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
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