The beginning of Mile End’s urbanization
It was due, primarily, to the Beaubien family that the village began to develop, first along the southern border of their holdings, i.e., on the north side of Mont-Royal Avenue, between Saint-Laurent and Robin (Henri-Julien). Louis Beaubien sold building lots, often one at a time, to a host of small buyers, some of whom wanted to speculate, while others sought to build their own residence. These lots were located in the continuity of the streets of Saint-Jean Baptiste village— what are now Saint-Dominique, Colonial, de Bullion, Hôtel-de-Ville, and Henri-Julien streets—with highly diverse housing types, with wooden village houses increasingly surrounded by rows of small, identical duplexes, with no setbacks from the sidewalk, and often with porte-cochère entrances to the yards (A few examples from this period remain on Drolet and Henri-Julien just north of Laurier). The increasing density of the district meant that by the end of the 1880s, what had previously been the separate village nodes of Saint-Louis du Mile End and Côte Saint-Louis, had merged. Several observers have noted the continuity of this type of urbanization, where nothing suggests to the observer a change of village or district, when crossing Mont-Royal Avenue:
Between Saint-Urbain and Saint-Denis streets, housing development is in perfect continuity with the municipalities of Saint-Jean-Baptiste and Côte-Saint-Louis. As far north as the Villeray neighbourhood, only a time lag explains the minor differences made to urban development, which shows remarkable continuity.1
On the other hand, despite the desire of developers… to make it a distinct community, both in terms of architecture and urban form, the southern part of the municipality, which was the first to be urbanized, did not really contrast with surrounding neighbourhoods that were integrated into the metropolis beginning in the 1880s (the former villages of Saint-Jean Baptiste and Côte Saint-Louis).2
Things were completely different in the area located to the west of Saint-Laurent, particularly between Saint-Urbain Street and Park Avenue. This will be covered in the following chapter. While a detailed study of the urban development of the “ferme de Louis Beaubien” remains to be done, the archives of St.-Louis du Mile End and Le prix courant magazine which began publication in 1896, provide highly useful data. The archives reveal that the relationship between one of the village’s largest landowners and its residents was not always easy. At the beginning of the period, Louis Beaubien continued to use his lands essentially for agricultural and commercial purposes, resulting in cohabitation problems with the new residential use of the district.
As a result, in 1882, the town council sent a petition to its most prominent citizen asking him to improve maintenance of the drainage channels of his pastures: A creek flowing down from Mount Royal was transformed into a torrent during spring flooding. The resultant rise in water levels was of little significance when the surrounding area was only cow pasture land, but it was quite different when houses were built on both sides of Saint-Laurent Road.
St. Louis Mile End, August 3, 1882
Hon. Ls Beaubien
I have been instructed by the Village Council to inform you that the stream called Cours d’eau de la Dalle, which flows on your property across the pasture near St. [caused] real damage because the water failed to flow as it should. (…) You can easily understand that the adjacent properties, being much lower than said St. Laurent Street, the water rose into the houses up to the floor which is very disagreeable and can cause, moreover, great damage.
The Council daresay to hope, Hon. Sir, that you will see to having this work done for this autumn so that water coming from this water course [will have] the channel necessary for the avoidance of all these inconveniences.
I have the honour to be your humble servant,
Pierre David Fils, Secretary Treasurer.3
A troublesome quarry
Exploitation of the family quarry, located in the area between what is now Saint-Joseph Boulevard and Villeneuve Street, was increasingly creating problems for its neighbours. Several citizens submitted a petition to Council, probably in the spring or summer 1879, i.e., one year after the village of Saint-Louis du Mile End was incorporated (figure 60). They wanted to protest against the authorization that had been given to turn the quarry into a garbage dump:
To his worship the Mayor, and aldermen of Coteau St. Louis du Mile End.
The request of the undersigned, owners resident in the village humbly represent:
That permission granted to scrap dealers to dump on a parcel known as the “Hon. L. Beaubien’s quarry” to make a road was given by your Council.
That the petitioners are convinced that this permission was given without believing that this could cause danger for the health of our families, due to the emanations from the waste so deposited, which can cause epidemic diseases.
This is why your petitioners dare to hope that you will wish to take their request into consideration; to remove waste that may compromise public health and prohibit the scrap dealers in the future from depositing such waste within the limits of the village of Coteau Saint-Louis.
And your applicants will not cease to beseech.4
Among the petitioners were the Clercs de Saint-Viateur and the Sœurs de la Providence, both of whose establishments were located near the quarry. Several members of the Spalding family also signed. They were owners of the market farm located along Robin Street (Henri-Julien), mentioned in the portrait of Mile End in 1840 discussed in chapter one, which was in the process of being subdivided. Land values were undoubtedly affected by this neighbouring use! The garbage problem took quite a bit of time to be settled. Another petition, this one dated May 1, 1886, accused Montréal of dumping in Mile End the following:
A huge amount of detritus that spread an infection such as most voters of this municipality find it impossible to open the windows and doors of their residences to shelter themselves somewhat from the noxious odours that exude from this detritus that is deposited all around the homes of the voters of the municipality. That this trash spreads an odour so obnoxious that there is a great danger (…) of contracting dangerous and even epidemic diseases.5
In 1897, i.e., 19 years after the first petition, the problem of the quarry dump was still not settled! On March 28 of that year, the Secretary of the Town Council sent a letter to Louis Beaubien: “I have received the order to notify you to cease dumping garbage in the quarry located behind the Town Hall.” The letter also asked that a layer of earth be deposited of sufficient quantity to cover the waste already present “in order to prevent foul odours from escaping”.6
But Louis Beaubien seems to ignore the Council’s orders, because ten years later, in 1907, the Beaubien quarry/ dump was still not closed. And the Council adopted yet another resolution asking Louis Beaubien to cover the waste with earth (figures 2 and 3).
Another letter to Louis Beaubien, this one undated, points out that the Council had received several requests to lower the water level in the quarry. The town council asked that the quarry be emptied within 48 hours, “otherwise the [municipal] corporation will do the work and charge you the cost.”
But the issue was about to be solved: 30 years of dumping had filled the old quarry, and Louis Beaubien could finally start subdividing the property. A large portion of the parcel was sold in 1908 to the Campbell Manufacturing Company (figure 4 ). The building still stands; it has been converted into a condominium.
Those problems dit not prevent the neighborhood to be completely transformed by urbanization. We will see, in the next part of this chapter, that the Beaubien family was an important actor.