mansion became known as “Bovril Castle”. The Bovril empire was sold in 1896 for £2 million. John Lawson Johnston died in 1900, but his product has survived to this day.

Food Specialists of Canada Ltd. occupied the Bovril building to 1948, when they moved and sold the building to British based Brooke Bond & Co, as a packaging plant for the Red Rose Tea factory established by Theodore Harding Estabrooks in 1894 in Saint John, New Brunswick. After Red Rose moved out in 1962, the Bovril building was home to several small businesses, mainly clothing shops. It has also been a low-rent place for artists such as painters, musicians, mimes and other various struggling artists.

Today, the building, owned by the Skver Yeshivah, houses a Hasidic Jewish primary school, library and daycare, and a non-profit artist’s cooperative with studios on the upper floors, each with their own entrance. The Bovril name has been removed, but the 1920’s industrial architecture remained intact.

©2018 The past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The barbers of Saint-Hyacinthe

If there is a place of sociability at the beginning of the twentieth century, it is the barbershop where news and the latest gossip are exchanged. This photo from the CH085 Studio BJ Hébert Fund was taken in 1926. We see two barbers with their clients. Who are they?

We consulted the 1915 Saint-Hyacinthe Guide for the number of barbers in our city a little over a hundred years ago. In this guide, the population of Saint-Hyacinthe is 12,000…more

(C)2018 The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Great Famine Voices

Why do so many people associate Strokestown with Irish Famine and emigration? The reasons are manifold. In November 1847, at the height of the Great Famine, the landlord of Strokestown Park, Major Denis Mahon, was shot on his way home from Roscommon. Over 100 years later, Major Mahon's ancestor, Olive Parkenham Mahon, sold Strokestown Park to Jim Callery, a local businessman who needed land in the town to expand his thriving business. Although now owner of the house, Jim allowed Olive to remain resident for many years. Jim tells the story much better than I do. He can take over...more