At the turn of the 20th century, the town of Saint-Louis, in which this property was located, was undergoing rapid urban development. During the decade leading up to the annexation of this former suburb by the city of Montreal in 1910, the exhibition grounds were transformed into a residential neighbourhood. The building at 4650-4652 Jeanne-Mance Street was constructed in 1910 to house the Mount Royal Brethren Church on the ground floor, a residence for the clergyman on the second floor, and a rental apartment on the third storey. The church closed at the end of 1916, in the midst of the Great War. The upper floor was occupied by the Victorian Order of Nurses from 1918 until 1920. Although in harmony with its residential landscape, this red brick edifice distinguishes itself from the neighbouring rowhouses with its side garden and its unique dome-topped corner entrance.
In 1920, a group of Jewish businessmen purchased the property, which became the Montefiore Hebrew Orphans’ Home of Montreal. Until 1936, up to 70 Jewish children lived here at a time. The well-being of these “brothers and sisters,” most of whom had lost one or both parents, was ensured by Max Matt, the orphanage’s devoted director. They attended Bancroft School, played in Fletcher’s Field (now Jeanne-Mance Park), received free memberships to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) at the corner of Mount Royal Avenue, and participated in the life of the neighbourhood, which at the time had a large Jewish population. The top storey housed the girls’ dormitory and the infirmary, and the boys’ dormitory was on the second floor. The ground floor accommodated a shul, or small synagogue, which was also used for activities organized by local women. The kitchen and dining room were in the basement. Until the late 1980s, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, later known as the Allied Jewish Community Services of Montreal, remained the owner of the property, which housed various social services, including the Herzl Hospital and Dispensary, a welcome centre for young participants of the War Orphans/Refugee Youth Project, and a daycare centre run by Neighbourhood House for local Jewish children and the children of new Jewish immigrants from Hungary, Italy and North Africa.
In the meantime, the Jewish population had moved westward and a large number of Portuguese and Greek families had arrived in the neighbourhood. In 1970, the Luso-Canadian Day Nursery, which became the Garderie Villeneuve the following year, was established for local children from all cultural communities; it rented the building’s lower levels. From 1977 until the late 1980s, the CLSC Saint-Louis-du-Parc rented the upper floors. In 1990, the daycare purchased the property. Known since 1998 as the Centre de la petite enfance Villeneuve, it pursues its pedagogical mission by allowing a large number of children to benefit daily from an environment that encourages each and every child to blossom. In 1991, the upper floors were bought by L’Hirondelle, an organization founded in 1979. Committed first and foremost to establishing harmonious relationships between recent immigrants and those who welcome them, L’Hirondelle facilitates the adaptation and full participation of new arrivals in their new community. To this day, these two institutions share this former place of worship, orphanage and hospital, and offer a welcoming and forward-looking setting for both young children from the neighbourhood and recent immigrants from throughout the world.
Throughout its history, this place and its many occupants have contributed to the well-being and cultural enrichment of the community. This tradition continues today.
Text taken from the interpretation panel inaugurated on 12 September 2004 by the Montefiore Hebrew Orphans’ Home Alumni, in collaboration with the group Mile End Memories, the Centre de la petite enfance Villeneuve, and L’Hirondelle, Services d’accueil et d’intégration des immigrants. The text was written by Susan D. Bronson, in collaboration with Sandra Bohbot, Montserrat Escola, Judy Gordon, Myer Gordon, Sandra Handfield, Janice Rosen, Nora Solervicens, Marie Trudeau and Emanuel Weiner.