4.1: The Beaubien Family

Chapter 4 – The Beaubien Family

First part: Pierre Beaubien, Doctor and Landlord

The map “Villages of Côte St. Louis, St. Louis du Mile End, Outremont and Côte des Neiges”, published in the Hopkins Atlas in18791shows clearly that just to the east of St. Lawrence Road, the Bagg family had neighbours who were also major landowners, the Beaubiens. If the Bagg family was part of the English-speaking establishment, the same can be said of the Beaubien family regarding the French-Canadian bourgeoisie of the time. Just like the Baggs, the actions of three generations of Beaubiens—Pierre, Louis and Charles—were to help shape the current face of the Plateau Mont-Royal borough. The Beaubiens were also to play a key role in the creation and development of Outremont, making the Bagg family holdings a kind of enclave. It is also likely that the financial networks of the two families, based on their respective ethnic groups, contributed to the difference in the way lands situated to the east and west of St. Lawrence Road developed, reinforcing its character as a boundary.

The Bagg family owned lands to the west of St. Lawrence that were used essentially for agriculture and rural leisure activities until the end of the 19th century. Subdivision of the Mile End and Blackgate farms began only after 1890.2Toward the east, the Beaubiens were developing in a village which was about to be divided into three distinct municipalities: the old hamlet of the Bélair tannery officially became Côte-Saint-Louis in 1846, as was mentioned in Chapter 2. Two other villages were to emerge: Saint-Jean Baptiste in 1861, and Saint-Louis du Mile End, in 1878. The Beaubien family played a key role in the latter.

Pierre Beaubien, physician and major landowner

The first Beaubien, Pierre (1796-1881), was a doctor and politician: a graduate of the Sorbonne, he was one of the founders of Montréal’s Francophone school of medicine in opposition to the doctors of McGill University who wanted to maintain their monopoly.3 But it is his real estate development activities that are of interest here. In the middle of the 19th century, he was one of the largest landowners in Montreal, holding large properties in Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Côte-Saint-Louis4 and Côte-des-Neiges—the latter the site of the Catholic cemetery.

Pierre Beaubien’s first major land acquisition occurred in 1842. On July 23, 1842, a settlement and distribution ended a quarrel among the heirs of one of the largest French-Canadian fortunes of the 18th century, bequeathed by Pierre Foretier and his wife, Thérèse Legrand. The distribution ended one of the longest-lasting judicial sagas in Canadian history up to that time. A series of court cases had completely blocked the development of land owned by the couple.5 Dr. Beaubien, who had previously purchased the rights of one of the heirs, received one-fifth of the estate. This share was comprised essentially of two large properties: the terre de Sainte-Catherine—in the heart of what would become the town of Outremont—and the terre des carrières, located north of the former Closse fief.6

Pierre Beaubien (photo extraite des Notes historiques sur l'institution des sourds-muets).

Figure 1: Pierre Beaubien

The terre des carrières was a long narrow strip in coteau Saint-Louis: its boundaries correspond to what is now Mont-Royal Avenue (on the south), de Castelnau Street (north), Saint-Laurent Blvd. (west), and Coloniale Avenue (east). Two years later, in 1844, Pierre Beaubien expanded his territory when he partnered with two other politicians, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, future Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada and Joseph Bourret, then Mayor of Montreal, to acquire part of the La Gauchetière arrière-fief (rerefief), bounded on the east by what is now Hôtel-de-Ville Avenue.7 Pierre Beaubien completed his Mile End acquisitions in 1845, when a strip of land belonging to Jacob Wurtele and extending to what is now Henri-Julien Avenue was sold at auction.

After the troubled period which climaxed with the Rebellions of 1837-38, Montreal became the capital of Canada, returning to an expansionary period. In 1844, the Sulpician Superior described the setting to a Parisian colleague in the following words: “There is furious construction right now: recently one person asked workers to build on one property 62 two-storey brick houses. I am told that more than 700 houses have been, since spring, or are currently, under construction.”8

More and more developers began to hope that the outskirts of the city would spread above Côte-à-Baron, which would realize John Clark’s dream. As early as 1825, he had anticipated the subdivision of his properties located between what are now Duluth Street and Mont-Royal Avenue.9 During the following decades, several development projects were under construction that would help create the current image of the southern part of Plateau Mont-Royal.10

Monseigneur Ignace Bourget, Dr. Pierre Beaubien and the new parishes

However, nothing in 1844 indicated that the land acquired by Dr. Beaubien north of today’s Mont-Royal Avenue would urbanize in the short term. The area was quite deserted and not very inviting for agriculture – the soil was shallow and rocky, and partly marshland. The principal economic activity was stone extraction; a quarry was located between what are now the streets of Laurier, Colonial, Saint-Joseph and Henri-Julien. The tiny hamlet in which quarrymen lived was known as Pierreville. However, the largest quarries were located further east – including in what is now Laurier Park – and that was the location of the main village core. The following description of the setting was published in 1900:

Here were immense stone quarries, whose operation became very profitable as construction progressed in the city. They provided a livelihood for a considerable number of labourers, carters, and unskilled workers, who naturally settled at the location of their industry.

The two main locations for these operations were called Coteau Saint-Louis and Pierreville. In addition to the pun on the French word “stone”, the latter’s naming was also influenced by Dr. Pierre Beaubien’s Christian name. He owned the largest portion of the land on which this hamlet flourished. Pierreville also had the familiar name of Mile End…This name remained linked to the civil municipality for a long time, then to the Catholic parish, but the usage is starting to fade away. 

Figure 1 - the Pierreville quarry in 1869. H.S. Sitwell and W.F.D. Jervois, Fortification Surveys Contoured Plan of Montreal & Environs, 1871 (extract), Library and Archives Canada. The stone buildings, marked in pink in the centre, are the institution for deaf-mute boys and Enfant-Jésus Church, which were located on lots given by Dr. Beaubien to Bishop Bourget in 1848.

Figure  2 – The Pierreville quarry in 1869. H.S. Sitwell and W.F.D. Jervois, Fortification Surveys. Contoured Plan of Montreal & Environs, 1871 (excerpt), Library and Archives CanadaThe stone buildings, marked in pink in the centre, are the institution for deaf-mute boys and Enfant-Jésus Church, which were located on lots given by Dr. Beaubien to Bishop Bourget in 1848.


The Beaubien family hit on a particular strategy to promote their land. As will be shown, they continued to use this method over three generations, for more than 80 years. Their development efforts were based on two components: the creation of a node of religious institutions and construction of a train station. More details about the station, started in 1869 by Pierre’s son Louis Beaubien (1837-1915), will be discussed below. First here is information about the Catholic parish buildings.

At that time, the parish of Montréal, administered by the Sulpicians, was a vast territory that encompassed and extended beyond the boundaries of the city of Montreal, including all of what is now Plateau Mont-Royal and much more. Despite urban development, the parish borders had not been modified since 1721. One consequence – especially for the quarry workers – was that they had to travel the only parish church, Notre-Dame (in what is now Old Montreal), for all religious obligations (baptisms, weddings, funerals). This was an era when travel was primarily on foot and the distance was long considerable, which was certainly not conducive to encouraging religious fervour.

Montreal’s bishop, Mgr. Ignace Bourget was well aware of the problem. But he also knew from his time as secretary to his predecessor, Mgr Lartigue, of the reluctance of the Sulpicians to divide their immense parish, fearing this would dilute their power. Bishop Bourget wanted to bring the Church closer to its flock, the better to keep track of the thousands of habitants that had moved to the city in search of work. He saw a network of parishes as the best way to integrate them into the city. According to historian Jean-Claude Robert, the parish would play “a dynamic role of mediation between the city and the country, which would facilitate the urbanization of rural French-Canadians and their acculturation into the city.”11

Such an approach would require the fragmentation of the parish of Montreal with reorganization into smaller units to correspond to the new suburbs. However, fierce opposition by the Sulpicians made this a long and complex process:

Two different views in religious structure and urban development were clashing. The Sulpicians, with a more spiritual and austere approach to religion, sought to maintain one parish covering a vast territory. In contrast, the Bishop, won over by Roman piety and grand displays of religious devotion, saw the parish as the best method to organize urban areas in a way that would ensure close supervision of its Catholic residents. In contrast to the Sulpicians, he was in favour of small units, which would allow better interaction between the clergy and their flock.12

Jean-Claude Robert also indicates that Mgr. Bourget decided to subdivide the Montreal parish in around 1846, i.e., two years after Pierre Beaubien had completed his acquisition of properties in Mile End. On November 3, 1849, Beaubien donated a series of lots adjacent to the quarry located at the heart of his properties so that the bishop could establish a religious centre.

In 1849, Doctor Pierre Beaubien, father of the current minister of agriculture for the province of Quebec, whom we rightly deem as one of our distinguished and devout benefactors, offered land in Coteau Saint-Louis for the founding of a religious establishment. Mgr. Bourget hence had the idea of constructing there a house for the creation of a death-mute institution….[Thanks to a contribution, construction began in September and] four months later, one was astonished to see in the middle of a quarry on undeveloped land, a large edifice in stone, built as if by magic.13

In his struggle with the Sulpicians, Bishop Bourget used the same strategy in various place: he would ally himself with local notables—for whom establishment of a church was a sure way to increase the value of their adjacent properties— and created, or brought from France, religious communities, who were fully dedicated to him, to manage the new parishes and institutions. As a result, each parish became the nucleus of new settlement dominated by the Church.

The grand idea of Ignace Bourget was to go beyond the spiritual and ritual to make the parish an institution that was as much social as religious, by having it provide services in several areas, including health, fighting poverty, structuring education, culture, and leisure activities. (…)

And above all, this dividing up of the city sparked the emergence and strengthening of parish influence which helped create a strong local sense of belonging. The curé (local parish priest) and the parish notables created social structures which provided for the acculturation of French-Canadians to the city, using a traditional and familiar institution, the parish.15

Mgr Ignace Bourget (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada)

Mgr Ignace Bourget (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada)

This desire for structure also stemmed from the clearly stated concerns about the morality of a population was seen as having been left to its fate. For example, here is how the Oblate, Jacques Santoni, described the inhabitants of Faubourg Québec, shortly after the arrival of his Order in 1848:

Poor in Earthly goods and especially in virtue, the faubourg was a veritable cesspool of the city and the countryside, the sad beacon for all vices. Blasphemy was so common that one could not go about without hearing it. Within families, quarreling and brawling arose continually, produced by the unbridled passion of strong drink.14

The same idea—but expressed in more diplomatic terms—in 1857, when the Clercs de Saint-Viateur launched a fund-raising campaign to build a church in Mile End:

That is why said community dares claim a slight part of the well-known generosity of the citizens of Ville Marie. If the work is eminently great and pious in itself, the circumstances appear to add another level of interest, because it is a matter of helping a Canadian and Catholic population group, generally poor, but full of zeal and activity, almost exclusively delivered to work in the quarries from which is extracted this high-quality stone, which is used in the splendid buildings which distinguishes our city, now on such a grand route of architectural progress. By giving a church to this community, you are preventing emigration, preparing an honest and prosperous future to an entire generation of useful citizens. In one word, you are contributing to enlargement of a city with both a religious relationship and a social relationship.15

Next chapter: A parish in the middle of nowhere

1. BAnQ, Atlas Hopkins, 1879, pp. 90-91. On-line: http://services.banq.qc.ca/sdx/cep/document.xsp?id=0000174244
2. The boundary between the two farms was roughly the street now known as Fairmount Avenue.
3.  Jacques Bernier, “Pierre Beaubien”, Dictionary of Canadian biography: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/beaubien_pierre_11E.html
4. Côte or Coteau Saint-Louis? The official name of the village incorporated in 1846 was Côte-Saint-Louis. But the term Coteau Saint-Louis, already used in the 18th century, continued to be used to designate the area above Sherbrooke Street, after Côte Saint-Louis was divided into several different villages
5. Joanne Burgess, “Pierre Foretier”, Dictionary of Canadian biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/foretier_pierre_5E.html
6. BAnQ, Actes du notaire Jean-Joseph Girouard, Partage de la succession de feu dame Thérèse Legrand, épouse de Pierre Foretier, Esq. July 28, 1842, no 162, pp. 58-59.
7. BAnQ, Actes du notaire Jean-Joseph Girouard, Foi & hommage pour le fief Lagauchetière, relevant du séminaire de l’ile de Montréal, May 15, 1844.
8. Cited by Jean-Claude Robert, Atlas historique de Montréal, Libre expression, 1992, p. 90.
9. See chapter 3.
10. According to a document written April 4, 1950 by the former Chief Archivist of the City of Montreal, Conrad Archambault, the first subdivision project north of Sherbrooke Street on the east side of Saint-Laurent dates to 1834 when the heirs to notary Jean-Marie Cadieux de Courville subdivided the Cadieux property. This property was located between Sherbrooke, Mont-Royal, Colonial and Hôtel-de-Ville, within the La Gauchetière fief. While several of the streets that were plotted at the time retain the same names today, the difficulties related to the Pierre Foretier estate, mentioned above, meant that the sector’s development was blocked until 1842. The most ambitious project was subdivision of the Comte farm, located more to the east, which began in 1872, when almost 1,300 lots were put up for sale. For more information about this, see Réjean Legault, « Architecture et forme urbaine: L’exemple du triplex à Montréal de 1870 á 1914», Revue d’histoire urbaine, vol. XVIII, no. 1, June 1989.On line: http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/1017820ar. This was the transition from the time of village houses, built primarily along the communication routes, to planned subdivisions, with a regular grid pattern of streets, lined by rows of brick houses, built as a group.
11. Jean-Claude Robert, “Catholicisme et urbanisation au Canada français, 19e et 20e siècle” in Pour une histoire sociale des villes, Philippe Audrère, editor. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2006, pp. 417.
12. Idem.
13. Anonymous, Notes historiques sur l’institution catholique des sourds-muets pour la province de Québec, Mile-End, Institut des sourds-muets, 1893.
14.  acques Santoni, in a letter to his superiors in France. Cited by Lucia Ferretti in “La paroisse urbaine comme communauté sociale: l’exemple de Saint-Pierre-Apôtre de Montréal, 1848-1930”, in La paroisse, op cit., p. 220. Ferretti produced the classic study on the sociocultural framework created by Montreal parishes: Entre voisins. La société paroissiale en milieu urbain: Saint-Pierre-Apôtre de Montréal, 1848-1930, Boréal, 1992. In this area, due to quarrels with the Sulpicians, the Oblate chapel was only erected as a parish in 1900.
15. La Minerve, June 4, 1857, p.2.