Monday, October 31, 2016

The Ghost of Mary Gallagher


Mary Gallagher was murdered on June 27, 1879 by her friend and fellow prostitute Susan Kennedy. In the years that followed the heinous murder, stories of Mary Gallagher’s ghost began to circulate around Griffintown, Quebec.  By the end of the 19th Century Mary had become something of a local legend.

The story of Mary Gallagher’s ghost began when Mary and Susan Kennedy went out for a night of drinking. While at a tavern the drunken Mary picked up a young man named Michael Flanagan.  The three left the tavern and went to Kennedy’s home where the drinking continued for hours.  At some point in time, before midnight, the young Flanagan passed out.  Then at about 12:15 AM the neighbor that lived below Kennedy said she heard loud sounds coming from above which lasted several minutes.  She would describe the noise as “chopping sounds.”  As it turned out the description was horribly accurate.

Not much if anything is known about what was going on between Mary and Susan.  The two were known to be good friends and often seen in each others company.  One idea is that over time, Susan became jealous of Mary because of Her apparent ease in picking up men as well as the money she made from prostitution.  Whatever the reason or cause was, something sent Susan Kennedy into a homicidal rage and she murdered Mary by chopping off her head.  Susan Kennedy as well as the passed out Flanagan, were both charged with the Gallagher killing.  As police continued to investigate the case however, all charges against Michael Flanagan were dropped and Kennedy faced the murder charge alone.

Kennedy was found guilty of the killing on December 5, 1879, and sentenced to be hanged. Following a re-sentencing, Susan Kennedy was sent to prison where she served 16 years for her crime before being released.  Interestingly, on the same day that Kennedy was convicted of murder, Michael Flanagan fell while working and drown in Wellington Basin.

By the turn of the century the headless ghost of Mary Gallagher had been seen several times.  Soon the legend began to develop that Mary appeared every seven years, on the anniversary of her death, near the old police station where Susan Kennedy and Michael Flanagan were taken following their arrests.  The location of Mary’s appearance may have to do with the fact that the location of the murder, 242 William Street, was demolished when the area was re-zoned and developed.

If your thinking about a trip the see the Ghost of Mary Gallagher it may be too late.  After making her once every seven years appearance many times, reports of Mary’s ghost stopped after 1928. Perhaps Mary’s headless ghost is gone for good, but if you’re in the area and want to take a look for yourself, Mary’s next scheduled visit is June 27, 2019.

courtesy – True Tales of the Unexpected


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©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Montreal a city of ghosts


To the government, his name is Robert Wagenaar, but hundreds of thousands of Montrealers know him as Tootall — one of the best-loved and longest-serving disc jockeys in the city. He works today, as he did in the late 1970s, at rock station CHOM-FM.

“In 1972,” he says, “CHOM moved from an office building at 1310 Greene Ave. across the street to a three-storey house at 1355 Greene. The former owner of the house had committed suicide in the third-floor back bedroom. This room became the CHOM music library. I’m not sure if a lot of people at the time were aware of the suicide, but strange incidents started to happen in the house, and people started talking about the CHOM ghost.”

Montreal actor Vlasta Vrana was a student when he boarded in a third-floor room of the Westmount house a few months before the owner shot himself. The man was, Vrana says, “going through a disastrous divorce. I was there when bailiffs arrived to take his TV. He became an alcoholic, and on the day he shot off his head, his ex-wife claimed he’d been looking for her with a shotgun.”

Years later, Tootall heard reports of objects that moved in the studio, of an apparition on the stairs. Even if a spirit was crying for leaving, this was no stairway to heaven. From time to time, people in the building would find themselves in a place where the temperature seemed suddenly lower.

“I recall meeting up with an announcer who had just finished the overnight show,” Tootall says. “He was seriously pale and shaken by the strange events that had happened on his shift. I believe water taps were being turned on and off, and his coffee cup kept mysteriously emptying. I myself witnessed, a few times, my turntable’s tone arm skipping merrily over an album, back and forth.”

In 1978, CHOM’s office manager hired a psychic. Eventually “pictures of Jesus were hung in the building and we were asked not to go into the library on a certain night.” An exorcism took place with the station’s eccentric owner at the time, Geoff Stirling, in attendance. A few years later, when the station moved back to its former home down the street, staff members held a Ghostbusters party to say goodbye.

“At 1310 Greene, we had a camera on the roof,” Tootall says. “It was controlled from the studio. And on a Saturday night in the 1980s, as I was zooming the camera around town, I looked down Greene and I saw the old house on fire. I watched it burn. The roof was already gone and I could actually see the inside of the former library in flames.

“Maybe that was the end of the ghost.” Or else, over time, it had become comfortably numb.

courtesy – Montreal Gazette


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The Past Whispers
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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Rue Rufus Rockhead

Rockhead’s Paradise was founded in 1928 at Mountain and St. Antoine Streets by Rufus Rockhead. Rockhead was a former railway porter from Jamaica who was able to draw the biggest jazz and blues names in the business during Montreal’s Sin City heyday from the 1930s to ’50s.


Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Leadbelly, Nina Simone, Fats Waller, Dizzy Gillespie and Sammy Davis Jr., among countless others, were drawn to the hot spot. While the aforementioned legends played upstairs at Rockhead’s Paradise, Rufus Rockhead and, later, his son Kenny gave then largely unknown local talent like the late Oscar Peterson, Charlie Biddle, Nelson Symonds, Andy Shorter and his dad, Andy Shorter Sr., as well as Jones, Georgette, Mason, Parris and Villeneuve their big breaks downstairs.
Some of these players would later form the Paradise Band, which became the house ensemble at Rockhead’s. In 1980, it was sold and then shortly thereafter was demolished. In the 1990's, this street was named after him in his honor.

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©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Friday, October 28, 2016

John-Pierre Roy


Jean-Pierre Roy (June 26, 1920 – November 1, 2014) was a Canadian pitcher in Major League Baseball. He pitched in three games during the 1946 season for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was born in Montreal, Quebec.


While with the minor league Montreal Royals, Roy played with Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the major leagues. Roy retained a friendship with Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson.

The major highlight of his Montreal years was going 25-11 with a 3.72 ERA in the 1945 season and he compiled an overall 45-28 career record pitching with the Royals.

Roy was later a television commentator for the Montreal Expos from 1968 to 1984 and a public relations representative for the Expos.

He was inducted into the Montreal Expos Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Quebec Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

He died on November 1, 2014 at his Pompano Beach, Florida winter home in the United States, at the age of 94.


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©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jackie Robinson in Montreal

"It is ironical that America, supposedly the cradle of democracy, is forced to send the first two Negroes in baseball to Canada in order for them to be accepted." (Chicago Defender editorial, April 13, 1946)

Delorimier Stadium (1950), home of the Montreal Royals, top farm team to Brooklyn/LA Dodgers and Jackie Robinson's first pro team.

Manny McIntyre, a black athlete who excelled at both baseball and hockey and was prominent in Quebec sporting circles during the 1940s, passed away on June 13, 2011. His death came almost 60 years to the day when he first stepped onto the playing field at Sherbrooke's Stade du Parc as a member of the Sherbrooke Canadiens, a baseball team in the newly formed Class C Border League, and became one of the first half-dozen black players, and the first Canadian, to traverse Organized Baseball's demonic colour barrier. Regardless of his other accomplishments, and they were many, McIntyre will always be remembered as a courageous baseball pioneer who successfully cracked through an impenetrable, albeit invisible, barrier, one so hostile it had prevented men of colour from playing baseball at the organized level ever since the game's early development.

Jackie Robinson - 1946

Indeed, the year 2016 marks the 65th anniversary of the integration of professional baseball in America. When Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play a regular game on an otherwise all white diamond, entered his first game wearing a Montreal Royal's uniform in April of 1946, he established a precedent and opened a door that could never again be closed. The integration of baseball had begun...

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©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Saint Catherine’s Day


For generations of Quebec children, Saint Catherine's Day was the sweetest of the year — marked by community gatherings and turning gooey molasses into pulled taffy.

With the Roman Catholic Church's gradual decline, however, the celebrations meant to honour Catherine, considered the patron saint of girls and unmarried women, have also cooled off.

But while most elementary school children no longer get to spend an afternoon pulling warm buttery taffy into golden strands, some Quebecers are keeping the Nov. 25 holiday alive.

"At one time it was as big as Halloween," says Madeleine Juneau, general manager at Maison Saint-Gabriel, a Montreal history museum that hosts festivities to celebrate the occasion.

In previous decades, schools would mark the day with a party with taffy pulls and hat-making contests. The night before, townspeople would get together for food, music and dancing.

Women who reached the age of 25 without being married were designated "old maids" or "Catherinettes" and had to wear an outlandish bonnet as they were teased about their inability to find a husband. Juneau says the festivities were also a chance for young women to attract husbands by offering them candy to showcase their culinary skills.

"It's an extraordinary holiday, and we want people to relive it," she said.

On Nov. 20, their Saint Catherine's Day festivities will include traditional music, storytellers, and taffy-making demonstrations by women dressed as Kings Wards — young French women recruited to move to New France to serve as potential brides for settlers.

The namesake of the day is Catherine of Alexandria, who, according to legend, was beheaded in the early fourth century for refusing to marry a Roman emperor.

But Quebec's candy-making tradition is traced to Marguerite Bourgeoys, a nun and educator who used to make taffy to entice her young students to come to the school she founded in 1658.

The Maison Saint-Gabriel, a 300-year-old farmhouse once purchased by Bourgeoys, has committed to keeping the tradition alive as part of its mission to educate visitors on life in Quebec in the 17th to 19th centuries.

Although public celebrations have largely fallen by the wayside, the tradition lives on in some Quebec kitchens.

In the east of the province, a group of 40 women — and a few men — from Sayabec are preparing to boil, pull and cut 25,000 pieces of the candy using the traditional recipe of molasses, sugar, corn syrup, butter and baking soda.

Marielle Roy, the president of the women's group who organizes the event, said she, like most others, first learned the technique from her mother.

Now, she says, the group does it as a fundraiser and for the pleasure of carrying on a tradition.

"November, it seems like a sad month, so to get together as a group of women does us good," she said. "It warms the heart."

The annual event, which inclues a community bingo night, is included on the Quebec culture minister's list of "intangible cultural heritage."

Because so few people are carrying on the day's tradition, Juneau says she gives out the recipe to Maison Saint-Gabriel visitors.

She explains how the candy is made in the hopes they'll try it at home with their kids.

"This is something that will be lost if we don't pass on the knowledge," she said.

Maison Saint-Gabriel's Saint Catherine's Day celebrations take place Nov. 20 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Guided tours of the museum are from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday until Dec. 25. Visit  for more information.


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The Past Whispers
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Monday, October 24, 2016

The British and Canadian School


The British and Canadian School was founded in 1822 by a group of Montrealers with widely different political views: Horatio Gates, Louis-Joseph Papineau, John Frothingham, William Lunn, Alexander Ferguson, François-Antoine Larocque and Olivier Berthelet. These men were united in their commitment to the moral improvement of working people: the school was intended to serve “the children of all labouring people or mechanics” (that is, artisanal workers). The governors also wanted to provide an alternative to the schools run by Catholic religious orders and the very Anglican Royal Institution. The British and Canadian School was to be non-denominational.


British Canadian School – 1839

It would also be a “monitorial school,” based on a concept imported from Britain wherein one master taught the more advanced pupils (the “monitors”) who in turn taught the younger ones. Monitors were given special instruction outside the usual hours of 9:00 to 12:00 and 2:00 to 5:00 in subjects such as English Grammar and Geography; during regular hours, monitors taught reading, writing, arithmetic and needlework, and the master supervised. By this method, it was claimed, “one master can teach 1000 as well as 100.” The monitorial system was suitable for girls as well as boys, and at most times at least a third of the pupils were girls.

After a few years in rented accommodation, the governors secured enough government grants and public subscriptions to build a permanent school, designed by architect James O’Donnell (of Notre Dame Church fame) and built by master mason John Redpath (later of sugar fame). Land was purchased at the corner of Lagauchetière and Côté streets, in what was then on the outskirts of town. The cornerstone was laid in October 1826 and the school opened the following September. It appears to have functioned smoothly until after the 1837-38 rebellions, when it lost a lot of Catholic pupils. Even so, references to it in the 1850s and 60s suggest it was one of the best schools in the city. In 1866, Montreal’s Protestant school board acquired it and expanded it by adding a third story.


School register 1873 showing the name “Chas McKiernan.”

Despite being under the Protestant board, the school remained non-denominational, though it had long since abandoned the monitorial system. Many liberal or anti-clerical Catholic families sent their children there in the 1870s, including Charles McKiernan, aka “Joe Beef.” The school also attracted a fair number of Jewish children, who lived nearby – the synagogue was just around the corner. The school board paid the salary of a Hebrew teacher for the school, a service in return for the school taxes it received from Jewish property owners. This was the beginning of a long relationship between the Jewish community and the Protestant school system.

The British and Canadian School was finally closed in 1896 and the pupils transferred to a more modern building. The school was eventually used as a noodle factory. Today, it stands at the heart of Montreal’s Chinatown, probably the oldest surviving purpose-built school in the city.


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Van Horne/Shaughnessy House


Built by William T. Thomas in 1874, this Second Empire building is made of two symmetrical houses, one on the west side and one on the east side. The west house was first occupied by Duncan McIntyre, while William Van Horne was the first owner of the east house.



Following Van Horne, T.G. Shaughnessy later inhabited in the east house. These three men had in common to be senior representatives of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Van Horne was president of the CPR from 1888 to 1899.

In 1890, a notable addition was made to the building: a beautiful semicircular greenhouse was added on the west side of the building. As for the east side, it was enlarged a few times over the years: first, from 1897 to 1899, then in 1906 and again in 1923.



The building was later occupied by a religious congregation, the Sisters of Service, who decided in 1941 to make an opening in the central wall to connect the two houses.

The Van Horne/Shaughnessy house was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1973. Despite this title, it came close to be demolished in the 1980s. It was rehabilitated and integrated into the Centre Canadien d'Architecture, following the plans of architect Peter Rose. The CCA now has its offices and meeting rooms in the historic building.

SOURCES: Canada's Historic Places


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Angus Shops


The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Angus Shops between 1902 and 1904 for construction and maintenance of locomotives and rolling stock. This large industrial complex covered about 48 hectares. There were 68 buildings on the site, including shops for construction and maintenance, a foundry, a forge, an administrative office, and a police and firemen station. The largest building was the "Locoshop", where locomotives were assembled.

In 1912, about 6 000 employees were working at the Angus Shops. A variety of services were made available to the workers directly on site. With a library, a recreation center, medical services, playgrounds, and a branch of the Bank of Montreal, the Angus industrial complex was truly like a small city. During the First and the Second World Wars, the number of employees reached 12 000; they produced boat engines, tanks and material for artillery.

After the Second World War, the production slowed down, as the cars and the trucks gained in popularity and the railways were lesser used. From the mid-1960s, some of the buildings were torn down. The production definitely stopped in 1992.

In recent years, the Angus industrial complex was recycled and refurbished. For example, about 12 companies now have their offices in the "Locoshop", plus a supermarket. The old factory's large walls and steel structure are in a prominent position, visible to the public.

SOURCES: Grand répertoire du patrimoine

McCord Museum


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Atwater Library


The Atwater Library traces its origins back to 1828, when the first mechanics’ institute established in continental British North America was formed in Montreal. Today, with its official name, Atwater Library and Computer Centre, it is the sole survivor of the many mechanics’ institutes established in Canada in the 19th century. The rest were either closed or merged into public library systems. The Atwater Library and Computer Centre carries on proudly, aware of its traditions, but focused on the future.



In 1828, some prominent Montreal citizens formed the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution because they saw a need to educate workers for the emerging industries of the growing city. Patron of the new organization was Sir James Kempt, governor of Lower Canada and first president was Louis Gugy, sheriff of Montreal. Vice-presidents were industrialist John Molson; merchant Horatio Gates; Louis-Joseph Papineau, speaker of the Assembly of Lower Canada, and the Assembly’s representative from the west end of the city; and Rev. Henry Esson, educator and Church of Scotland pastor of the St. Gabriel Street Church. Active members appear to have been mainly artisans, craftsmen and shopkeepers who were employers.

Patterned after mechanics institutions that had already sprung up in England and Scotland, the aim of the new Montreal Institution was, according to Rev. Esson, “to see to the instruction of its members in the arts and in the various branches of science and useful knowledge.” Rather than classroom activities, the institution ran a lecture program, organized weekly information sessions and had a library and reading room.

It was a time when the building trades were expanding rapidly, highlighted by the construction of the Lachine Canal and Notre Dame Church. The population of Montreal was about 23,000, and the principal commercial and social centre of the city was St. Paul Street. Many educational institutions were developing at the time, including McGill University which began teaching classes in the arts and in medicine in 1829.

By 1834, pre-Rebellion political unrest in Montreal, as well as rivalries based on religion and educational objectives, led to a suspension of activities of the Institution. The last meeting was held on March 24, 1835.  more…


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Eva Tanquay


Eva Tanguay was born in 1878 in Marbleton, Quebec. Her father was a doctor. Before she reached the age of six, her family moved from Quebec'sEastern Townships to Holyoke, Massachusetts. Her father died soon after. While still a child she developed an interest in the performing arts, making her first appearance on stage at the age of eight at an amateur night in Holyoke. Two years later, she was touring professionally with a production of a stage adaptation of the popular novel Little Lord Fauntleroy. Eva eventually landed a spot in the Broadway musical My Lady in 1901. The 1904 show The Chaperons led to her rise in popularity. By 1905, she was also performing in vaudeville as a solo act, where she would spend much of the remainder of her career.


Although she possessed only an average voice, the enthusiasm with which the robust Eva Tanguay performed her suggestive songs soon made her an audience favorite. She went on to have a long-lasting vaudeville career and eventually commanded one of the highest salaries of any performer of the day earning as much as $3,500 a week at the height of her fame around 1910.

Eva Tanguay is remembered for brassy self-confident songs that symbolized the emancipated woman, such as "It's All Been Done Before But Not the Way I Do It", "I Want Someone to Go Wild With Me", "Go As Far As You Like", and "That's Why They Call Me Tabasco". In showbiz circles, she was nicknamed the "I Don't Care Girl", after her most famous song, "I Don't Care".

Eva was brought in to star in impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.'s 1909 Ziegfeld Follies, where she replaced the husband and wife team of Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes, who were engaged in a bitter salary and personal feud with Ziegfeld. Eva requested that the musical number "Moving Day in Jungle Town" be taken from rising talent Sophie Tucker and given to her. Despite this, the two later became close friends.


Tanguay spent lavishly on publicity campaigns and costumes. One obituary notes that a "clever manager" told Tanguay early in her career that money made money. She never forgot the lesson, buying huge ads at her own expense and, on one occasion, allegedly spending twice her salary on publicity. Gaining free publicity with outrageous behavior was one of her strong suits. In 1907, Eva shacked up with entertainment journalist and publicist C. F. Zittel in a Brooklyn hotel for nearly a week—despite the fact that Zittel was married. Mrs. Zittel uncovered the affair by hiring detectives dressed as room-service bellhops to burst in on their love nest. It made headlines and in no way damaged Eva's popularity, reputation, or box office success. She got her name in the papers for allegedly being kidnapped, allegedly having her jewels stolen, and getting fined $50 in Louisville, Kentucky for throwing a stagehand down a flight of stairs.

Her costumes were as extravagant as her personality. In 1910, a year after the Lincoln penny was issued, Tanguay appeared on stage in a coat entirely covered in the new coins. Other costumes included a dress covered in coral which weighed 45 pounds and cost $2000, and a costume made of dollar bills.


Tanguay only made one known recording ("I Don't Care") in 1922 for Nordskog Records. In addition to her singing career, she starred in two film comedies that, despite the limitations of silent film, used the screen to capture her lusty stage vitality to its fullest. The first, titled Energetic Eva was made in 1916. The following year she starred opposite Tom Moore in The Wild Girl.

Tanguay was said to have lost more than $2 million in the Wall Street crash of 1929. In the 1930s, Tanguay retired from show business. Cataracts caused her to lose her sight, but Sophie Tucker, a friend from vaudeville days, paid for the operation that restored her vision.

At the time of her death, Tanguay was working on her autobiography, to be titled Up and Down the Ladder. Three excerpts from the autobiography were published in Hearst newspapers in 1946 and 1947.

Eva Tanguay died in 1947, age 68, in Hollywood where she was interred in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, now Hollywood Forever Cemetery. In 1953 Mitzi Gaynor portrayed Eva Tanguay in a fictionalized version of her life in the Hollywood motion picture, The I Don't Care Girl.


courtesy – Wikipedia

©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past whispers
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ogilvie Mansion - 1893


W.W. Ogilvie was born on February 15th, 1835 in Cote-Saint-Michel, to Alexander Ogilvie (Sr.) and Helen Watson. He was the tenth of their eleven children. During the early 1800’s, his family established one of the biggest flour-milling operations in North America, the Ogilvie Mills. In May 1860, he joined his brothers Alexander (Jr.) and John, and eventually became president of the Ogilvie Mills in Montreal. On June 15th, 1871, he married Helen Johnston and started a family of his own.



In April 1892, William purchased the 180-acre Sommerville farm (also known as the “Rapids” farm), which included a half-mile of St.Lawrence shoreline, in an area now known as Lasalle. He hired well-known Montreal architect A.C. Hutchinson, to plan and build an English-American Queen Anne style mansion on the land facing the rapids, and to distinguish it by using wood instead of stone materials for its structure. Stables and Barns were added to shelter his racing horses and his cherished Ayershire cows. The country estate was completed in 1893 and became the family’s summer residence. The house was adorned with beautiful paintings and works of art.

For the next few years the Ogilvie place would be in its heydays as a popular summer spot for Montreal’s dignitaries and affluent celebrities, many coming to take part in the “Montreal Hunt”. We can only imagine the Victorian elegance and refined beauty of the “summer socials” that the Ogilvie house once held, not knowing that their parties would end only seven summers away.
William Watson Ogilvie died on Jan 12th, 1900, leaving all of his lands and possessions to his family. Upon his death, the Ogilvie estate also went silent for a time. Until in 1910, when it was sold by the Ogilvie family to the Ross Realty Company. There are no apparent records as to the use or condition of the house from 1910 up to 1937, when it was sold to the Sunlife Assurance Company, possibly to use as a summer estate for its company officers.

In 1944, the estate was sold to Lasalle’s famous Alepin family, who soon after rented the land and the house to the Lasalle Golf Club. During the following years many changes were made to the old mansion to accommodate the club, yet its original design and architecture were maintained. A photo from 1950, shows the mansion’s interior entrance hall with its wooden panels and doors in tact, yet now seen on the floor is the circular “Lasalle Golf Club” emblem, with word GOLF in the center divided by two putters. The golf club operated up until 1970, when it was finally closed and was assigned a “guardian” to watch the place. He looked after the house and area for almost ten years, and it was only in July of 1980, that the old Ogilvie Mansion was officially abandoned. This beautiful old home, that once entertained the famous, that once echoed music from its windows into the night, was now sentenced to a death plundered by vandals and by natural deterioration through our own neglect…and plunder they did.



At the time, the city of Lasalle had expropriated the land and was proposing the demolition of the mansion to make way for a new road and park. Outraged citizens collected 2,248 signatures and presented them to their city council to save the mansion and preserve it. Yet their voices remained unheard. On December 6th, 1980, the Cultural Affairs Minister advised the municipality that they were proceeding to classify the Ogilvie mansion as a cultural site. Adding that this was to protect the importance of its original owner and of its architectural style within Quebec’s heritage. For this purpose, on January 13th, 1981, the ministry sent out a public notice finally classifying the Ogilvie house and its surrounding areas as a National Heritage site.

Just two weeks after the minister’s announcement, on Feb 1st, 1981 at 10:50pm, a “mysterious” fire broke out at the mansion. Firemen could not put out the roaring flames of the old timbers. Sadly the morning papers of Feb 2nd, showed only the charred ruins of that once beautiful place. After further investigation, arson was proven beyond a doubt.

Sources: Local Archives, Lasalle Historical Society Journal (volume3, oct81), History of Lasalle, WikiPedia, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.



©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Remembering the Town of Montreal South

The City of Montreal is flanked on both sides by the towns of Montreal East and Montreal West, each with their own different character. Even after the municipal mergers of 2002 , the former city of Montreal North remains a separate borough on the island map. While most points are covered, it is the south that is missing from the Montreal compass. In fact, there once was a town known as Montreal South. Now almost forgotten, it was located at the base of the Jacques Cartier bridge , nestled between Saint Lambert and Old Longueuil.

Montreal South Town Hall

The history of Montreal South starts in 1888, when a large track of land located between Government Farm (Old Longueuil) and Woodrow Farms (St. Lambert), just opposite Montreal, was opened and divided into building lots by developer George Parent who later bought land and divide lots in Greenfield Park and St. Hubert. The lots were sold to twelve English-speaking families (mostly northern English and Scots) who worked on the building of the Victoria Bridge.

Wanting to escape the grime of Montreal, they longed for a place in the country. There were no roads and these early settlers had to have their supplies drawn across the fields and through bush or over the snow in the winter. The first graded earth road with ditches was called Victoria Avenue (now Goupil) after Queen Victoria. In 1889, after several houses were built and families moved in, a station house was built at the junction of St. Helen and the Grand Trunk Railway tracks connecting Montreal South to Montreal via the Victoria Bridge.

Having a direct link would allow Montreal South's population to grow quickly. By 1890, a small building was used for both a school and for Methodist and Baptist church services. When it became too crowded, church services were moved to the railway station.
On April 30, 1892, with a grant of $200, Montreal South Union Church opened on St. Helen. The church was called Union because Methodists, Baptists and Anglicans would meet, each taking a different time to hold their services. Also, the church hall would later be rented for use as a two-room English schoolhouse for the younger grades (older students went to school in Longueuil.) The Presbyterians being a larger community, they would open their own church, Gardenville-St.Mark's, in 1898.

By 1905, the population of Montreal South had grown to 590 and the community was incorporated as a town. By 1906, the newly-formed Montreal & Southern Country Railway began a daily interurban trolley train across the Victoria Bridge. For eight cents, workers were provided quick transport to and from the industrial factories along the Lachine Canal. The M&SCR located its first station in St. Lambert, and soon added a branch line to Montreal South. Being less then 10 minutes (5.2 miles) from Montreal's McGill Street -d'Youville station, and located within a short walk of the shops of St. Lambert would increase land values. Therefore, most of the new residents who moved to Montreal South were the higher paid middle managers and plant foremen. This gave Montreal South a higher social status than its St.Hubert Trolley line cousins. And unlike Montreal South's country cousins, electricity came as early as 1906 to the community.

Montreal & Southern Counties Railway

With its country lifestyle, Montreal South would provide the best of both worlds. By 1943, a new English school, the William White School, opened on the corner of Lafayette Street with a capacity of 250 students. Most of the English community life focused around the community's three churches - Montreal South United, Gardenville Presbyterian, and St. Oswald's Anglican. These churches would host dinners, bazaars and fairs. They would join together for snowshoe tramping in the open fields and winter sleigh rides, trips across the frozen river along the ice road. During the summer, outdoor picnics and hiking trips along the river were common.

The population of Montreal South remained largely English-speaking until the end of the 1940s. The end of the war and opening of the Jacques Cartier Bridge brought much expansion to the area around the base of the bridge, and the South Shore was now growing.

By 1951, the population more then tripled from 1,441 to 4,214. The English community was now in a minority position. While life in Montreal South was very peaceful and uneventful for most of its first fifty years, a growing problem for residents in the 1940s was their neighbours immediately to the east. Ville Jacques Cartier had grown almost overnight and with few rules and a mishmash of poor housing, it truly became the place known as the wrong side of the tracks. Crime would often spill over and for long-time residents who were once seeking a gentle country life, it was now time to move on.
By the 1950s, the run of the M&SCR was coming to an end. The transit system was replaced by a come-by chance bus network. The old factory district at the base of McGill Street was undergoing much change as plants closed or moved westward. Employees now preferred to stay on the island of Montreal. Newer, more attractive South Shore suburbs were also opening closer to the newly completed Champlain Bridge. The population had reached 5,756 and there was now a need to provide better municipal services.

On January 28, 1961, Montreal South merged into Longueuil. (Jacques Cartier would merge in 1969.) This new municipal merger would bring about some important physical changes to the community. New housing would replace the smaller homes that once lined the streets. With the opening of shopping centres, there was less business for the stores along St. Helen, and most would soon close.
Nevertheless, English community life in Montreal South in the early 1960s remained fairly active. As it always had been, it was mostly centred on church life. Ladies would prepare afternoon teas and luncheons. To celebrate the town's 75th anniversary in 1964, a huge dinner and concert for over 300 people was held. This would also prove to be the last hurrah for the English-speaking community of Montreal South. With new English-speaking residents now choosing to locate in Greenfield Park or Brossard, the already small community would continue to shrink.

Montreal South United Church, 1934.
(Photo - courtesy of the author)

After marking its 81st anniversary in 1970, Montreal South United Church would close its doors. A year later, St. Oswald Anglican Church hosted a final service, with a handful of remaining worshippers, to officially dissolve the church - and this despite the fact that the building was only 15 years old (both churches were later torn down).

The old M&SC train route that would go into Montreal South lay abandoned for many years serving as part dog walk and night spot for romantic teenagers. Recently, the old railway tracks were removed and replaced by a bicycle path leading into Longueuil. By 1998, with less than fifty students, the once bustling William White School was closed. Montreal South had become a faded memory.
The City of Longueuil has since placed historical plaques in its new town hall to serve as a reminder of the former towns now merged under its name. For Montreal South's 56 years of official history, there is barely a line that speaks about the town's once-deep English-speaking roots.

**Kevin Erskine-Henry is the chair of the South Shore Community Partners Network. Part of the SSCPN's mandate is to promote Local Community History.

©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 14, 2016

Hochelaga School Fire

Sarah Maxwell received her Elementary diploma from the McGill Normal School in 1892 and her Model diploma the following year. That was enough to get a good position in one of Montreal's larger Protestant schools, but not normally sufficient to be eligible to become a school principal, at least for a woman. Nevertheless, by the time she was 25, Miss Maxwell found herself the head teacher of the multi-grade, three-storey school in Hochelaga. Built in 1890, it was relatively new, having replaced a one-room school that the Montreal Protestant board had inherited when the city annexed the village of Hochelaga. Much thinking had gone into the design of schools in recent years, but Hochelaga's contained one inconsistent feature: the Kindergarten was on the top floor, making it hard for those with little legs to get to class.


On 26 February 1907, a fire broke out in the school and quickly spread, forcing an evacuation. Having seen the classes on the lower floors safely out, Sarah Maxwell suddenly realized that the kindergarten class was trapped in the attic. "Miss Maxwell could have escaped," an eyewitness recounted, "but she went to the top floor to rescue the little ones. She did rescue about thirty of them, and died while attempting to save more." She "handed the children to workmen who had put ladders up to the windows. The firemen only rescued two children." The remaining sixteen "suffocated" in the smoke alongside their principal.


Public appreciation of this act of courage was matched only by the horror of the tragedy itself, which newspapers described in grim detail. Pictures of the dead children were printed, accompanied by headlines such as "Heart-Breaking Scenes at the Montreal Morgue" and "Scenes of Sorrow at the Bereaved Homes." Newspapers also pointed accusing fingers at the firemen, who arrived too late to control the fire and to stop Miss Maxwell from plunging back into the smoke, and at the school authorities for their carelessness in placing the youngest children in the least accessible rooms.


The city mourned Sarah Maxwell in a style that was elaborate, but entirely appropriate. Her funeral was held two days later - not in St Mary's Church in Hochelaga, where a service for many of the victims took place at the same time, but in Christ Church downtown. The cathedral was "packed" with mourners, who then followed the cortege up to Mount Royal Cemetery where she was buried in a lot donated by the trustees. A call went out for a fitting monument to the heroine, and was answered by the Montreal Star which set up a fund to create a "children's testimonial." Children across the city sent donations of ten cents or more: "I send you 25 cents for 'Sarah Maxwell Memorial," one little girl wrote. "Mamma cried when she read about her in the Star." The fund eventually paid for a touching monument on the site which overlooks the section of the cemetery with children's graves. It is dedicated "in loving memory" to the lady herself and to "the little ones who perished with her."


When the Hochelaga school was rebuilt the following year it was renamed "Sarah Maxwell Memorial," and when that school was closed after the Second World War a new building in the northern part of the city took the name. Now, even that school is long gone, but the Professional Library of the English Montreal School Board has been officially named the Sarah Maxwell Library. It features a portrait of Miss Maxwell near the door, along with a framed copy of a letter describing the incident (quoted above) written by a boy, Orrin Rexford, to friend who had moved away. "It will be a long time before we forget her heroism," he concluded.

courtesy: qahn (March 18, 2013)

©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fire of 1819


In the predawn hours of October 27, 1819, two young apprentices, sleeping in a shop garret on Notre Dame Street, were roused from their sleep by disturbing sounds. A glance at the peculiar glow outside their window quickly confirmed that a major fire was raging in their vicinity. They raised the alarm and the tocsin was urgently sounded, calling citizens to help contain and subdue the flames. The Gibbs & Kollmyer tailoring shop where the apprentices resided was spared, but not so the three adjoining buildings and another across the street. Despite all efforts, the home of the Howard sisters, the business and home of confectioner Jean-Baptiste Girard, as well as that of Paul Kauntz, also a confectioner, burned to the ground.

Flying embers set fire to the Bossange & Papineau bookstore across the street. The blaze was so intense that residents had to climb out of their windows, wearing nothing but their nightclothes, to reach the safety of a snow-covered street. Blame for the fire was eventually laid on a maidservant who had gone up to the garret with a candle the previous evening.

The story of the fire had a considerable impact, being picked up by about a dozen American newspapers, but also fueling pointed discussions in Montreal. Although members of the Fire Club, the Police and several Sulpician brothers from the nearby seminary had rushed to the scene, it was repeatedly remarked that a relatively small number of people came out to help. A few made heroic efforts to save nearby businesses, but others seemed content to simply watch, apparently indifferent to the suffering of the victims. Thieves also took advantage of the situation and made off with many of Mr. Bossange’s books and others helped themselves to Mr. Girard’s goods.

One newspaper offered this description: “Some votaries of Bacchus appeared not by any means dissatisfied with the taste of Mr. Girard’s wine. To those in the habit of exercising their risible muscles, it was no small treat to behold, at 6 o’clock on Wednesday morning, a drunken soldier and Indian on the opposite sides of a cask of the above liquid, the head of which had been broken in, drinking sociably to each other out of rusty tin cans, and eloquently descanting on the scene before them in language as unintelligible to each as Hebrew and Arabic.”

Criticism was levelled particularly at the firemen who, though quite willing to do their duty, seemed disorganized and lacking in training. The extent of the damage was also blamed on the short supply of water and the lack of sufficient fire plugs – fortunately, the Sulpicians had been able to pump water from their own garden. The garrison was also criticized for apparently not coming to the aid of the firemen even though soldiers not on duty that night had been immediately dispatched to the scene by their officers. However, when they arrived, there were no fire magistrates to be found and the officers did not think it appropriate to simply let the soldiers act without specific orders. (Apparently there was some concern about the depredations some of them might commit without adequate supervision!)

On a personal level, the event dealt a cruel blow to the Girard family. Mr. Girard was a former Napoleonic soldier, who, at the end of his military career, emigrated to Boston and later Portsmouth, New Hampshire, before settling in Montreal in 1816.

While in Portsmouth, the umbrella manufactory and confectionary/ice cream business he had set up escaped unscathed the devastating fire of December 1813 which destroyed about 250 buildings. On that occasion, Girard had been among the first citizens on the scene who had spared no effort in trying to stop the spread of the flames. At the time of the Montreal fire, Girard had been out of town, travelling to Pointe Claire to deliver writs as part of the duties of his other profession as bailiff of the Court of King’s Bench. The sight that greeted him on his return must have been jarring. The card of thanks he placed in the Canadian Courant newspaper expressed his “most ardent thanks to all those individuals who so generously exerted themselves for the preservation of his family and property during his absence.” The family lost everything. Girard continued working as bailiff for some months, but when he was given a donation of a home and property by his father-in-law in Epsom, New Hampshire, the family left Montreal.

The buildings occupied by Girard and the Howard sisters today correspond to #221-229 Notre Dame Street West. The current building is in the Art Deco style and was constructed in 1930. The Kauntz property was located at #215. The building which stands there today dates from 1866. Across the street, the location of the Bossange & Papineau bookstore is now part of the Exchange Bank building, dating from 1874.

Canadian Courant (27 Oct. 1819)
Canadian Courant (30 Oct. 1819)
Courier du bas Canada (30 Oct. 1819)
Montreal Herald (30 Oct. 1819)
New York Evening Post (5 Nov. 1819)


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Rialto Theatre


The building was built in 1923 according to the plans of architect Raoul Gariépy. Gariépy also designed the Verdun Theater in 1912-1915, the Théâtre de la Lune Rousse in 1913 and the Maisonneuve Theater in 1921.
The Rialto Theatre was designed in the Beaux-Arts style and was inspired by the Paris Opéra. The theatre’s richly decorated neo-Baroque interior was designed by the famous theatre designer Emmanuel Briffa. Briffa created the decoration of most of the movie theaters that were built in Montreal before 1940, such as the Empress Theater (1927), the Outremont Theater (1928), the cinema Le Château (1831), and the York.


Initially, the building included a projection room, a dance hall, shops on the ground floor, and a garden on the roof. There was also a space for bowling and billard in the basement. The projection room served not only for movies, but also for theatrical plays and music shows, as it was also the case in the other theaters in Montreal at that time.

The Rialto was managed by United Amusement Corporation Limited. This company was founded in 1908 by George Nicholas Ganetakos, an immigrant of Greek origin. His company grew rapidly, and managed several theaters, such as the Regent, the Papineau, the Rivoli, the Séville, the York, and of course the Rialto. At the end of the 1930s, United Amusement was acquired by Famous Players Canadian Corporation, a company from Toronto.

The Rialto Theatre was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1993. The façade and the interior of the Rialto are still very well preserved today.

©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Wilder Graves Penfield

His studies in 1924 with the Madrid neurohistologist Pio del Rio-Hortega provided him with metallic staining techniques that yielded new information on the glia, the supporting cells of the nervous system.

Wilder Graves Penfield, neurosurgeon, scientist (b at Spokane, Wash 26 Jan 1891; d at Montréal 5 Apr 1976). 

He was founder and first director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and established the "Montreal procedure" for the surgical treatment of epilepsy. Having obtained a BLitt from Princeton in 1913, Penfield attended Merton College, Oxford. There he was influenced by 2 great medical teachers, Sir William Osler, who became his lifelong hero, and the eminent neurophysiologist Charles Sherrington, who introduced him to experimental investigation of the nervous system.
After graduating with an MD from Johns Hopkins in 1918, he served as surgeon to the Presbyterian Hospital (affiliated with Columbia) and to the New York Neurological Institute 1921- 22

His studies in 1924 with the Madrid neurohistologist Pio del Rio-Hortega provided him with metallic staining techniques that yielded new information on the glia, the supporting cells of the nervous system. In 1928 he learned from the German surgeon Otfrid Foerster the method of excising brain scars to relieve focal epilepsy. That year he moved with his neurosurgical partner, William Vernon Cone, to work at Montréal's Royal Victoria Hospital, where they became associated with neurologist Colin K. Russel. In 1934, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the government of Québec, the city of Montréal and private donors, Penfield founded the Montreal Neurological Institute, which rapidly became an international centre for teaching, research and treatment related to diseases of the nervous system. He was its director until 1960.

In the last 15 years of his life Penfield enjoyed a second career as a writer of historical novels and medical biography. He devoted himself to public service, particularly in support of university education, and became first president of the Vanier Institute of the Family. He was widely known for promoting early second-language training. His writings from this period include The Mystery of the Mind (1975), summarizing his views on the mind/brain problem, and No Man Alone(1977), an autobiography of the years 1891-1934.

Penfield's most lasting legacy was the foundation and the establishment by endowment of the Montreal Neurological Institute. This neurological hospital integrated with a brain-research complex continues to provide a centre where both basic scientists and physicians study the brain; it has served as a model for similar units throughout the world. To Penfield the brain and the nervous system represented the most important unexplored field in the whole of science. "The problem of neurology," he wrote, "is to understand man himself." Among his honours, he received the Royal Bank Award.

©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 10, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!


The first official, annual Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated on 6 November 1879, though Indigenous peoples in Canada have a history of celebrating the fall harvest that predates the arrival of European settlers. Sir Martin Frobisher and his crew are credited as the first Europeans to celebrate a Thanksgiving ceremony in North America, in 1578. They were followed by the inhabitants of New France under Samuel de Champlainin 1606.


The celebration featuring the uniquely North American turkey, squash and pumpkin was introduced to Nova Scotia in the 1750s and became more common across Canada by the 1870s. In 1957, Thanksgiving was proclaimed an annual event to occur on the second Monday of October. It is an official statutory holiday in all provinces and territories except PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The first national Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated in the Province of Canada in 1859. Organized at the behest of leaders of the Protestant clergy — who appropriated the holiday of American Thanksgiving, first observed in 1777 and established as a national day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789 — the holiday was intended for the “public and solemn” recognition of God’s mercies. As historian Peter Stevens has noted, some citizens “objected to this government request, saying it blurred the distinction between church and state that was so important to many Canadians.”

Thanksgiving is an official statutory holiday in all provinces and territories except PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. It is called L’Action de Grâce in Québec and is celebrated to a much lesser extent there than in the rest of the country, given the holiday’s Protestant origins and Anglo-nationalist associations. The main differences among the other provinces tend to concern the dishes that are served with the meal. For example, Jiggs’ dinner is often preferred over turkey in Newfoundland. Pumpkin pie is a common dessert nationally, but there are also regional favourites, such as Nanaimo bars in BC, butter tarts in Ontario and cranberry pie in New Brunswick.


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The railroad on ice


In 1875 the Québec, Montréal, Ottawa & Occidental (Q.M.M.&O.) was founded. This railway company built a railroad North of Montreal, which is known as ‘’le p’tit train du Nord’’. On the South Shore, the Montreal, Portland and Boston Railway Company ran from Longueuil to Newport, in Vermont, and from there it was easy to reach Boston and New York. At some point, the Montreal, Portland and Boston Railway Company was purchased by the South Eastern company.


‘’Railway on the ice over St. Lawrence River, Montreal, QC, 1880’’,
by William Notman, 1880, McCord Museum

The general superintendent of the Q.M.M.&O., Louis-Adélard Senécal, wanted to connect the North shore’s railway network with the one on the South shore. However, at that time there was only one bridge between Montreal and the South Shore: the Victoria bridge. It was owned by the Grand Trunk Railway, which used it for its own needs and was not willing to share it with other railway companies. The Grand Trunk charged $10 to $12 per wagon to allow other companies to use the bridge, which was expensive. As for building a new bridge over the St. Lawrence River, it was not an interesting option, since it required very big investments.

In order to solve this problem, Senécal had a very special idea: to build a railroad on the frozen water of the St. Lawrence River!

Senécal met with engineers, who assured him that the ice is at least 60 centimeters thick in the depths of winter. Such a thick ice can support heavy weights: at 45 centimeters, it can support 25 tons; at 75 centimeters, it is 70 tons.
Because Montreal is located at the foot of the Lachine rapids, the ice is not even on the St. Lawrence River. Thus, the first task for Senécal’s workers was to level the ice. Then, they installed the railroad.

The launch of Senécal’s railway took place on January 30, 1880. The railroad ran from Longueuil to the Hochelaga wharf, near the Iberville street. The new railroad was a big success! American merchants signed contracts with Senécal to convey hay to Boston. Great reviews were written in newspapers and in the scientific press.

The railroad was in use during four years. In 1880, the railway was in operation from January 30 to April 1st; in 1881, from January 5 to April 8; in 1882, only from February 4 to March 4; and finally in 1883, it was in operation from January 15 to April 3.
Only one major accident happened during these four years. At the beginning of January of 1881, a locomotive sank into the water near the Longueuil’s shore! Thankfully, no one died in the accident.

In the mid-1880s, Senécal and his partners were able to sell the East segment of the Q.M.M.&O. and the South Eastern company to the federal government. This transaction was more than enough to reimburse the funds that they invested in the railroad on ice.


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Sault-au-Récollet's mills


In 1625, Nicolas Viel, a French missionary member of the Récollets (a reformed branch of the Franciscans) and his friend Ahuntsic, a young Frenchman living the Amerindian way of life, died in the rapids of the Rivière des Prairies. In memory of them, the site was called "Sault-au-Récollet".


Remains of the old mills in Sault-au-Récollet, by François Guillet, 2012

The Sulpicians, who arrived in Montreal in 1657 and were Seigneurs of Montreal until the English Conquest, developed the Sault-au-Récollet area. In 1726, a man named Simon Sicard built a dike for them between the island of Montreal and Île-de-la-Visitation. Two years later, there were already three mills in use at the Sault-au-Récollet: two flour mills and one sawmill.
In the 1830s, the Sulpicians began to sell their mills to different owners. New kinds of mills were built at the Sault-au-Récollet: a nail mill and a mill to card and to full wool. At the beginning of the 1870s, the production of leatherboard started at the mills site.
During the 20th century, the Sault-au-Récollet's mills were owned by three companies, the Dominion Leather Board Company, the Black River Company and the Milmont Fiberboard Company.

These companies produced mainly leatherboard and fiberboard. During the Second World War, the mills served to make shell packaging.

In 1981, the Montréal Urban Community (MUC) acquired the site. They tore down most of the buildings, but they kept remains of the mills, the dike and the Maison du Meunier. Today, there is a museum on site, Cité Historia, where visitors can learn about the rich history of the Sault-au-Récollet.



©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Nun’s Island


On January 28, 1664, Saint-Paul's Island was divided into three equal parts and awarded to three rich and notable French subjects established in Ville-Marie (the former name for Montréal). They were Jacques Le Ber, Lord of Saint-Paul and Senneville, Claude Robutel de Saint-André, Lord of La Noue and Jean de la Vigne.

The latter transferred his share to Marie Le Ber, sister of Jacques Le Ber, in 1668. That same year, Marie Le Ber sold her share to her brother, who thus became owner of two-thirds of the island. In 1676, the island included the fiefdoms of Saint-Paul and Lanoue.



Thirty years later, the Congrégation religieuse de Notre-Dame, founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys, acquired the Lanoue's fief. Following the British conquest, the other fief was put up for auction and purchased by the Congrégation, making the latter sole owner of the island for more than the next 250 years.



In 1956, the island, which has ever since been known as Nuns' Island, was sold to the Québec Home and Mortgage Corporation Ltd. At the same time, Québec enacted an order amending Verdun’s city charter stipulating that Saint-Paul's Island (Nuns' Island) would henceforth be part of the city of Verdun. The nuns left the island for good in 1957.

The island was used for farming throughout the 1960s. It was only accessible by a shuttle boat run by boatman Pierre Lacoursière, among others. This service made it possible to cross between Verdun and the island until the Champlain Bridge was opened in 1962.

Nuns' Island has now become a select residential community. With a high-quality standard of urban living within a unique environment, Nuns' Island is just minutes from downtown Montréal.


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Jitterbug Nation – The Clash of ‘39


Hey Boy? Oh, boy! Panama, Shanama, Swanee shore, let me dig that jive some more.


It was the spring of ’39, a time when the world around us was talking of another great war. Just as in pre-war 1914, the threat of war was changing the way we lived, the way we dressed, and the way we danced. Once known as a “product of mad times”, the Jitterbug was on its way, bringing us a wild new way of free-style dancing. Here in Verdun, we were already in the midst of another conflict, as Verdun’s Anti-Jitterbug Society was taking actions to literally stomp-out the menace that was already swinging its way north.

The “bugs” had arrived, flailing their arms and legs, and throwing their bodies across the dance floor, and brushing the “naturally-flowing” dancers off to the side. It was only the beginning of what was to come, as the small corners of our world began to converge into a Jitterbug nation.

The jim-jam-jump with the jumpin' jive, makes you get your kicks on the mellow side. Hep! Hep!

“Bug” news came from around the world with stories of young girls dying instantly of heart attacks and of people collapsing of exhaustion after uncontrollably “jitterbugging”. Many school dance committees, dance halls and music clubs dealt with this new craze by imposing outright bans on jitterbug dancing.



In that year, a pair of Jitterbug shoes sold for an expensive $3.95, with rubber soles and every inch covered with “swing-lingo inscriptions” for the coolest cats. It seemed that our local world had also gone C-U-R-AAA-ZY, as the jitterbugs took over all the “jam-joints” in town. The Seville Theater announced “Jitterbugs Attention – the Greatest Jam Session Ever! – See and hear from our screen – 2 solid hours of swing! – Admission 20-cents – Everything goes including Dancing in the Aisles!”. Everyone was getting bitten by the bug, and they just couldn’t get enough of it.
The jim-jam-jump with the solid jive, makes you nine foot tall when you're four foot five, Hep! hep!

The early jitterbug was believed to be a mix of various swing dances, including the Lindy hop and the East Coast Swing. Using fast six-count steps, the man would lead on his left foot as a left-right-left-right-right-left, with his partner copying on the opposite foot. With multiple turns, lifts and spins, jitterbug partners often danced side by side, instead of face-to-face. After the basic steps, the “bugs” could then add complicated maneuvers, like through-the-leg swings! The more moves you knew, the more hep you were!

Bandleader, Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra were the first “name band” to play at our Verdun Auditorium - admission was 75-cent to a dollar. On the night of May 28th, 1940, he introduced a new dance called the “Boog-it” to an enthusiastic crowd of 3,000 Verdun jitterbuggers, performing his ever-popular “Minnie the Moocher”, and his latest hit the “Jumpin’ Jive”. Calloway, known as the chief of Hi-de-ho, was the first to use the term “jitterbug” in his 1934 recording "Call of the Jitter Bug". Adding that the dancers looked as if they had the “jitters”, a prohibition term describing the hangover effects of alcohol or moonshine, then frequently referred to as “jitter sauce”.
The jim-jam-jump with the jumpin' jive, makes you like your eggs on the Jersey side, Hep! hep!

In 1939, "The Jitterbug" was also a number written for “The Wizard of Oz”. Although not in the final cut, the Wicked Witch of the West would release flying jitter “bugs" to compel the heroes into doing a jitterbug-style dance, quoting to the flying monkey leader, "I've sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them." The song by Judy Garland, and some of the dialogue, made it to B-side of the Over the Rainbow.

With the arrival of August, the young “Hep-cats” were dropping their numbered practice dance steps on to the floor. While Verdun Mayor, Herve Ferland, was pictured laying the cornerstone of the great Verdun Bandstand being erected near the corner of Woodland and LaSalle. As the stone was being lowered, the daily headlines of that time were ablaze with Jitterbug news, drawing fire from traditionalists, outright disgust from the clergy and severe health warnings from the establishment.
Don't be that ickeroo, get hep and follow through; and make the joint jump like the gators do.

Rex Billings Jr., president of Verdun’s Anti-Jitterbug Society, quoted in the local “Verdun Guardian” that a majority of folks have been forced from the floors through embarrassment or for the fear of being permanently disabled by the maniacal antics of the thoughtless “bugs”, who throw themselves in all directions. He blamed the guys more than the gals, as most girls assumed their popularity depended on their “jitterability”, and so they “jittered”. Adding that he has seen “healthy girls pass out after just one number”, and that jitterbugging is more like a marathon six-day bicycle race (held at the Montreal Forum) than a dance. For this reason, the Anti-Jitterbug Society organized its own “Dance-and-Frolic” evenings at Wood Hall, for persons who believed in “natural” dancing, strictly outlawing the jitterbug. Their ads would quote, “For those who like to Dance not Prance”, admission 40-cents. Bandleader Jimmy Laing, known for his “disappearing” fingers on the piano, would lead his orchestra as a local favorite.



As ’39 progressed, Verdun, still known as the third largest city in Quebec, was about to change its slang, as the new hepster lingo hit the streets. A “Hepcat” was “solid”, one who knew the latest jive words and who could really “cut a rug”, while an “Ickeroo” was the opposite. People were urged to shag on down to “slide in their jib” (dance) and get Hep. Hepcats spoke fluidly, as if rhyming their words to music and creating new ones in the process. Swing styles also had their own hep names, like the “Peckin’ Neckin’”, “Swing the Wing”, the “Rusty-Dusty”, the “Shorty-George”, and “Whip the Hip”. Even with this smooth new language, those times remained simple.

Until, on September 10th, Canada finally declared war on Germany. Suddenly we would all be dancing for a different reason. As the reality of another World War crept in, we were comforted by the enjoyment of the few remaining moments of peace we had left, before being sent off to war.
The Jitterbug craze would go on throughout the War and continue into the late fifties. As the wave finally crested, it was slowly replaced in our dance halls with the new sounds and steps of the early sixties.

Just as our own elegant Verdun Dance Pavillion bandshell began to erode, we could feel the times of the Jitterbug slipping away, and with them our fondest memories.
The Verdun Bandstand was demolished in the late 1960’s, and not so long after, the Verdun Dance Pavillion was also torn down. Those ever-smiling dancers swaying, bopping, and twisting into the twilight of the night skies, are but just a memory now. Yet, whenever we hear that fast swing music, we are reminded of our once beautiful dance halls, with their flickering lights and their polished floors, awaiting our return. Giving us a reason to smile, knowing that we were all once part of a Jitterbug Nation…which had danced its way through our Southwest Corners. - Hep! hep!

courtesy- Rohinton Ghandhi


©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson
The Past Whispers
All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 3, 2016

Remains of shipwrecked Irish famine victims found in Canada


The remain of eight humans discovered in Quebec last month are believed to be those of Irish immigrants who died in an 1847 shipwreck off the coast of Canada, Parks Canada revealed.

The bones and skeletons, found in near Cap-des-Rosiers, Quebec, in late July, appear to be those of five adults and three children who were fleeing the Great Hunger in Ireland when their ship got into trouble during a storm.

Although the remains have yet to be analyzed, Parks Canada archaeologist Martin Perron believes the eight bodies could be the remains of some those who died when the Irish ship, The Carricks of Whitehaven, sank during a storm off the Gaspe coast.

If proven to be those of Irish immigrants aboard the 1847 ship, the discovery may be an indicator of a mass grave in the area for the massive fatalities among the 167 passengers. At first discovery, Perron stated that the bones appeared to be very ancient, possibly as old as the 170 years since the ship sank, although further analysis is needed before this is confirmed.

Adding to the evidence that this may be a burial site for The Carricks, the remains of three European children were previously discovered close to this site in 2011. The bones were found on Cap-des-Rosiers beach just a few hundred meters away from July’s grave discovery. The coroner ruled that the three children were the victims of a maritime tragedy and that they had also suffered from malnutrition, a fact that would fall in line with the theory the children were Irish and leaving Ireland because of the famine.

"All these elements point towards a mass grave that is quite ancient, which could be linked to the Carricks shipwreck,'' Perron told CBC Canada.

The Carricks was just one of the Irish ships, often called the “coffin ships,” that transported thousands of Irish people from their suffering island to a new life in the US and Canada. Unfortunately, conditions on many of these ships were deadly and hunger, malnutrition, and disease caused the death of many on the passage and many more when disease spread among immigrants and the local population on landing.

This particular ship is believed to have been traveling to Quebec in 1847, the very worst year of the Great Hunger and often referred to as “Black ‘47.”

Some 100,000 Irish immigrants made the journey to Canada in 1847, descending on the quarantine station in Grose Íle which welcomed the arrival of 14,000 Irish by the summer months alone, despite having just 150 beds. If they escaped the quarantine station, many Irish may have made it to Montreal, where typhus was killing those who survived the journey, while others carried along the river to Toronto.

A fifth of those who traveled that year - 20,000 immigrants - died.

Built in 1812, The Carricks set sail from Sligo, one of the principal points of emigration during the Great Hunger, in March 1847, under the command of Captain R.Thompson, with 167 passengers, most of whom were tenants from the Irish estates of Lord Palmerston. On April 28, she ran into a storm and most of her passengers were lost. It appears that of all those on board, only 48 made it to the shore. Nine had died previously on the voyage while the remaining 119 were lost in the wreckage. All of the crew survived but for one boy.

One Quebec film maker Viveka Melki is currently making a documentary about The Carricks ship and the fate of those poor Irish on board. During the course of her preparation for the documentary, Melki came across an obituary written by a local priest referring to the way in which the shore was strewn with bodies after the shipwreck and that a shallow, hasty mass grave had been dug for the remains along the beach, leading her to believe that this latest discovery must be several of The Carricks victims.

"It's not been easy for us or for the descendants (interviewed) in the film to even suppose that this might be the grave,'' Melki said.

Other documentaries have been made regarding the ship which focuses on the Irish-speaking family, the Kaveneys from Sligo, who five generations later are now the French-speaking Kavanaghs of Gaspé.

The areas around the bodies has now been cordoned off and Park Canada will continue to excavate the site to discover if there are further remains buried nearby.

"There's a way to give a second life to these bodies and make them talk, thanks to the different analyses that can be done,'' Perron said.

A monument already stands to the victims of the shipwreck in Gaspé, which was offered by St. Patrick’s Parish in Montréal in 1900. It is joined by the enshrined ship’s bell, discovered in 1966. The monument’s inscription reads: “Sacred to the memory of 187 Irish Immigrants from Sligo wrecked here on April 28th 1847 (Ship Carricks of Whitehaven 87 are buried here. Pray for their souls.”


-courtesy Irish Central

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The Past Whispers
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