Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mile End - The C.P.R Hotel

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s fame stems, in part, from the construction of prestigious grand hotels between 1888 and 1930 designed to attract affluent tourists to spectacular sites served by the railroad. Inspired by the castles of France’s Loire Valley, they became icons of the Canadian landscape, including Château Frontenac in old Québec, Toronto’s Royal York and the Banff Springs Hotel in the Rocky Mountains. Less well-known is the fact that Mile End once had a hotel, much more modest in scale, which was known for many decades as the C.P.R. Hotel – although it was never part of that company.

While the structure exists no longer, the hotel sat on a site at the northeast corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Bernard Street for over a century, a few steps from the Mile End train station located a bit farther east on Bernard. The station, opened in 1876, created a new hub of activity in what had been a completely rural area. Previously, travellers and neighbourhood residents patronized hotels located at the other Mile End intersection, further south, where Saint-Laurent meets Mont-Royal Ave. The history of the C.P.R. Hotel is closely related to that of its founding family, the Hogues. Two interviews with family members, spaced about 50 years apart in time, provide information.

— Weren’t you once a hotelkeeper?
— Yes, I built the C.P.R. hotel, located at the corner of Bernard and Saint-Laurent streets, in 1878. In those days, there were no sewers, no sidewalks and of course no street lamps. My business was in a rather empty spot. To the north, I had no neighbours up as far as the land where the Institut des Sourds-Muets is located,2 where an Irishman lived at the time.
— And to the south?

— Not so peaceful as on the north side, I had no neighbours to the south until Laurier Street. But there was a shack around Saint-Viateur Street, where a guard manned the gate leading out of the city. The gate was managed by the Turnpike Trust, which charged an outbound toll that varied according to the type of vehicle.

In May 1985, La Presse journalist Gérald Leblanc found Télesphore Hogue’s grandson, Martial Hogue. At the time he was 77 and described himself as a poet-painter and a “professional outsider” who was born and grew up in the neighbourhood. The short interview revealed very little new about the hotel’s history, although the journalist called Martial Hogue “inexhaustible” about the subject, as well as about the tailor shop belonging to his father. 

But the article did provide a unique photograph of the building in its heydays. The old hotel which had been the pride of the Hogue Family was about to disappear. A fire completely destroyed it seven months later, in the early morning hours of January 5, 1986, in the middle of a snowstorm. Today, more than a quarter century has gone by, and the land on which the C.P.R. Hotel once stood is still vacant.

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