Modern Montreal

Events that are described, or depicted, in this chapter, are of such proximate happening that a strict following in chronological order is hardly necessary. A start may be made, however, with the opening of the Victoria Tubular Bridge across the St. Lawrence on August 25th, 1860. The bridge held first place amongst the engineering works of the world for many years, and was the admiration of, not only the Canadian people, but every railway company in the two hemispheres. It was designed by the great English engineer, Robert Stephenson, and publicly opened by the Prince of Wales during his visit to Montreal. A description of the structure, as inscribed on a commemorative medal struck at the time, is as follows: “It consists of 23 spans, 242 feet each, and one in the centre 330 feet, with a long abutment on each bank of the river. The tubes are 18 1/2 to 22 feet high, 16 feet wide, and weigh 9,044 tons, supported on 24 piers containing 223,000 tons of stone. Extreme length two miles. Cost $7,000,000.” The iron came from England and the stone from Pointe Claire.

As traffic increased and new districts were opened up, the single track that crossed the river proved insufficient for the demands made upon it, and, in 1898, the old tube was replaced by a modern open-work steel bridge, with double tracks and roadways. The work of replacement was carried on without interrupting the traffic for more than a few hours, the illustration showing the method in which this was done. The dimensions of the new bridge are as follows: Width, 66 feet 8 inches; height, 40 to 6o feet; length, including approaches, 9,144 feet. Allowance for expansion and contraction through difference in summer and winter temperature is calculated to a nicety, and the bridge will ever serve as a monument to the enterprise of the Grand Trunk Railway System, whose property it is.

It would be difficult to imagine a more exquisite view than is to be obtained from the car-window, as the train approaches Montreal over this bridge on a summer evening about sunset. Then, the stately mountain that rises behind the city is draped in that purple haze that only the shadow of departing day can produce, and the eye can just grasp the dim suggestion of luxuriant verdure on the heights that stand in such relief against the rosy tint of the heaven,,;. Nestling at the foot lies the city, the harsh outline of factories, chimneys and houses now being softened and blended into an harmonious mass; relieved, here and there, by the graceful steeples or stately towers of the churches. In the foreground, a forest of masts rises tip from the scintillating waters of the St. Law-rence; and, immediately behind, the tall massive towers of otre Dame are silhouetted against the sky. Lingering here for a little while longer, the scene changes; detail is lost in shadow; lights appear, one by one, until the city and the long line of water-front is ablaze with thousands of glittering lamps; Mount Royal being alone in gloom, keeping dark and shadowy vigil over all.

The harbour of Montreal is now rapidly becoming worth– of the city and the noble river to which it owes its existence. At the beginning of the century, only small vessels could ascend the river, owing to the shoals in Lake St. Peter, but the Government, for some years past, has been spending enormous in dredging the channel right up from Quebec, until a thirty-foot draft is possible for vessels coming to the city. Not only this, but the old, low, muddy beach has been changed into lines of substantial wharves and piers; with elevator and railway tracks for the quick despatch of freight. Other highly important works are the guard-pier and the revetment-wall. The former consists of a huge embankment rising out of the river from a point near the Victoria Bridge and extend ing to nearly opposite the Custom House. It was constructed to protect the harbour from “ice-shoves” in the spring. These ice-shoves, though now a thing of the past, are well within the memory of most people in the city, it being a never-failing source of interest to watch the huge ice-floes (borne down by the St. Lawrence when the thaw sets in) pile up to a height of over thirty feet in a glittering mass. The embankment now keeps the ice well into St. Mary’s Current, the rapidity of which carries it right past the city, and at times in the early spring there may be even now seen on Ile Ronde an example of what was a yearly occurrence on the harbour-front. This packing of the ice was largely responsible for the serious floods that inundated the lower parts of Montreal from time to time. Away back in 1861 a great flood tools place, and one occurred more or less regularly every spring until a year or two ago. In 1886 all the lower town was under water, and a five-cent ferry took people from the foot of Beaver Hall Hill to St. James street. From Craig street to the harbour, boats were the only means of transit, and some idea of the Venetian aspect of the city may be gathered from the illustrations.

The revetment-wall has made serious floods a matter of impossibity, and the saving to property has been enormous.

In the latter part of 1864 Montreal was greatly interested in the trial of the St. Albans raiders. A certain Bennet H. Voting, who had come to Canada as a political refugee from the States, where he had taken active part in the civil war between the Confederate States and the North, organized a band of men, and, on the 19th October, raided the town of St. Albans, Vermont. There he stated that the band were Confederate soldiers taking reprisals for raids committed by the Northern army in the South, and proceeded to hold up the town in general and the banks in particular. After ” commandeering ” over two hundred thousand dollars from the latter and firing a number of shots in the streets, the band took horses and rode for the Canadian frontier again. Their arrest followed, and extradition was demanded by the United States, for robbery, etc. After long arguments, the raiders were discharged, it being decided that they had acted as belligerents in a foreign state, and consequently the laws of a neutral country had no jurisdiction to order their extradition. Much bitter feeling was shown against Canada at the time by the people of the Northern States for the harboring of, and sympathy towards the raiders; and, for a period, threats were indulged in that reprisals would be taken on Canadian frontier towns.

This same year the first street car appeared in Montreal, the City Passenger Railway instituting a service of cars over about ten miles of track. Horse traction was the motive power, and the company continued operations until 1892, when it was taken over by the Montreal Street Railway, who, after obtaining a thirty years’ franchise from the city, inaugurated the electric trolley system. This company gives a splendid service all over the city, and is also largely responsible for keeping the main thoroughfares clear of snow in the winter.

In 1867, St. Patrick’s Hall, a large, handsome building, on the east side of Victoria Square, was commenced; but its existence was very brief, for in 1872 it was totally destroyed by fire, and to-day the very memory of the hall is a thing of the past, the site being now occupied by a large dry goods establishment.

1869 saw the commencement of the Intercolonial Railway, and the following the wonderful history of the Canadian Pacific began. Luckily for Canada, the doubt, and even ridicule, that greeted the scheme had no deterrent effect on the great men who were resolved to see the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans linked by an all-British iron road; and, although Canada has naturally reaped the most benefit from the opening of the West, yet the entire Empire must join with the Canadians in respecting and giving honour to two such men as Lord Mount Stephen and Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, whose indomitable pluck and energy did so much to carry through the scheme which has converted the uncultivated fertility of the western prairies into the inexhaustible granary of the British Empire.

In 1884 the first winter carnival was held in Montreal, and an ice-palace built on Dominion Square. These carnivals were repeated in several succeeding winters, and the ice-palace was always a strong feature. Although very magnificent to look at, with their glistening walls and turretted roofs, they proved a very bad advertisement for the city, as pictures of them appearing in the European and American papers, with exaggerated reports of the cold and snow, gave abroad the idea that Montreal was an arctic city in a land of perpetual snow. It is remarkable how people, and even well educated people, jump at totally erroneous conclusions from a casual glimpse at a picture. A minute’s thought should surely prove to any one, that if the people of a city containing a population of a quarter of a million call erect, for a few weeks’ amuse-ment only, an ice-palace costing many thousands of dollars; that city must be reasonably prosperous; and the natural corollary must be, that the city being prosperous, must have a thriving trade and commerce. Now, how can a prosperous trading city be reconciled with an arctic city in a land of perpetual snow? In the words of old friend Euclid, ” Quod est absurdum.”

The trade, commerce, government and character of the city at the present day may now be reviewed before proceeding to describe the various briefly replaces of interest in detail.

Montreal is situated at the foot of the royal mountain from which it takes its name, upon a large island thirty miles long by ten wide (considered to be the garden of;astern Canada), at the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers. The main branch of the Ottawa passes north of the island in two branches, and joins the St. Lawrence about fifteen miles below the city. Onethird of its volume is, however, discharged into Lake St. Louis, above the city, where it joins, but does not unite with, the St. Lawrence; the two streams flowing quite separately, side by side, for miles, as can be noticed by the different colours of the water. The natural advantages that Montreal has always enjoyed, by reason of her geographical position, have already been remarked upon, but it was not until the advent of the large ocean steamer that their full benefits were appreciated. Situated at the head of a navigable waterway, six hundred miles from the ocean, it is seldom realized that Montreal is, in truth, a seaport; and that vessels from all over the world can discharge cargoes at her wharves, on which one freight only is payable. During the year 1902 there were seven hundred and fiftyseven arrivals of ocean-going vessels, with a tonnage of over one million and a half; while from the interior, thanks to the splendid system of canals, the arrivals numbered over eight thousand, and this in spite of the great coal strike and a wet, cold summer. The passenger traffic, via the St. Lawrence, is showing a marked increase from year to year, the delightful sail down the gulf robbing a voyage across the Atlantic of much of its monotony, and the distance from England being over two hundred miles less than from New York. In the winter the shipping is diverted to Halifax and St. John.

The export trade of the country, of which Montreal is the chief outlet, has grown by leaps and bounds; and during the last six years the aggregate trade has shown an increase that exceeds the growth shown in a similar period by any other country in the world. Alot of figures are but confusing, and to the average individual quite unconvincing, until personally verified; but one single instance is worth recording, i.e., the figures relating to the exports, which for the year ended June, 1902, exceeded those of 1896 by ninety million dollars. This in six years only.

A very great deal, however, requires to be done to the port of Montreal, if trade is not to be turned awav. A prominent Canadian railway man remarked but a short time back, ” We have constructed a hopper too big for the spout;” and a glance at the congested state of the wharf terminals proves this statement to be well founded. Steamers deposit their imported cargoes on wharves already crowded with freight that the railways and canals have brought in for export, and the railways have not free enough access to the wharves to enable them to gather up the imported freight, bound for the interior. In consequence, Western traders are growing more and more inclined to pay for extra railway haulage, and have their goods shipped via the United States ports, whence they can get prompt delivery. Although two new elevators are under construction (1903), and the four miles of docks are being greatly improved, this will but fulfil present requirements; whereas the position of the city, as the national port of the Dominion, makes it necessary to provide, not only for the requirements of to-day, but for that predestined future which is even now almost in sight, i.e., Montreal, the chief seaport of North America.

Business in the city itself is remarkably good, with the possible exception of cotton, and the banking companies are amongst the best in the world. There can be no doubt of the fact that the advent of the Americans into the business com munity has done much to enliven and sharpen the Canadians; and, however patriotic the cry ” Canada for the Canadians,” the country is greatly indebted to American brains and capital for the exploitation and development of many hitherto neglected sources of national wealth.

No one walking through the city can fail to be struck by the innumerable signs everywhere displayed of “Notaire,” “Avocat,” “Barrister,” “Advocate.” Montreal has long been known for the large number of “legal gentlemen” therein, and to find a reasonable explanation of such extraordinary prolificacy in this direction, it is necessary to go back to the days of the French regime. When the settlers obtained their grants of land, in many cases the title-deeds were most imperfectly drawn up, and in others the boundary-lines were not clearly defined. During the long winters the litigious disposition of the Norman blood found this an incessant cause for quarrel and dispute, and few families were without some kind of legal action pending. To keep the money in the family as much as pos sible, therefore, they made their sons lawyers. Then, again, the well-to-do trader liked to think of his son as a ” professional man,” and so sent him to study law. By degrees the people actually grew to believe that lawyers were the best men to send to Parliament, and an analysis of the Legislature at the present day would show to what an extent they still practice this belief. The latter fact has caused certain cynical individuals to remark that the legal members purposely make laws that only lawyers can understand-hence their number in Montreal.

Two forces that are directly under the control of the city are now to be mentioned-the police and the fire brigade. The former have the making of a splendid force, and will, no doubt, become so when somewhat stricter discipline be exercised. The fire brigade are a fine lot of fellows, and have, without excep tion, the hardest work to do in the city. The task of fighting a fierce fire in the depth of winter is no easy one; and a constitution of iron, with nerves to match, are absolutely essential qualities in a Montreal fireman. It will be many years before the memory of the great fire in January, 1901, fades from the minds of those who fought it or looked on. The damage amounted to nearly five million dollars, and included the total destruction of the Board of Trade building and several blocks of offices and warehouses.

The government of the city is vested in a mayor and thirty-five aldermen, the latter being elected every two years. The mayor also holds office for two years, and it is an unwritten law that he shall be alternately French or English. This pernicious system of differentiating between the two races is fortunately not followed by the people generally, although to read the speeches at election time in Montreal one would imagine the French and the English sections of the population to be on the verge of a civil war. In reality they are the best of friends, united by the strongest of all ties, i.e., self-interest; while, as Canadians, all alike look for the future welfare of their city and country. Outside of politics, therefore, Montreal can show a very striking example of how two extremely dissimilar races can live side by side in perfect harmony and camaraderie.

To sum up very briefly the characteristics of the people generally, one would say they were a conservative, level-headed, hardworking community; rather too prone to let abuses exist which do not touch them personally; proud of their country, with a supreme belief in its future; patriotic to the mother country, but at the same time showing a sort of patronizing pity for her supposed want of enlightenment and progress; keen on outdoor sports and amusements, courteous and obliging, and above all things Canadians.