Monday, February 27, 2017

Accidents and Meaningless Deaths


The house was a wreck, and what they had not smashed the oil from the lamp had scorched.

Gazette, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 1895

Spare a thought for poor John Griffin. In trying to act the peacemaker, he wound up in hospital – and then in jail to boot.

Griffin, a steamfitter, rented the lower floor of a small tenement on Hermine St., near the corner of today’s St. Antoine. Upstairs lived a labourer named Thomas O’Connor and his wife, Bridget O’Brien.

It was a cold Tuesday evening in 1895, and O’Connor and his wife were making a dreadful racket. Finally, Griffin could take no more. He set off for the stairs to separate the combatants, and got caught up in the fracas himself. It nearly cost him his life.

A man named McKenzie lived in a house on St. Antoine that overlooked the back yard of the Hermine St. tenement. Like Griffin, he couldn’t help being aware of the almighty row going on between the couple, but unlike Griffin he was content to keep his distance.

Suddenly, through the windows, McKenzie watched in horror as an oil lamp went flying through the air. Immediately after, as The Gazette reported, he was startled to see “a man running out into the cold with his head all ablaze.” The man was John Griffin.

McKenzie rushed out and with his overcoat smothered the flames enveloping Griffin. Other neighbours, meanwhile, rushed into the tenement and put out the fire that was beginning to spread before too much damage could be done.

The police arrived, arrested the warring couple and hauled them off to a nearby station. Griffin was taken in an ambulance to the Montreal General Hospital.

“At the hospital Griffin was found to have a half-dozen cuts, besides having all his hair and his ears nearly burned off,” we reported. He was patched up and sent back to the police station where he told the officers, “Mrs. O’Connor, the damn fool, threw the lamp at me, and look at me now.” (We can only guess he said “damn,” for our editors used a long dash instead.)

But then, the police added insult to the injury dished out by Bridget O’Brien. “A charge of drunk and disorderly was laid against [Griffin], so as to hold him as a witness,” we said, “while the other two were charged with aggravated assault.”

The outcome of the case is lost to us. Not so for another oil lamp mishap a few days earlier.

It occurred a few blocks away in a tiny, ramshackle house on St. Justin St., today’s Berger. The wife of a labourer named Israel Lebovitch knocked a lamp from a table onto the floor. It exploded, spreading its burning oil over her, and she died at Notre Dame Hospital three days later.

Alas, she was scarcely alone in her meaningless death. As she lay in agony at Notre Dame, a young Scottish immigrant named John Thompson stepped from the quarters he rented on St. Paul St. Perhaps he had been drinking; not long before, his wife had left him to return to her father’s house on Congregation St. In any event, Thompson stumbled, fell down the stairs and badly cracked his head. He was taken to the same hospital but died early the following morning.

Drink certainly figured in the death of a man named Martin Higgins. The same day Thompson died, an inquest concluded that Higgins’s excessive drinking had hastened the onset of pneumonia, which killed him.

That afternoon as well, a woman named Margaret Carson was buried. Like John Thompson, she also had fallen. In her case, it was in the middle of Peel St. and she did not survive long enough to be taken to a hospital. She died on the spot. Her brother ordered a coffin but then promptly absconded. The coroner ordered that she be buried at the city’s expense.

Death hovered in the background of a robbery trial then under way. One of the accused, we reported, was “in the last stages of consumption, and it is feared that imprisonment will kill him.” A different affliction had befallen his co-accused: the night he was arrested, his infant son died.

But elsewhere in the case, death was perhaps forestalled. The two men on trial accused a third of complicity in their scheme but the police decided, at least for the moment, not to arrest him. “The wife of the man had just given birth to a child,” we reported, “and it was feared that the arrest of the husband would kill her.”

courtesy – Montreal Gazette

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Thomas D'Arcy McGee


Thomas D'Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, (13 April 1825 – 7 April 1868) was an Irish-Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation. The young McGee was a Catholic Irishman who hated the British rule of Ireland, and worked for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escaped arrest and fled to the United States in 1848, where he reversed his political beliefs. He became disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and became intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.



He moved to Canada in 1857 and worked hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that would make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garnered him the title: 'Canada's first nationalist'. He fought the Fenians in Canada, who were Irish Catholics who hated the British and resembled his younger self politically. McGee succeeded in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867, but was assassinated by Fenian Elements in 1868.



Thomas D’Arcy McGee School –est. 1931


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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Verdun Natatorium


In 1938-39, Verdun was still in the midst of the Great Depression, with a large number of its residents hired as city “relief” workers for various municipal projects. The Natatorium idea would provide another opportunity for work and would showcase the ingenuity of our city planners. Some of whom are still named on a plaque at the pool’s entrance. Yet not all names would be remembered.

On June 14th, 1940, a month before opening, Verdun’s city council reversed its decision to award Mr. Minicucci, of Italian descent, the right to lease the restaurant atop the new Natatorium. Stating that, “the entry of Italy into the war on the side of the Nazis caused the change”. On June 28th, 1940, without any further reasoning, the council awarded the space to Mr. W. Gunhouse under the same terms. In these times, the actions of a foreign country to ally with the Nazis gave us the name “Gunny’s” for the rooftop restaurant, after its new owner. While the Minicucci name sadly became an indirect casualty of war.

It was opening night, Friday, July 12th, 1940, 7:00pm, as crowds of people excitedly rushed across Bannantyne Avenue and LaSalle Boulevard eager to see the Natatorium open its doors for the first time. With lights shining on its double castle-like front turrets and union-jacks waving above them, the building took on an amusement park feel, like at the gates of Belmont Park. More than 2,000 spectators paid the 50-cent admission (25-cents for children) and filled the pool area, gathering tightly on the roof. The scene was almost surreal against the night sky, as the smell of fresh paint still lingered in the air. The two pools were illuminated by 22 underwater “submarine” lights, allowing a clear view of their bottom floors. The lamp posts overhead and atop the pool-house lit up the deck areas, which surrounded each pool with 30 feet of non-skid concrete laid in contrasting shades. The two “island fountains” of the larger pool had coloured lights below them and jetted water into the air through their extended spouts, as the deeper pool looked more official with its 5 Olympic-regulation sized diving boards. The brick posts of our 3-mile boardwalk dotted the riverfront, as a reminder of where we all had swam before. These early moments would not last, as the Verdun Natatorium was about to be launched into history, as host of the 1940 Dominion Swimming and Diving Championships!

larger_nat.jpgThe Verdun Natatorium. At 8 o’clock, the MP for Verdun, Mr. Leo-J. Comeau, officially inaugurated the new Verdun Natatorium and opened the championship, earning wild applause from the crowds. Within the fanfare, our Mayor, Edward Wilson, Chief Engineer, Henry Hadley, and many of our city councillors stood alongside, proudly smiling at their achievement. They had not only put Verdun on the local stage, but by inviting swimmers from the “Atlantic to the Pacific”, they had put our town in the spotlight across the Dominion of Canada. The competitions were planned that way, with events held exclusively for Verdun residents amidst the national trials. For those few days, news of the winners headlined across the country, with the Natatorium front and center, quickly gaining its reputation as “the finest pool in Canada”.

Our city councillors ensured that the Natatorium would keep us financially safe as well. By first floating a loan for $200,000, they decided to keep admission prices as low as possible, just enough to cover operating costs and to keep paying back the loan. As annual attendance grew, the pool paid back $9,500 each year from 1941 to 1945, about $11,000 each year from 1946 to 1951, and was on target to return a profit by 1961. Planned within the hardest of economic times, the Natatorium never lost money. To this day, it remains a true example of responsible public-spending.

Before the Natatorium, many Verdun residents fell ill from swimming in the increasingly contaminated St.Lawrence waters. The new pool was clearly designed with public safety in mind. Its three large automatically-controlled pressure filters could produce 1,250 chlorinated gallons per minute, when required. The main building housed a first-aid room, a “tote-box” room for your belongings, and the men’s and women’s dressing rooms each with 16 hot-water showers. A shower and a foot bath were mandatory before entering the pool. “Gunny’s” restaurant would provide a hot snack-bar menu to hungry swimmers on the ground floor and on the roof. Verdun policeman were stationed at the pool as lifeguards, security guards, and as swimming instructors to the public. With numerous ladders within the pools and elevated lifeguard chairs around them, the Natatorium gave us a safer way to cool off in the humid days, before central air.

A year later, in early June 1941, people were turned away from their morning swim and curiously began gathering at the pool’s outer fence, as patrolmen walked the interior. All went silent, as a lone silhouette exited the men’s dressing room and headed for the diving pool. The well-muscled man dropped his towel, climbed the steps, and walked into the sunlight at the tip of the 3m high board.

Onlookers burst out in excitement when realizing that they were in the presence of Tarzan himself, as Hollywood star, Buster Crabbe completed his first dive into our Natatorium’s history. The spectators cheered after every dive, as Buster waved back to them. He was practicing as a star of the 1941 Water Follies, being held over the next four nights (June 5 -8) at the Montreal Forum. Many felt fortunate to get his autograph that day as Buster “Tarzan” Crabbe, even though Jiggs (Cheeta) was no longer at his side. He would visit the Natatorium many times in the following years, not only to practice, but to sell Victory Bonds in support of Canada’s war effort.

Buster Crabbe was twice a US Olympic swimming champion, winning bronze for his 1,500m freestyle at the 1928 Amsterdam games, and gold for his quick 400m freestyle at the 1932 Los Angeles games. His lead role in the 1933 “Tarzan the Fearless” series successfully launched his acting career and allowed him to star in over one hundred films, including his famous Flash Gordon series of 1936.

larger_tarzan_the_fearless_1933.jpgPoster, Tarzan the Fearless, 1933.In 1941, he decided to entertain us off-screen as well, by showing us his amazing swimming skills, as the main attraction of the travelling “Water Follies” show, which required a temporary natatorium to be built at each of its 34-city stops. Montreal Forum staff would work for 48-hours straight, to install a 325-ton pool structure that would hold 80,000 gallons of water, for the performances of over 100 aquatic stars. The events included thrilling feats of diving and speed, from our own Buster Crabbe, Betty Wilson, NYC’s best swimmer, and famous trick-diver, Joe Peterson of Panama. The comedy acts included Charlie Diehl, the “235-pound marvel of the springboard”, with Clayton Mains and Frank Foster, as some of the many “funny men in bathing suits”. The “Aquabelles”, 20 synchronized mermaids, highlighted each show with their intricate water ballets, beautifully set to orchestrated music. The Forum was decorated like a Miami Beach club, with palm trees, tropical flowers, and eel grass waving throughout. After the shows, “The Coquettes”, an all-girl band, would open the new 3,600-foot dance floor to the audience, to swing the rest of the night away. We can only imagine the beauty and excitement of these shows, with our Tarzan of ’33 diving at center ring.

Today, Gunny’s lights continue to glow above pool-house, with the upper-deck now closed to the public. The “submarine” lights and the fountain lamps remain dark in their receptacles below the waterline, awaiting an opportunity to shine again. The pedestal lines of the diving boards have long been painted over, hiding the echoes of championships past. The Natatorium once invited swimmers to swim into the night, at times closing at 10pm or later. As we stand by the pools at today’s 8pm closing time, we can still revisit those magical nights by simply closing our eyes and smiling in remembrance, of what was once the finest pool in Canada.

After 71 years, our Natatorium is still a cool place to swim on a hot summer’s day. Although, many of us are unaware of its former glory and of the great civic pride we all once held for this wonderful place.

No longer hosting national competitions nor welcoming celebrities to its doors, the Natatorium endures as a testament to our early city planners. Sitting quietly at the riverfront awaiting the next perfect day, it has become a proud part of our Verdun identity and heritage. Remembering a time, when a true-to-life Tarzan and his world-famous chimp, had swung their way off the silver screen to make a splash within the deepest pools of our Southwest Corner.


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Monday, February 20, 2017

The dean of Franco-American fiddling keeps the tradition alive in Maine


GORHAM — Don Roy began playing the fiddle as a teenager at house parties, where fiddles and guitars were passed around and songs exchanged deep into the night. He quickly became better than the older and more experienced people he was playing with, including the uncle who taught him, Lucien Mathieu of Westbrook.

Roy won his first fiddle contest six months after he started playing, and racked up so many titles that some of his peers stopped competing when they saw his name on the roster of entrants. “Don’s playing. No sense in bothering to sign up,” said one…more


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Friday, February 17, 2017

Snow collaspes roof in Montreal’s Mile End


Apparently the building is the former Stuart Factory where May West and Jos Louis cakes were once manufactured.


Snow-laden roof collapses in Montreal's Mile End

Published on: February 17, 2017 | Last Updated: February 17, 2017 6:53 AM EST

Traffic at Laurier and de l’Esplanade Aves. may be a little more difficult than usual Friday morning after the roof of a vacant commercial building at the site caved in, apparently because of an overload of snow.


- courtesy Martin Wohlgemuth


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Thursday, February 16, 2017

East End Kids Documentary


Carole Laganière films the hopes, the fears and the dreams of kids living in the deprived Montreal neighbourhood where she grew up.

East End Kids


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Monday, February 13, 2017

A New England Mardi Gras – The International Snowshoe Convention of 1925–by James Myall




“Fun for all, and all for fun,” was the verdict of one local newspaper; “a Mardi Gras” reminiscent of the pre-prohibition era, according to another. On the weekend of 7-8 February, 1925, eight hundred French Canadian snowshoers descended on the city of Lewiston, Maine (population 30,000), for two days of revelry and winter sports. The festivities…more


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Friday, February 10, 2017

Church of the Madonna della Difesa



The Church of the Madonna della Difesa is a Catholic church in the neighbourhood of Little Italy in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was built by Italian immigrants to the city, specifically those from Molise, to commemorate the apparition of the Madonna in La Difesa, in Casacalenda, Molise. It was designed by Roch Montbriant and Canadian artist Guido Nincheri. It is Romanesque in style and laid out in a Greek-cross floorplan. It was inaugurated in 1919.

It is famous for its large cupola and brick façade, and especially its frescos by Guido Nincheri. A particularly well-known fresco depicts Benito Mussolini; painted before World War II, it commemorates his signing of the Lateran Accords. A statue in front of the church commemorates "victims of all wars."

Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2002, it is located at 6800 Henri-Julien Avenue at the corner of Dante Street (Jean-Talon or Beaubien metro stations) in the borough of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. Plaqued in 2005, the Church serves the oldest Italian community in Canada.

Three priests serve at the church, Padre Luca Brancolini, Padre Giuseppe Manzini and Padre Jacques Duplouy; all are members of the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St.Charles Borromeo.

©2017 Linda Sullivan – Simpson
The Past Whispers
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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

St. George’s Anglican Church – Montreal



The original St. George's Church opened on June 30, 1843, and was on Notre-Dame Street (then Saint Joseph Street) and Saint David's Lane, just outside the city of Montreal's walls. It was the second Anglican congregation in Montreal and was built to accommodate the overflow of parishioners from Christ Church Cathedral. An organ built by Samuel Russell Warren was installed later that year.

The congregation of St. George's continued to grow as the city expanded to the west. A plot of land at the corner of Peel Street and De la Gauchetière Street was chosen as the site of the current church. This piece of land had been a Jewish cemetery from 1775 to 1854. St. George's was designed by Montreal architect William Tutin Thomas, constructed in 1869, and opened its doors on October 9, 1870. The only furnishing retained from the old church was the pulpit. The old church would serve as a factory for organ-maker Samuel Russell Warren.

The parishioners of St. Jude Church (corner of Coursol Street and Vinet Street in Little Burgundy) and Church of the Advent (corner De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Wood Avenue in Westmount) joined those of St. George's following their churches' closures.

Designated a National Historic site in Canada in 1990.


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The Past Whispers
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Monday, February 6, 2017

Mile End – Saint Louis


The second growth spurt of Mile End coincided with the introduction of electric tramway service in 1893; the area can be considered an example of a streetcar suburb. The agricultural and industrial exhibition grounds at the southwest of the village, near Mount Royal, were subdivided in 1899 for housing. The village became a town in 1895 and changed its name to simply Saint-Louis. Apart from a tiny street located just outside the town's northwestern limit, and (for its remaining years) the railway station, the name Mile End passed out of the official toponymy for close to a century, coming back into use as a municipal electoral district only in 1982.

The town of Saint-Louis built in 1905 a magnificent town hall on the northwest corner of Saint-Laurent and what is now Laurier Avenue; the building still serves as a fire hall and firefighters' museum. The town was annexed by the expanding city of Montreal on 29 May 1909, taking effect as of 1 January 1910, and became Laurier Ward (quartier Laurier). Population growth had been explosive: in 1891, the village had 3537 residents; in 1911, after annexation, the ward's population was about 37,000.


Perhaps the most recognizable architectural symbol of Mile End is the Church of St. Michael the Archangel of 1914-5, on Saint-Viateur Street at the corner of Saint-Urbain. The church, designed by Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne, was built for an Irish Catholic community, as expressed by omnipresent shamrock motifs; yet the overall style of the building is based on Byzantine rather than Western architectural traditions. Even more striking, the church has a slender tower that resembles a minaret. The building has been shared since 1964 with the Polish Catholic mission of St. Anthony of Padua, which officially merged with the parish of St. Michael in 1969 to form the current parish of St. Michael's and St. Anthony's; masses are celebrated in Polish and in English.


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Friday, February 3, 2017

Mile End – The Coming of the Railway



Mile End Station – Montreal

The transcontinental railway gave Mile End its first growth spurt and separate identity. In 1876, the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway – a project vigorously promoted by Antoine Labelle and Louis Beaubien – came slicing through the area on its way from east-end Montreal to Sainte-Thérèse, Lachute, and Ottawa. This railway was bought in 1882 by the Canadian Pacific, and it was by this route that the first trains departed for the Prairies in 1885 and for Port Moody, British Columbia in June 1886 (extending to Vancouver in 1887). The first Mile End station building was erected in 1878 on the east side of Saint-Laurent Road, near what is now the intersection of Bernard Street. (A much larger station was built in 1911; it closed in 1931, when service was moved to the new Park Avenue Station (Jean-Talon), and was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Rosemont–Van Horne viaduct.)

Also in 1878, the village of Saint-Louis-du-Mile-End was incorporated, population 1319. Its territory consisted of the western third of Côte Saint-Louis: bounded on the west by the limit of Outremont (generally along Hutchison Street), on the south by what is now Mont-Royal Avenue, and on the east by a line running mostly just east of the current Henri-Julien Avenue. The northern border was north of present-day De Castelnau Street or just south of Jarry Park.

- Wikipedia

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mile End – Montreal




Nineteenth-century maps and other documents show the name Mile End as the crossroads at Saint-Laurent Road (now Boulevard) and what is now Mont-Royal Avenue. Originally, this road was Côte Sainte-Catherine Road (heading west) and Tanneries Road (heading east). It is probable that the name Mile End was inspired by the East London suburb of the same name.

Contrary to popular belief, the place is not precisely a mile away from any official marker. It is, however, a mile north along Saint-Laurent from Sherbrooke Street, which in the early 19th century marked the boundary between the urban area and open countryside. (Several decades later, the Mile End train station near Bernard Street was situated coincidentally one more mile north along Saint-Laurent from the original crossroads.)

Mile End was also the first important crossroads north of the tollgate set up in 1841 at the city limits of 1792. From the crossroads to the city limits the distance was 0.4 miles (0.64 km). The city limits were located 100 chains (1.25 miles or about 2 km) north of the fortification wall, and intersected Saint-Laurent just south of the current Duluth Avenue.

As early as 1810, there was a Mile End Hotel and tavern, operated by Stanley Bagg, an American-born entrepreneur and father of the wealthy landowner Stanley Clark Bagg. The earliest known published references to Mile End are advertisements placed by Stanley Bagg, in both English and French, in The Gazette during the summer of 1815. He announced in July: "Farm for sale at St. Catherine [i.e., Outremont], near Mile End Tavern, about two miles from town...". On 7 August, he inserted the following:

STRAYED or STOLEN from the Pasture of Stanley Bagg, Mile End Tavern, on or about the end of June last, a Bay HORSE about ten years old, white face, and some white about the feet. Any person who will give information where the Thief or Horse may be found shall receive a reward of TEN DOLLARS and all reasonable charges paid. STANLEY BAGG. Montreal, Mile End, August 4, 1815.


The road variously known as Chemin des Tanneries (Tannery Road), Chemin des Carrières (Quarry Road), or Chemin de la Côte-Saint-Louis led to a tannery and to limestone quarries used for the construction of much of Montreal's architecture. The village of Côte Saint-Louis (incorporated 1846) sprung up near the quarries, its houses clustered east of the Mile End district around the present-day intersection of Berri Street and Laurier Avenue. It was to serve this village that a chapel of the Infant Jesus was established in 1848 near Saint Lawrence Road, on land donated by Pierre Beaubien. In 1857-8, the chapel was replaced by the church of Saint Enfant Jésus du Mile End. The church, made even more impressive by a new façade in 1901-3, was the first important building in what would become Mile End.



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The Past Whispers
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