GRIFFINTOWN

LOCATION
Griffintown was located in Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada. It was once a working-class neighbourhood stretching as far north as Notre-Dame street and bounded on the east by McGill street and on the west by Guy Street.

One of the main roads through the area was Dalhousie Street. It was oriented in a North-South axis and, according to former resident Terrance Flanagan, "was probably never more than 300 or 400 yards in length at any period of time. One end was anchored on a place called Haymarket Square and the other end butted up against the Lachine Canal."

NOTE: "Griffintown" was a Nineteenth Century colloquial name and is not commonly used in the present day. The actual name of the area is Saint Ann's Ward.

HISTORY
17th Century
1615: Les Franciscains des Recollets, an order of French missionaries, are the first to settle Canada. In their honor, the area later known as Griffintown is called 'Faubourg des Recollets.'

1654: Maisonneuve grants 112 arpents of land to Jeanne Mance, foundress of the Order of Hôtel-Dieu. She and her nuns convert the property to a farm known as 'Le Grange des Pauvres', using the proceeds of food sales to support the Hôtel-Dieu hospital.

1698: Montreal is known by the name 'Ville Marie.' Pierre Leber builds a chapel dedicated to St. Anne near the south end of Murray Street. The area then becomes known also as 'Le Quartier St.Anne'. The area is such a popular place for drunkenness and revelry that the clergy are forced to restrict the sale of liquor around the chapel.

18th Century
1710: The population of Montreal is now 3,500.

1760: The British, under General Geoffrey Amherst, march from Lachine through Nazareth Fief (the name used for Griffintown at this time), through the Recollet Gate and into the walled city of Montreal. The French rule of Montreal ends.

1791: Thomas McCord signs a 99-year lease of the Nazareth Fief from the Hôtel-Dieu nuns. At the time, there is already talk of building the Lachine Canal; a prospect which would make this parcel of agricultural land very valuable for future subdivision.

1796: While McCord is in England, Patrick Langan (his business associate) fraudulently sells the lease to Mary Griffin.

19th Century
1800: The population of Montreal reaches 9,000.

1804: Mrs. Griffin plans a subdivision (which comes to be known as Griffintown) where lots will be rented - with the revenue shared by herself and the nuns.

1805: Thomas McCord returns to Montreal. After a series of lengthy court actions, McCord eventually succeeds in retrieving the land, but by that time the name of Mary Griffin has become synonymous with the parcel of land.

1809: Canada's first steamboat, Accomodation, sails on the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal to Quebec City.

1817: Irish Catholic families noted in Montreal at Bonsecours Church by Father John Richards Jackson, Sulpician.

1820: After much debate and a petition to the King of England, the fortifications of Montreal are demolished. These walls have severly restricted urban and economic growth.

1823: There are no more than a hundred houses in Griffintown, most of which are located east of Nazareth Street.

1824: Recollet Convent opens as a school for Irish children. First St. Patrick's Day Parade organized on 17 March. Construction on the new Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal begins - designed by famous New York architect James O'Donnell, an Irish Protestant.

1825: The Lachine Canal opens, connecting the Saint Lawrence River with the river above the city and bypassing the Lachine Rapids. Shipping immediately increases and, along with the destruction of the city walls, Montreal comes to be an economic, rather than military, city. The building of the Lachine Canal attracts many working-class families to Griffintown.

1829: Most of Notre-Dame Basilica is now completed. Work continues for more than a decade on the two bell towers.

1832: Montreal incorporated as a city. During discussions on the design for a coat of arms for the city, the Irish influence on the city leads to the addition of a shamrock (with a lily for the French, a rose for the English and a thistle for the Scottish). Also this year: A cholera epidemic, linked to the newly arrived Griffintowners, causes the deaths of several thousand Montreal residents.

1840: Expansion of the Lachine Canal.

1841: There are now at least 6,500 Irish Catholics in Montreal. Most of the immigrants to Montreal settle in Griffintown, particularly in the area west of McGill Street. In this district, the area between the Lachine Railroad and the Lachine Canal becomes a slum. West Bell Tower of Notre Dame, called "Perserverance" and housing the 10,900 kg bell "Le Gros Bourdon" / "Jean-Baptiste," completed.

1843: With the help of the Sulpicians, construction of Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Basilica begins. Pierre Louis Morin designs this church with the help of the Jesuit, Felix Martin. Also this year: The first labour strike in Canada occurs, with many in Griffintown taking part. After completion of the East Bell Tower of Notre Dame, called "Temperence" and housing a ten-bell carillon, Basilica of Notre Dame finally finished.

Notre Dame du Montreal (as it looked in 1945)
Photo provided by Terrence Flanagan

1844: The city of Montreal becomes the capital of the Province of Canada.

1845: With nearly half a million Irish immigrants reported to have settled in Canada between 1825 and 1845, the area of Griffintown is filled to capacity. The population of the district stands at 30,000, making it the largest English-speaking minority in lower Canada in a population overwhelmingly French Canadian.

1847: In a tragic event, 6,000 people die from typhus in Griffintown and are buried in a common grave. There is a monument on Bridge Street erected in memory of these souls.

1848:

Map provided by Terrence Flanagan

1849: Montreal replaced as capital of Canada.

1850: The population of Montreal reaches 50,000. In the years following, Griffintown becomes industrialized with sugar refineries, furriers, manufacturers, foundries, wholesalers, and other merchants.

1852: A fire from a carpentry shop burns down more than half of Griffintown.

1853: After another enlargement of the Lachine Canal, the area of Griffintown is described as being "entirely built up."

1854: St. Ann's Church, located where Basin Street and McCord (now Mountain) Street come together, opens on 08 December (Feast of the Immaculate Conception). It was designed by one of Montreal's foremost architects, John Ostell. The Sulpicians donated the land for the church and provided the Irish-born pastors: Father Michael O'Brien, Father Michael O'Farrell and Father James Hogan (priest 1867-1884). Some residents of Griffintown claimed that St. Ann's ("down the hill") was actually more of a center for the Irish in Montreal than St. Patrick's ("up the hill") was, since most of the city's Irish lived in Griffintown.

Saint Ann's Church (as it looked in 1939)
Photo provided by Terrence Flanagan

Saint Ann's Church (as it looked in 2006)
Photo provided by Jim Coogan

1855: Irish immigrants help to build the Victoria bridge over the Saint Lawrence River.

1857: The lower part of Griffintown entirely submerged by river flooding.

1858: The Honorable Thomas d'Arcy McGee ((1825-1868), a newspaperman and influential Irish immigrant, represents Griffintown in the Federal Government. Not all the Irish vote for him. There are even riots in Griffintown on election day. McGee represents Montreal-West in the colonial legislature.

1861: Griffintown again flooded. The streetcar is introduced as public transportation on 27 November.

1861-1865: During the U.S. Civil War, many Griffintowners were among the 50,000 Canadians that heed the call to fight for the Union. Many Boston-based Irish units from the Union Army make regular trips to Montreal and target Griffintown as a hotbed for recruitment. Some of the Irish join voluntarily while others were victims of shady recruiting tactics like crimping.

1866: The Fenian Movement, which advocates the overthrow of the British government and establishment of a North American Irish State, reaches its zenith. McGee is strongly opposed to the movement and urges all Irish Canadians to reject the Fenians.

1867: Canada is established, with McGee as one of the Fathers of Confederation. Griffintown is split on its support for the new government, with many still favoring the Fenians. McGee continues his opposition to the Fenians during his campaign for re-election to the Canadian Parliament. His position creates enemies among the Irish population of Montreal.

1868: In an effort to expose the oponents of the Confederation as traitors, McGee places an ad in the Montreal Gazette, listing the names of all suspected Fenian sympathizers in Griffintown. The move is harshly criticized. Several unsuccessful attempts are made on his life. On April 7, after returning from a day at Parliament, McGee is shot and killed while entering his hotel on Metcalfe Street in Ottawa. His funeral is held at St. Patrick's Basilica. McGee's murderer is never found, but it was believed to be a Fenian. The getaway driver, Thomas Whelan from Griffintown, is tried, found guilty and executed.

c.1869: Griffintown in the 1860s was described by John Lowe in 1934:
   "Can we picture... St. Ann's Market a Saturday night in the '60s, when old McGill street was a Mecca of business, and the old market was alive with an active crowd laying in the week's supply of greens and the meat for Sunday's dinner. And up and down both sides of the street were gas lit shops, all hives of trade and at every corner on the west side stsood in groups the men of Griffintown, all after their week's work, now clean and dressed in their good clothes, but, withal, not to be trusted to keep the peace if a red-coat or a sailor brushed against them, for there were handy men in Griffintown."

1870: Father Hogan, pastor of St. Ann's, is leader of the Shamrock Lacrosse Club. Members of this squad are almost entirely from Griffintown. The team wins a game played against the Indians of Caughnawaga.

1876: Mary Gallagher, a prostitute, murdered [beheaded] at the corner of Murray and William Streets on 26 June. Susan Kennedy is charged with the murder and the trial attracts large, raucous crowds. Local legend says that Mary returns to Griffintown every seven years in search of her head.

1878:

Photo provided by Terrence Flanagan

1884: Redemptorists assume leadership of St. Ann's Parish. Instead of priests born in Ireland, the new priests are French-speaking Belgians. Griffintown in an uproar. Bishop of Montreal diocese refuses to intervene.

1885: Gradually, Redemptorist priests win over St. Ann's parishoners. The parish structure is improved and a new Young Men's Society hall (community center) is built - it includes a gymnasium, recreation hall, metting hall, library and offices. Massive floods (caused by floating ice that jammed up the river) again plague the district in the Spring. Redemptorists of St. Ann's rowed around the Ward, tossing provisions to the people through upper windows of their houses.

Notre Dame & Inspector Sts., Griffintown (1885)
Photo provided by Terrence Flanagan

Notre Dame & Inspector Sts., Griffintown (2000)
Photo provided by Terrence Flanagan
Later in the year, Montreal saw more than 3,000 deaths caused by a smallpox epidemic. In his book Plague: A Story of Smallpox in Montreal in 1885, Michael Bliss describes one particularly somber episode related to the terrible events:
   "The afternoon's rain is the beginning of a storm. In truth it is a dark and stormy night. By midnight the rains have become torrential. At 177 Dalhousie Street near Haymarket Square in the largely Irish quarter known as Griffintown, a man rushes into the street in his nightclothes. He is in a frenzy. His wife follows him, shrieking for help. Awakened neighbours know that Mr. Enoch Adams was diagnosed last Saturday by Dr. Rodger as having a case of the black smallpox. No one offers to help. Adams collapses, writhing on the sidewalk. A passing stranger aids his wife in dragging the poor man into his hallway ... his legs extending into Dalhousie Street, Enoch Adams dies."

1886: Worst flooding recorded - also two major fires.

1896:

Photo provided by Terrence Flanagan

1897: A survey of living conditions is conducted by Mr. Herbert Brown Ames. He graphically points out the discrepancy in living conditions between wealthy areas of Montreal (‘the upper city’) and the areas inhabited by the working-class (‘the city below the hill’):
   "The sanitary accommodation of ‘the city below the hill’ is a disgrace to any nineteenth century city on this or any other continent. I presume there is hardly a house in all the upper city without modern plumbing, and yet in the lower city not less than half the homes have indoor water-closet privileges. In ‘Griffintown’ only one home in four is suitably equipped, beyond the canal [in Pointe-Saint-Charles] it is but little better. Our city by-law prohibits the erection of further out-door closets, but it contains no provision for eradicating those already in use. With sewers in almost every street, no excuse for permitting this state of affairs to continue now exists, except it lies in neglect and in greed."

20th Century
1912:

Map provided by Terrence Flanagan

c.1915: Terrence Flanagan noted that at its greatest extent (just before World War I), Griffintown was probably populated by about 30,000 people living in a space of about 25 city blocks in width and 10 in depth. However, the area was almost entirely Irish - he joked: "I didn't know there were any French speaking people in the City until I was around eight years of age - and Montreal is the largest French speaking city outside of France!"

1930: The future of Griffintown is abruptly decided in the Great Depression, when all industry slackens.

c.1939: A railway overpass was built through the middle of Griffintown - dividing the East and West sides. It replaced all the buildings on the Eastern side of Dalhousie Street. Terrence Flanagan reported that from his bedroom window, he "could watch trains coming and going." These trains carried thousands of troops during World War II, most on their way to Halifax and a ship to Europe.

1940: The population of Griffintown dwindles significantly as affordable (nicer) neighborhoods attract the residents elsewhere.

1944: An RAF Liberator Bomber, fully loaded for a flight to England, crashes at Shannon and Ottawa Streets - into a block of houses (26 April). 15 to 20 fatalities noted. Terrence Flanagan, who was a student in a nearby school remarked "One more street closer and it would have crashed into our school, which was fully occupied with 500 students at the time. There would have been more than the 20 deaths that resulted..."

Location of Liberator Crash (just below round building)
Photo provided by Terrence Flanagan

1954: Centenary of the St. Ann's Church celebrated. Many former Griffintowners return for the occasion. Father James Dwyer, rector, recalled the origins of the parish:
   "We remember the men of the past who climbed ashore from ships, without much of this world's goods, but with no fear of work. They labored to give succeeding generations a better way of life."

1968: The population of Griffintown is now only 1/14th Irish, with Italians and Ukranians making up most of the rest of the population. St. Ann's, once serving 1,200 families, barely serving 90.

1970: St. Ann's Parish is demolished. Nearly all of the Griffintown area has already been bulldozed and redeveloped.


SOURCES
  • Montreal. By Steven Leacock, pub. 1942

  • Montreal, Island City of St Lawrence. By Kathleen Jenkins, pub. 1966

  • Montreal Yesterdays: St. Ann's and the Irish. [author unknown], [pub. unknown], pp.16-17

  • Plague: A Story of Smallpox in Montreal [in 1885], By Michael Bliss (Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 1993)

  • Anecdotes and Photos provided by Mr. Terrence Flanagan, Dartmouth, NS, Canada (2001)

  • Extensive use of information collected at LINKS below:


  • LINKS
  • Griffintown

  • Griffintown: The Irish Heart of Montreal

  • Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal - History