We do not know precisely when the Mile End Tavern was built, but it was likely during the first decade of the 19th century. A crossroads was completed at this location in 1800 by the straightening of the Sainte-Catherine Road. In 1804, a butcher of British origin, John Clark, bought a large farm spanning the crossroads on the west side of Saint-Laurent Road. The deed of sale1 makes no reference to the name Mile End. But in 1810, when Clark signed a lease2 with Phineas and Stanley Bagg, the tavern already existed and was known as the “Mile End Tavern”. John Clark also called the adjacent land “Mile End Farm”. Having arrived from England at the end of the 18th century, it is likely that Clark was inspired by London’s Mile End, a hamlet located a mile from the English capital’s fortification wall since the Middle Ages. His tavern was situated a mile out in the country from the extent of Montreal’s urbanization at the time, which reached almost up to Sherbrooke Street.
The following spring, Stanley Bagg signed contracts to have Montreal’s first horse racing track laid out across the street (on a vast site including all of present-day Jeanne-Mance Park). He lost his bay horse at the tavern in 1815 and placed an advertisement in the Gazette to try to get it back. Although Stanley Bagg transferred the lease to another innkeeper at the end of 1817, that wasn’t the end of his association with the spot, since in 1819 he married Mary Ann, the owner’s daughter. From 1827 onward, as executor of John Clark’s will, Stanley Bagg would be responsible for leasing the inn to a series of innkeepers.
In 1856, Joseph-Octave Villeneuve, a future mayor of Montreal, began his varied career by taking his turn as innkeeper at Mile End. He hosted the members of the Montreal Hunt Club in 1859, an occasion captured in a photograph. It is the only known illustration of the tavern – at the right of the photo, a small part of its wall can be seen. Thomas Wiseman took over from Villeneuve in 1864 and remained there for about thirty years. His son Robert would be the last innkeeper.
A major crisis occured in spring 1867: on the evening of 25 March, the tavern caught fire. The Montreal firemen came to help the village brigade but couldn’t do anything, for want of water pipes outside city limits… The building was entirely destroyed, apart from its stone walls. It was rebuilt in the fashion of the day and reopened in December.The end came in the spring of 1902. In March, the town of Saint-Louis expropriated a strip of land in order to widen Saint-Laurent Street; that strip underlay the greater part of the tavern. All of its contents were sold at auction on 29 April 1902. On 9 June, the Bagg family signed the deed of sale of 2535 square feet of land to the town, for the tidy sum of $8593.753. The tavern and its outbuildings were demolished shortly afterwards, at the town’s expense. The site was given a new function with the 1906 opening of the Mount Royal Departmental Store.
[Research and writing: Justin Bur and Yves Desjardins. English translation: Justin Bur]