Read the first part: Pierre Beaubien, Doctor and Landlord
Second Part: A parish in the middle of nowhere
The Institution for the Deaf became the first establishment in what was to become the parish centre and a growing village at Mile End. Created in 1848, the Institution was first located in a modest house in Faubourg Québec. It moved to Mile End even before construction of its building had been completed:
In October 1850, M. Lagorce [the Director of the Institution] resumed its classes in an unfinished building in Coteau-Saint-Louis, in Mile End. A future parish centre was starting there, on land donated to Bishop Bourget by Dr. Pierre Beaubien. First a three-storey stone structure measuring 80 x 45 feet was built. The two upper storeys were used for worship; the ground floor would be divided between the deaf-mutes and Village of Saint-Louis school children.
It is in this house under construction, among construction debris and hammering, that M. Lagorce began both religious service for the “country folk” of Coteau-Saint-Louis, and regular education for deaf-mutes in 1850.1
But locating the Institution there was problematic: “At the time, Mile End was so far from the city centre that communication was extremely difficult, and resources limited.”2 As Antoine Bertrand, historian of the Clercs de Saint-Viateur in Québec explained, “the Institution site added new difficulties. Isolated in the middle of the northern quarries, exposed to all the winds and snow drifts of winter, our house was the despair of the econome, who was forced to walk a mile and more to reach a place for supplies.3 In addition, the Institution chapel—which was supposed to serve the “country folk” of the Coteau—was far from the village of Côte Saint-Louis, whose centre was located much further east, at the intersection of what are now Berri St. and Laurier Ave.
The decision to install not only the chapel, but also the primary school for Coteau children, in the Institution building created friction, because the majority of villagers worked in the quarries to the east and obviously wanted these facilities to be located closer to where they lived.
On the one hand, the population was concentrated unevenly in two areas. The larger portion lived on the east side near the Bellair Tanneries, where the commissioners lived [administrators of the village of Côte Saint-Louis, many of whom were quarry owners]; the western area accounted for only a small group of residents, living around the hillock on which the Institution was located, on lots donated by Dr. Pierre Beaubien “for the good and the benefit of the Church”. The impression was that the chapel was the property of the Commissioners and that, to make any changes, required their assent, with a majority of them still feeling a bit bitter because the church was not built near the tanneries.4
This slight “bitterness” did not make Mgr. Bourget back down, on the contrary. During a voyage in Europe, Bishop Bourget convinced another French religious community, the Clercs de Saint-Viateur, to settle in Canada not only to manage the Institution, but also to construct the church building to serve the future parish. The Bishop entrusted this mandate to the person who was to become the first parish priest, Father François-Thérèse Lahaye. Funds were raised through a subscription drive in 1857-58. The La Minerve article cited above gives a good idea of the strategy for this fundraising program: “Giving a church” to these “poor” people, means “preventing them from emigrating, and preparing an honest and prosperous future.”
In a letter to the Bishop, Father Lahaye called for “forthright instructions about temperance and racing” because the unmarried youth of the Coteau “cannot read, love dissipating games and are prone to getting lost on Sunday.”5 The ceremony to bless the cornerstone, on Sunday, June 15, 1857, had the appearance of a veritable pilgrimage:
In the afternoon, another solemnity; another celebration. It was the blessing of the cornerstone for the new Église St. Viateur [the name originally given to what would become the Église de l’Enfant-Jésus], in Côteau St. Louis.” One could say that Montreal travelled there almost in its entirety. Although it is true that the site where the religious ceremony would be held was most picturesque. The clergy, congregations, societies of the locality and the town had come, standing in two rows, near the barrier, to wait and form a procession for the Lord Bishop of Montreal. The festival was magnificent.6
But the opening of the church, on December 25, 1858, did not end the friction between the two communities of Coteau-Saint-Louis. Clashes and brawls between the Pieds-Noirs of the quarries on the east (their nickname refers to their feet being dirtied by their workplace) and the Nombrils-Jaunes (named for the effect of the dyes they used in the Mile End tanneries) were subject to much discussion over many years. This feud is still one of the important myths about the Plateau’s early days. The Chronicle of the Saint-Viateur Clerics discreetly alluded to this:
These semi-urbanites brought from their native village the instinct of the mob and group dislike. The Pieds-Noirs, from the quarry district did not adore with tender love their Coteau-Saint-Louis neighbours, who also bore a very graphic nickname. The meeting of the two clans, on the steps of the Mile End Church, led at times to tragi-comic scenes.7
The Saint-Viateur priests tried to serve both communities equitably but difficulties arose. As a result, after the death of Father Lahaye in 1861, Mgr. Bourget was forced to call a temporary retreat and asked the Suplicians to take over management of the religious outpost. According to Robert Rumily, this was due to the fact that even if the church served a very large area, attendance at services was low.8 The Clercs de Saint-Viateur returned when the chapel officially became a parish, in 1867.
Accepting the evidence that the elementary school located in the Institution building in 1853 was too far from where most children lived, the Clercs tranferred it “to a small house on Saint-Louis Street [today’s Laurier Avenue], a short distance west of Saint-Denis Street.9The school was called the École des Tanneries. The situation improved by 1879 when the number of Mile End residents increased enough to justify the opening of a second school near the Institution des sourds-muets, École Saint-Louis.10
The need to link the village of Côte Saint-Louis with the church in Mile End also had a permanent influence on the neighbourhood: Laurier Avenue (originally called Saint-Louis Road, or rue de l’Église [Church Street], was laid out for this purpose. In 1933, Superior Court JudgeGaspard Dauth, Le diocèse de Montréal à la fin du 19e siècle, op. cit., p. 208. Paul-Gédéon Martineau, then 75 and claiming the title “the oldest member of the Pieds-Noirs tribe” described scenes from his childhood:
A stream, which had its source in the mountain, flowed from the north side of the rue de l’Église [now Laurier Avenue]. It crossed that street under a bridge near what is now Saint-Denis Street. A bit further, it flowed under another bridge at the rue des Carrières and then got lost in a larger watercourse leading to Lafontaine Park, which was then simply Logan farm. (…)
Judge Martineau recalled catching crayfish as a boy, in this stream near the first school for the Deaf established by the Clercs de Saint-Viateur. On rue de l’Église (now Laurier Avenue), there wasn’t a single house east of Saint-Laurent Boulevard. The street was simply a dirt road, allowing the Pieds-Noirs to get to the Enfant-Jésus church.11
Red against Blue
In the same interview, Martineau – who was also a Liberal politician and alderman for Saint-Denis ward, which replaced the town of Côte Saint-Louis after its annexation by Montreal in 1893 – went on to explain that the tensions between the two communities had political foundations:
Saint-Louis du Mile-End and Coteau-Saint-Louis had previously been one municipal territory, but disputes, not to say never-ending conflicts between Blue and Red made separation inevitable.
Coteau-Saint-Louis, and its village des Pieds-Noirs, was strongly red. Its residents swore by the name of Dorion (Sir Antoine-Aimé), who was one of the Liberal Party’s most important leaders. On the other hand, Saint-Louis du Mile-End was of royal blue tint and subject to the influence of the Beaubien family, whose leader, Louis Beaubien was an excellent Minister of agriculture in Quebec City.
Louis Beaubien was not only an “excellent Minister of agriculture” (Conservative), but like his father, a benefactor for the Institution des sourds-muets: the Clercs de Saint-Viateur expressed their appreciation to him for the annual provincial subsidy, which increased from $600 in 1853 to $9861 in 1884.12 Charity begins at home, of course: support for the Institution and the Church consolidated the institutional node of the parish, making it the centre of a large area that was about to urbanize. Canonical erection of the parish in 1867 and its municipal recognition in 1875 were the next steps. “The territory assigned to the new parish was immense; it stretched from the Côte-des-Neiges to Papineau Road, even extending to a point north of Maisonneuve to encompass Côte Visitation, and included the entire Saint-Jean Baptiste village [today a district].”13
The institutional grouping was complemented by creation of Lahaie Park—on lots located in front of the Church, also donated by the Beaubien family, in 1875—and the arrival of two other institutions. In 1874, the convent and asylum of the Sœurs de la Providence were built just south of the Church. It was joined by Saint-Louis School in 1879, located a bit further north, on Fairmount Avenue, on the northeastern corner of Saint-Dominique.14
The Institution des sourds-muets continued to expand. In 1878 the Clercs de Saint-Viateur added two storeys to the initial building. In 1881 the printing, binding and shoemaking facilities were moved to the other side of what is now Laurier Avenue, on the site of today’s Saint-Michel Park; a passageway connected the two buildings.15
The St.-Louis du Mile End institutional hub, anchored with the creation of the “town square” dominated by Lahaie Park and the Church, was extending northward, along the current Saint-Dominique Street, then called Beaubien Avenue.16Houses along this street built on land subdivided by the family were of higher quality than the modest nearby workers’ duplexes. This built morphology is still clearly visible today. At the end of Saint-Dominique Street, the Beaubien family prepared to create the other linchpin of its strategy to develop its properties: a railway station.