In 1887, Sainte-Cunegonde (now familiarly referred to as Little Burgundy) started playing host to the majority of Montreal’s black community. This working class neighbourhood generated as a result of nearby industry along the Lachine Canal. Important railway lines also ran close to the municipality and recruited the American black community to serve as porters on its trains. Immigrants were mostly attracted from New York and Washington.
Gradually, the neighbourhood welcomed Afro-Canadians (from Ontario and the Maritimes) and those from the Caribbean, too. Women were mostly hired to perform domestic work. After two waves of immigration - at the end of the nineteenth century and during the First World War - Caribbeans represented close to 40% of Montreal’s black community and most of them chose to live in Little Burgundy.
Human rights movements characterize the history of Little Burgundy. In 1902, a social club was founded to create a sense of mutual responsibility between its members; this Women’s Coloured Club of Montreal helped to resolve lodging problems and encouraged exchange and donation to provide for those less fortunate.
Betterment of social conditions again spawned two other groups: Union United Congrational Church in 1907 and Negro Community Center in 1927. In 1919, a final organization, Universal Negro Improvement Association, adopted the mandate of restoring dignity, ending social isolation, and helping with the material needs of families.
People came to this area in hopes of a better future and yet had to be patient for three decades before certain rights were guaranteed. The general misery of factory work, the poor working and living conditions and the poverty affected the black community more given very present racism and discrimination.
Fortunately, those social groups and the subsequent closeness of the community overcame the threat of overwhelming hopelessness. Instead, their hope was often manifested in the form of music. Jazz was introduced to Canada through the influence of gospel singing and the importance of native songs to the Afro-Americans.
Atwater Market was the border between Saint-Henri and Little Burgundy.
The neighbourhood gave the world jazz legends Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones.
Peterson was born to immigrants from the West Indies; his father worked as a porter for Canadian Pacific Railway. Peterson grew up in the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy in Montreal, Quebec. It was in this predominantly black neighbourhood that he found himself surrounded by the jazz culture that flourished in the early 20th century.
Oliver Theophilus Jones OC,CQ (born September 11, 1934 in Little Burgundy, Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadian jazz pianist, organist, composer and arranger.
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The Past Whispers
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