What did the area in which Leonidas Villeneuve & Co was flourishing look like in the early 1880s? Review of 1881 census data and the Lovell’s directories1 leads to the conclusion that it was a kind of “urban village”—a hybrid space, punctuated by quarries and pastures belonging to major property owners, but already highly structured by its connections to the nearby city. At the time, Saint-Louis-du-Mile-End was more than just a service centre around the church, serving the surrounding farms and quarries. As such, it was similar to several other villages surrounding Montreal—not yet a suburb of the city, as was the village of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, to the south.
The structure of this village space—a sort of backbone—was provided by Saint-Laurent Street, which by then was more than a century old, an essential communications artery between Montreal and the surrounding countryside. This function meant that even beyond the city limits it was a highly developed commercial and residential artery. The traveller leaving Montreal in 1881 to travel to Sault-au-Récollet (today’s Ahuntsic district) via Saint-Laurent Street would note that from Sherbrooke Street all the way up to Mont-Royal Avenue, Saint-Laurent Street and adjacent streets were completely urbanized. The village of Saint-Jean Baptiste was already densely inhabited eastward from Saint-Laurent to about present day Saint-Denis Street: most of the street grid had been developed, and the familiar setting of brick duplexes of the southwestern portion of Plateau Mont-Royal was already visible.2
On the other hand, after crossing Mont-Royal Avenue, our traveller would arrive at Saint-Louis-du-Mile-End; although buildings lined both sides of Saint-Laurent Street, they were primarily wooden village houses (see figure 1). Moreover, the inhabited area was limited essentially to three streets, creating three long parallel bands. Between them, Saint-Laurent, Saint-Dominique and Robin (now Henri-Julien), housed more than 80% of the residents (figure 2). In addition, the inhabitants of Robin Street—which became the eastern boundary of the new village created in 1878—were geographically and sociologically more connected to Côte Saint-Louis.
Figure 2: Saint-Louis-du-Mile-End inhabitants distributed by street. Lovell’s Directory, 1878-1879 edition.
The following map (figure 3)3shows how commercial and residential functions related to Saint-Laurent Street facilitated development of this village node, not the institutional core around Lahaie Park. The Beaubien family’s subdivision plan, submitted five years previously, was still in the project phase: from the church to the train station, once what is now Fairmount Avenue was crossed, there was only a hotel—the inn opened by Télesphore Hogue in 1878 beside the train station—and the residence of the Saint-Laurent Street toll gate, south of what is now Saint-Viateur Street. On the west side of Saint-Laurent, were only large quasi-uninhabited areas: the Bagg family’s Mile End and Black Gate farms and those of the Nowlan estate, further west.
The village’s inhabitants—1,537 according to the 1881 census—were primarily of French-Canadian origin (figure 59). What was particularly interesting, according to Guy Mongrain who studied population movements to Mile End between 1881 and 1901, was that the majority of its inhabitants were born outside the parish of Montréal; most of them came from the Laurentians:
The data show that the majority of Mile-End inhabitants were migrants from outside of the parish of Montreal. While 36.7% of married people originated in the urban perimeter of the old parish of Montréal, 63.3% were from outside of that area. (…)
The Saint-Jérôme region, alone, provided 34.3% of those coming from outside of the old Montréal parish. …This region was the main source of regional migrants who contributed to the growth of Mile End.4
It appears that Curé Labelle’s colonization railway had the opposite result from what was hoped!
Figure 4 – Ethnicity of Saint-Louis-du-Mile-End inhabitants according to the 1881 census5
Above all, village inhabitants were artisans and workers, most of whom were day labourers, shoemakers and carters: Mongrain noted that “labourers and shoemakers together represented more than 35% of heads of household.” The quarries in the surrounding area continued to be the main employer: while some day labourers probably worked on farms, but this was definitely not the case for the majority. Added to this group are residents identified as quarrymen and stonemasons, as well as the carters, foremen, and the limeburners (who tended the lime kilns), all trades related to quarry operations.
The second most frequently mentioned trade, shoemaker (25 people according to Lovell, i.e.,15% of heads of household in the 1881 census), provides an interesting illustration of how the village was integrating with the city, since they were too numerous to be artisans working in shops to serve the local population. The industrial revolution had profoundly transformed Montreal’s footwear industry; by 1860, production was almost completely concentrated in factories. Only for the last step was down in homes: sewing shoe uppers to soles.. Living along Saint-Laurent Street certainly made deliveries easier. But this type of work was disappearing, by the 1891 census, no more than 5.3% of heads of household were shoemakers.6
The transition is also illustrated by the number of people who worked n the construction industry and trades related to retail and transportation along a busy artery. The 1878-1879 Lovell’s listed 21 carpenters and joiners; 8 masons; 4 cabinet makers; 3 painters and 3 plasterers. As for stores and transportation, hotels, grocery stores and horses dominated: 21 merchants and grocers; 6 butchers; 4 hoteliers; 1 bartender; 5 blacksmiths; 2 saddlers; 1 wheelwright; 1 manufacturer of cabs and 1 horse seller.Agricultural activities were still present, since five people called themselves gardeners, and four, farmers. In addition, two dairies were at the same address as farms, which suggests an integration of these activities.7
In the next article, we will see how the urbanization of this village began, towards the end of the 1880’s decade.