Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Saint Helen's Island


Saint Helen's Island (French: Île Sainte-Hélène) is an island in the Saint Lawrence River, in the territory of the city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It is situated immediately southeast of the Island of Montreal, in the extreme southwest of Quebec. It forms part of the Hochelaga Archipelago. The Le Moyne Channel separates it from Notre Dame Island. Saint Helen's Island and Notre Dame Island together make up Parc Jean-Drapeau (formerly Parc des Îles).

Picnic - 1938

It was named in 1611 by Samuel de Champlain in honour of his wife, Hélène de Champlain, née Boullé. The island belonged to the Le Moyne family of Longueuil from 1665 until 1818, when it was purchased by the British government. A fort, powderhouse and blockhouse were built on the island as defences for the city, in consequence of the War of 1812.

The newly formed Canadian government acquired the island in 1870; it was converted into a public park in 1874. The public used it as a beach and swam in the river.

In the 1940s, during World War II, Saint Helen's Island, along with various other regions within Canada, such as the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and Hull, Quebec, had Prisoner-of-war camps. St. Helen's prison was number forty seven and remained unnamed just like most of Canada's other war prisons. The prisoners of war (POWs) were sorted and classified into categories including their nationality and civilian or military status. In this camp, POWs were mostly of Italian and German nationality. Also, prisoners were forced into hard labour which included farming and lumbering the land. By 1944 the camp would be closed and shortly afterwards destroyed because of an internal report on the treatment of prisoners.

The archipelago of which Saint Helen's Island is a part was chosen as the site of Expo 67, a World's Fair on the theme of Man and His World, or in French, Terre des Hommes. In preparation for Expo 67, the island was greatly enlarged and consolidated with several nearby islands, using earth excavated during the construction of the Montreal metro. The nearby island, Notre Dame Island, was built from scratch.

After Expo, the site continued to be used as a fairground, now under the name Man and His World or Terre des Hommes. Most of the Expo installations were dismantled and the island was returned to parkland.

The island can be accessed by public transit, by car, by bicycle or by foot. The Concordia Bridge links St. Helen's Island to Montreal's Cité du Havre neighbourhood on the Island of Montreal as well as Notre Dame Island (which itself is connected to Saint-Lambert on the south shore by bicycle paths). The island is also accessible via the Jacques Cartier Bridge from both the Island of Montreal and Longueuil on the south shore.


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Monday, January 30, 2017

Old seminary of Saint-Sulpice



The Society of the Priests of Saint-Sulpice built this building from 1684 to 1687 and enlarged it at the beginning of the eighteenth century. This is his second seminar in Montreal. The first, built in 1657, had a main façade towards the river and overlooked Saint-Paul Street. After the construction of the old parish church, Rue Notre-Dame, inaugurated in 1683, the Sulpicians decided to leave the market place and choose to settle on a vacant lot next to the church they serve . Attributed to the superior of the seminary of Montreal, François Dollier de Casson, the building must mainly house the priests of Saint-Sulpice. In addition to their role as educators and missionaries, the Sulpicians were responsible for the parish of Notre-Dame and, from 1663 until the 19th century, they held the seigneury of the island of Montreal. The residence of the Sulpicians is therefore both a presbytery, a seigniorial manor and a seminary where some fifteen priests receive a good part of their sacerdotal training during the French Regime.

Originally, the building consists of only a long body of building parallel to the street. It then has two stone floors, including the ground floor (rather than three as is currently the case) and it is capped with a broken roof at the Mansart - we do not know when it will be modified to the benefit of The current configuration. Two wings, perhaps projected from the beginning, were added around 1710 - between the elaboration of the plan of Jacques Levasseur of Nere in 1704 and that of Gédéon of Catalonia in 1713. Other modifications were added, Portal in 1740. The stone wall that separates the courtyard from the street may be built at the end of the 18th century - a map of the city elaborated by Louis Guy in 1795 clearly shows its presence.


The Conquest of New France had serious consequences for the Sulpicians of Montreal, whose future was threatened. The Compagnie des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice, whose mother-house is in Paris, possesses Canadian property. She handed them over to the priests of the Montreal seminary in February 1764, but this transfer was unofficial and gave rise to thorny questions about the legal status of the seminary. Things were not clarified until 1840 when the British colonial government recognized the Ecclesiastics of the Saint-Sulpice Seminary of Montreal as a legally constituted body - it was later changed to "The Priests of Saint Sulpice of Montreal ".

In 1840, too, the Sulpicians, in agreement with the bishop, founded the Grand Seminary of Montreal for the complete formation of the priests. Their role as ecclesiastical trainers is thus consolidated while that of lords is on the verge of disappearing. Beginning in 1848, the Sulpicians embarked on a vast project to rebuild their building on Notre-Dame Street in order to reunite their residence and the new major seminary. Only the left-hand part of the project is realized, which leads to the demolition of one of the two wings of the 18th century.

The main facade changes little afterwards, except in particular a plaster imitating the cut stone, which covers the facade for a certain time and then disappears. In the back, a long two-storey brick wing (including the ground floor) was built in 1907-1908. Various renovations take place in the 20th century, both inside and outside the seminary. In 1985, the building and the entire property were classified as a monument and historic site under the Quebec Cultural Property Act. After several studies, the most important restoration campaign in the history of the building was launched in 2005 and continues in 2011. In the meantime, the building's primary function, the residence of the Sulpicians, remains the same , But the priests who live there at the beginning of the twenty-first century are mostly retired.


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The Past Whispers
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Friday, January 27, 2017

Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel




The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, "Our Lady of Good Help") is a church in the district of Old Montreal in Montreal, Quebec. One of the oldest churches in Montreal, it was built in 1771 over the ruins of an earlier chapel.

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the first teacher in the colony of Ville-Marie and the founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame, rallied the colonists to build a chapel in 1655. In 1673, returning from France, Bourgeoys brought a wooden image of Our Lady of Good Help; the stone church was completed in 1678. It burned in 1754, the reliquary and statue being rescued.

After Montreal was conquered by British forces during the French and Indian War, the church was attended by Irish and Scottish troops and families, and saw fundraising to build Saint Patrick's Church, Montreal's first anglophone Catholic parish.

In the 19th century, the chapel came to be a pilgrimage site for the sailors who arrived in the Old Port of Montreal; they would make offerings to the Virgin in gratitude for her "good help" for safe sea voyages. In 1849, Mgr. Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, gave the chapel a statue of the Virgin as Star of the Sea, which was placed atop the church overlooking the harbour. Emphasizing the connection of the chapel and the port, the chapel is often called the Sailors' Church.

The chapel now also houses the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum, dedicated to the life of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys and to the early history of Montreal and the chapel site. Below the chapel, the crypt is being excavated as an archeological site, which visitors can see. First Nations and French colonial artifacts have been discovered, along with the foundations of the first chapel and the fortifications of the colony. The church's prominent spire can also be climbed, offering views of the Old Port and Saint Lawrence River. In 2005, Marguerite Bourgeoys's mortal remains were brought back to the church, where she now lies in the sanctuary.

The church is located at 400 Saint Paul Street East at Bonsecours Street, just north of the Bonsecours Market in the borough of Ville-Marie (Champ-de-Mars metro station).


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Monday, January 23, 2017

Old Port of Montreal – Clock Tower



Montreal Clock Tower at sunrise

The Clock Tower was built between 1919 and 1922 from a design by Montréal-based engineer Paul Leclaire. Forty-five metres high, it marks the entrance to the port and is a memorial to sailors lost at sea in wartime.Its extremely precise clock mechanism was made in England by Gillett and Johnston, and is a replica of Big Ben in London. Like Big Ben, its accuracy is legendary, and sailors would set their own time pieces by it.

The Clock Tower was the port’s time keeper in an era when wrist watches were not yet common. It is even said that when the clock stopped working, many port employees would report to work late.With its powerful light, the tower also served as a lighthouse to guide incoming ships. The structure was originally designed to conceal the unsightly sheds that once lined the quays.Classified as a federal heritage building since 1996, the tower provides spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River and the city for those willing to climb its 192 steps to the top.


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Friday, January 20, 2017

Public Transit tickets (2)


Montreal Street Railway Company tickets with advertising on the back (early 1900's)

Complimentary ticket from the Montreal Street Railway Company (early 1900's)

Last ticket of the Montreal Street Railway Company (1911)

First ticket of the Montreal Tramways Company (1918)

Montreal Tramways Company ticket for constables (around 1920)

Montreal Tramways Company tickets for its employees' annual picnic (1930)

Montreal Tramways Company ticket for the Longueuil bus service (1931)

Montreal Tramways Company ticket to be used on the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Saint-Hubert or Outremont bus lines when paired with a valid transfer (1930's)

Montreal Tramways Company tickets to be used in three consecutive zones (1948)

Montreal Transportation Commission ticket for its employees, printed before the municipalisation of the Montreal Tramways Company in June 1951

 courtesy – Montreal Archives of Transportation

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Public Transit Tickets and Receipts


First ticket of the Montreal City Passenger Railway Company (1861)

First ticket of the Montreal Street Railway Company (1886)

Ticket from the Montreal Park & Island Railway Company, a suburban network managed by the Montreal Street Railway Company from 1901

Ticket from the Montreal Terminal Railway Company, a suburban network managed by the Montreal Street Railway Company from 1907

Examples of receipts issued on certain lines by the Montreal Park & Island Railway Company and the Montreal Tramways Company (1900's)

- courtesy  Transportation Archives of Montreal

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Monday, January 16, 2017

The 1950’s and 1960’s of public Transit


The municipalization of public transit in 1951 led to all of the tramways being replaced by buses. The new Montreal Transportation Commission (MTC) acquired 1,300 buses, including a thousand of the Canadian Car-Brill model. The Commission set about transforming the old tramway sheds and expanded its shops at the Crémazie Plant, built in 1948. Finally, it opened the Namur (1954), Frontenac (1956) and Saint-Michel (1957) garages, as well as the Atwater and Frontenac terminuses (1956). The first express bus service was launched on Saint-Denis Street in 1955 and a completely new model of bus, the New Look from General Motors, was put into service in 1959.


Atwater Terminal - 1956

The MTC’s service territory grew with the addition of new bus routes in Saint-Léonard (1963), Rivière-des-Prairies (1966), Jacques-Cartier (city subsequently merged with Longueuil in 1966) and Anjou (1966). Unveiled in 1962, the Commission’s new modern bus shelter was installed at certain key locations in the network. In 1965, fare zones were abolished to allow for fare integration between the buses and métro. The métro’s launch in October 1966 had a major impact on the bus network: dozens of routes were created, changed or eliminated. New magnetic tickets and new connections were also introduced.


Hochelaga Terminal – 1957


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Friday, January 13, 2017

Trolley Buses


Several models of buses were tested, including the famous “Atwater Street Monster” built by the American company Versare. In 1931, a 35-vehicle garage was built on Côté Street, near the company’s head office. The network also grew in 1931 with service to Longueuil and St. Helen’s Island via the new Havre Bridge (Jacques-Cartier Bridge). The bus division now had 155 buses carrying over 20 million passengers yearly. Beginning in 1936, the bus replaced the tramway on certain routes and new garages were opened in Montreal East and on Mont-Royal Avenue. The following decade saw the opening of the Bellechasse (1941), Charlevoix (1944) and Villeray (1947) garages.


Atwater Street Monster - 1927

Seven trolleybuses built by the English company AEC were put into service on Beaubien Street in Montreal on March 29, 1937. It was the first modern trolleybus service in Canada, after unsuccessful tests in Toronto and Windsor, Ontario. Ten years later, the MTC decided to continue the experiment and acquired 40 more trolleybuses. These vehicles, which were built by the Canadian Car company, were put into service on Beaubien Street and, starting in 1949, on Amherst Street and Christophe-Colomb Avenue. The MTC received another 40 trolleybuses in 1949 and decided to deploy them on Bélanger Street. The number of trolleybuses increased from 80 to 105 in 1952, but then remained unchanged until this means of transportation was abandoned in 1966.

Mack bus in war time - 1943


courtesy – Archives of Montreal

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Montreal Bus History




The first buses appeared in America and Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially, the Montreal Tramways Company (MTC) preferred tramways to buses, since buses were less comfortable and could not carry as many passengers. However, the company needed to replace several parts of the rail crossing on Saint-Étienne Street (now Bridge Street). Given the significant costs involved, the MTC opted to replace the tramway with buses. Two White trucks were converted into buses at the company’s Youville repair shops and the new service was launched on November 22, 1919. In 1921, two more trucks were converted into buses and assigned to the shuttle between Berri Street and St. Helen’s Island.


After these test runs, the time had come for the MTC to give a real chance to the bus, which had continually improved over the years. In 1925, the company created a bus division and launched three new routes in quick succession: Lachine-Montreal-West (August 6), Lachine-LaSalle (August 15) and Sherbrooke Street (August 19). This time, the MTC didn’t build its own buses, turning instead to American suppliers. New routes were quickly created on Saint-Hubert Street, in Outremont, in Verdun, and between the Bordeaux and Cartierville areas. The number of buses increased from 24 to 55 and the company opened its first bus garage in Saint-Henri, which had a capacity of 85 vehicles.

St. Henri Bus Garage – 1926

St. Henri Bus Garage – 1926


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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Retirement of the Tramways


Faced with the criticism of the MTC’s private monopoly, the City of Montreal created the Montreal Transportation Commission (MTC) in August 1950. The Commission appropriated the assets of the Montreal Tramways Company on June 16, 1951, including a large number of old tramways at the end of their useful life. The tramways needed to be replaced quickly, but with what type of vehicle? Although powered by electricity, tramways were no longer very popular in the early 1950s. They were not as flexible as buses and many motorists accused them of blocking downtown traffic. So the decision was made to replace them all with buses over a period of some ten years.


Mount Royal

In the end, it took eight years to retire the tramways, with the CTM purchasing some 1,300 buses to replace its 939 tramway cars. And that was how “the trams” gradually disappeared from the city’s streets, such as Sainte-Catherine Street, where a parade was organized in 1956 for the event. On August 30, 1959, another parade marked the retirement of the last tramways in Montreal, on Papineau Avenue and Rosemont Boulevard. It was the end of an era—nearly 100 years of tramways in Montreal.




courtesy – Archives of Montreal

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The Past Whispers
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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tramways In War




After dominating the city’s landscape for years, tramways now faced competition from buses, which were introduced in Montreal in 1919 and had their own division as of 1925. The early rickety buses were quickly replaced by quality vehicles which, although they could not carry as many passengers as the tramways, could be deployed rapidly and less expensively as the city evolved. After several smaller-scale tests, the first major replacement of a tramway by a bus occurred in 1936 in the city’s east end, on Notre-Dame Street. The bus was no longer a simple complement to the tramway but its direct competitor.



World War II breathed new life into the tramways. The Transit Controller appointed by the federal government in 1941 required the MTC to limit its use of gasoline and tires. The company was thus forced to return its old tramways to service and purchase a few more second-hand. In 1944, it also put into service the PCC tramways, the last tramway model used in Montreal, of which it received only 18. So it was an aging fleet of tramways that served Montreal through the Second World War and made it possible to achieve a peak ridership in 1947 of 398,349,773 passengers transported during the year.


courtesy – Archives of Montreal

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The Past Whispers
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Monday, January 9, 2017

Golden Age of Tramways


Created in 1911, the Montreal Tramways Company (MTC) quickly acquired all of the other transit companies on the Island of Montreal. This private monopoly caused some concern for the general public, who were worried about the quality of the service offered. Late that year, the new company opened its first repair shops in Youville, where the metro’s primary maintenance shops are currently located. A few years passed before the creation, in 1918, of the Montreal Tramways Commission, a public organization tasked with supervising the activities of the Montreal Tramways Company. This new balance worked quite well and the tramways were on the cusp of their golden age in Montreal.


Funeral Car - 1915

At its peak in the early 1920s, the Montreal tramway network comprised over 300 miles (500 km) of tracks and more than 900 vehicles carried nearly 230 million passengers per year. In 1924, the first network map was distributed and the tramway cars began indicating the route number. That same year, the first solotrams (tramways operated by one employee) appeared and passengers now had to board at the front of the vehicle. In 1925, a huge terminus was opened on Craig Street, today’s Saint-Antoine West. In 1929, the MTC moved its offices just next door and, the following year, the company launched its Mount Royal tramway line.


Band Car - 1913


Courtesy Archives of Montreal

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Electric Tramways



April 1, 1911 – Employees

The first electric tramways appeared in Europe in the early 1880s. In Montreal, the electrification of the network was delayed because the management of the Montreal Street Railway Company (MSRC)—which had replaced the MCPRC in 1886 and had close to 1,000 horses—had misgivings. However, the work finally began in the summer of 1892 and the city’s very first electric tramway, the Rocket, was put into service on September 21, 1892. Within two years, the network was completely electrified, and ridership doubled during that same period from 10 million trips to 20 million. Meanwhile, a system of transfer tickets was tested to facilitate changing from one express line to another.


Snow Sweeper

The electric tramways were much faster than horses and were soon serving Sault-au-Récollet (1893), the parish of Saint-Laurent (1895), Bout-de-l’Île (1896) and Lachine (1897). At the same time, the MSRC introduced double-truck tramways, which were longer and more spacious. Most importantly, the company inaugurated the Pay As You Enter (PAYE) tramway, the first public transit vehicle in the world in which passengers paid when they boarded instead of waiting for an agent to collect the fare. That same year, the MSRC also introduced its famous observation tramway, which would delight generations of Montrealers, young and old alike. Ridership reached 50 million in 1905 and hit the magic 100-million mark in 1910.




courtesy – Archives of Montreal

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Horse Drawn Tramways



Horse-drawn winter tramway on St. Catherine Street (c.1877)


The first tramways, which were drawn by horses along rails installed in the public roads, appeared in England in 1807. In Montreal, the harsh winters and steep inclines delayed the introduction of this type of network. It was only in 1861 that the city’s first public transportation company, the Montreal City Passenger Railway Company (MCPRC), was created. The MCPRC hired an American, Alexander Easton, to build its six mile (10 km) network. Construction began on September 18, 1861 and a first line was put into service along today’s Notre-Dame Street on November 27. A second line was inaugurated a few days later on Saint-Antoine Street.



Each horse-drawn tramway had two employees: the driver and the conductor, who sold the tickets and collected the five-cent fare. Workers, who earned less than a dollar per day at the time, couldn’t yet afford this service reserved for a certain elite group. People simply hailed the tramway to have it stop and pick them up, and they could even ask the driver to wait a few minutes for them! In its first year, the company logged a million trips. Three types of cars were used: the summer tramway, which had open sides, the winter or sled tramway, which was very useful when the rails were covered with snow and ice, and the omnibus, a wheeled vehicle used when the rails were impassable, such as during the spring melt.


courtesy – Society of Transportation of Montreal

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

McGill Street Station Railway

MCGILL STREET 1909 – 1955

M. Peter Murphy

Albert Corriveau was the secretary and principal promoter of the Montreal Park & Island Railway which by 1897 was operating surburban trolley line~ to virtually all the Montreal surburbs located on the island. Expansion to the South Shore was impossible because of the natural obstruction created by the mighty St. Lawrence River even though the original charter of the MPIR permitted it to do so. As plans were being prepared for the replacement of the original Victoria Tubular Bridge, Albert Carriveau and associates were busy applying for a Federal Charter to construct an electric railwar from Montreal to the "South Shore" and Huntingdon.


On June 25, 1897 the charter for the Montreal & Southern Counties Railway was granted but no actual work was done for several years even though the new Victoria Jubilee Bridge was opened late in 1898. In 1901 Corriveau retired from active railway promotion and the MPIR came under control of the Montreal Street Railway.

It was ten years after the charter had been granted that construction actually began on the M & S C. The Grand Trunk Railway granted permission to use the downstream lane of the Victoria Bridge for the electric railway and by a generous infusion of money to get construction started the Grand Trunk took a controlling interest in the new railway.

The Montreal Street Railway vigorously opposed the granting of running rights through any of the streets of Montreal to the M & S C and by the time the rights were obtained the M & SC had
attended no less than 145 regular and special meetings of the City Council of Montreal to plead its case.

By Spring 1909 the M & S C had laid tracks along Riverside, Mill, Common, Grey Nun and Youville Streets, the actual brick station being constructed at the south west corner of McGill and Youville Streets. Originally cars were wyed at the corner of Grey Nun and Youville Streets but as train lengths increased another means of turning the cars had to be found. By 1913 the Montreal & Southern Counties Railway had negotiated an agreement with the Montreal Tramways Company whereby M & S C trains could share a one block long length of common southbound track on McGill Street between Youville and Common Streets.


While the M S Rand M & S C were originally viewed as rivals they indeed turned out to be complementary to one another. Rapidly the McGill Street terminal of the M & S C became the
transfer point for street car passengers travelling to the south shore. Operation of electric cars on the common track consisted of southbound Montreal Tramways Cars operating on Outremont
route 29. It was on route 29 that the MTCo operated its fleet of PCC cars almost exclusively, and so it was not unusual to see trains of CNR green interurbans interspursed with a cream coloured PCC car or two during rush hours on Mc Gill Street.

While the tracks were shared the trolley overhead was not.

Two separate wires hung about 18 inches apart assured independent power supply for each railway. At the foot of McGill Street trolley contacts were installed which fed the first electric switch to be installed in Montreal. An M & S C trolley making contact threw the switch to head west along Common Street, while a MTC trolley threw the switch to head east to the "Youville Loop" and the end of route 29.

M & S C suburban cars in rush hours looped around Grey Nun, Youville & McGill Streets stopping to load in front of the M & SC station. The interurban trains looped around McGill Street and
were backed into the yard where after the express had been loaded and passengers boarded they headed out curving directly onto Common Street, Black Bridge, Mill Street and the Victoria

courtesy -  M. Peter Murphy

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Montreal and Southern Counties Railway Company




The M&SCRC was created as a result of a law passed by the Canadian Parliament on June 29, 1897. The service was inaugurated between Montreal and Saint-Lambert via the Victoria Bridge on October 30, 1909. The service was extended to Longueuil in 1910, toward Mackayville in 1912 and to Chambly, Richelieu and Marieville in 1913, Saint-Césaire in 1914, Saint-Paul-d'Abbotsford, Quebec in 1915, and finally Granby in 1916.

Absorbed by the Grand Trunk Railway, the M&SCRC became the property of CN in 1923.

The Montreal McGill Street Terminal was situated at the southwest corner of McGill Street and Rue Marguerite-d'Youville. The building that served as the station is still standing today.

The M&SCRC was managed under two divisions. The interurban division managed the traffic on the main line between Montreal and Granby, whereas the suburban division managed the branch between Saint-Lambert and Montreal South (Longueuil).

Service declined starting in 1951, when CN replaced the electric tramways with diesel trains between Marieville and Granby. In June 1955, CN decided to remove the streetcar rails on the Victoria Bridge and service was cut back to Saint-Lambert. The streetcar made its final voyage on October 13, 1956.

…to be continued.


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Monday, January 2, 2017

Marie-Joseph Angelique: Remembering the Arsonist Slave of Montreal



Marie-Joseph was born in Madeira, Portugal, one of the most important cities of the Atlantic slave trade market. At the age of 15, she was sold and brought to the New World.

She first lived in New England, until François Poulin de Francheville, a French businessman, bought her and brought her to his home in Montreal. De Francheville died not long after her arrival, but Marie-Joseph was still owned by his wife, Therese de Couagne. It is she who renamed Marie-Joseph “Angélique,” after her dead daughter.

Unlike the common idea one might have of a slave, Marie-Joseph Angélique had a fiery temper, was stubborn and willful. Not long after her arrival in Montreal, she got involved in a romantic relationship with François Thibault, a white servant who also worked for the Francheville widow. The Montreal community disapproved of this union between a black woman and a white man.

In the midst of winter 1734, the pair intended an escape: they fled together, by night, across the frozen St. Lawrence River. They were hoping to get to New-England and, from there, back to Europe. But bad weather forced them to stop not far from Montreal, and they were quickly discovered by the militia and escorted back to town.

Angélique was sent back to the widow Francheville and her intended escape went unpunished. Thibault, on the other hand, was sent to prison. Angélique continued to visit him during his imprisonment, providing him food and support, despite her mistress’s disapproval. Thibault was released two months later, on April 8th 1734, two days before the fire of Montreal.

The Fire of Montreal

April 10th, 1734, was an exceptionally mild day in Montreal. Around 6:30pm on that Saturday, most of the community was attending the evening prayers. As they were making their way back to their homes, the sentry sounded the alarm: fire! A fire had started on the south side of rue St-Paul.

Chaos ensued. The military tried to tame down the fire, but it got so strong, so fast that it was almost impossible to get close to it. Montrealers, in panic, hoped to enter their burning houses so they could save furniture and belongings from the flames. But a strong wind propagated the fire and not much could be saved: in less than 3 hours, 46 houses were burned, including the hotel-Dieu hospital. Luckily, no one died.

Accusation of Marie-Joseph

Quickly, rumor started that the widow Francheville’s slave Marie-Joseph Angélique and her lover Thibault were responsible for the fire. Many people said that Angélique was in an agitated mood that evening. Others claimed they saw her going up the stairs of the Francheville house minutes before the fire was declared. And the coincidence of the release of Thibault, her lover whom she had tried to escape with not long ago, arose suspicions. Was the pair trying to create a diversion before they would flee again? Was an angry and rebellious Angélique trying to make a statement, because her owner did not accept her love with Thibault and refused to grant her freedom?

Nevertheless, the angry Montrealers, frustrated by their losses, were looking for a scapegoat. The day after the fire, Angélique was arrested, despite the fact that she had firmly denied causing the fire. The authorities searched in vain for Thibault: he had fled and was never seen again in New France.

Trial, Torture and Execution

The arrest of Angélique began an exceptionally long judiciary process. Her trial lasted six weeks, uncommon in New France, where trials lasted no more than a few days.

22 persons – rich and poor, men and women – testified against Marie-Joseph Angélique. All admitted that they did not see Angélique start the fire, but they were unanimously convinced of her guilt. Only her mistress, the widow Francheville, stood up for her slave, persuaded of her innocence.

Despite the fact that everyone wanted her to be guilty, the judge responsible for the case, Pierre Raimbault, reputed for his severe judgments, had nothing solid against Angélique. Nothing, until a new witness appeared out of nowhere, after six weeks of trial: Amable Lemoine Monière, the five-year-old daughter of Alexis Lemoine, a merchant. The little girl swore under oath that she had seen Angélique going to the attic of the Francheville house holding a shovel full of coals, just before the fire.

Amable’s testimony sealed Angélique’s fate: although she kept claiming her innocence, she was condemned to death. She was submitted to the torture of the boot – wood planks bound to the prisoner’s legs, squeezing them and crushing the bones – before her execution, in order to make her name her accomplices. Under torture she admitted the crime, but, begging for mercy and for a quick death, she maintained she was acting alone.

Marie-Joseph Angélique was hanged on June 21, 1734, in front of the burned buildings of Old Montreal. Her body was then burnt and her ashes scattered.


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The Past Whispers
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