Montreal Squares And Parks

Montreal is but moderately well off in the way of public squares, although the magnificent Mountain Park, in the rear of the city, makes up for any shortcomings elsewhere. Of the public squares reserved as refreshing resting-places in the midst of the city, Dominion Square is by far the largest and most beautiful, and around it can be seen some of the most important buildings, such as St. James Cathedral, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Windsor Hotel, Canadian Pacific Railway Station, and St. George’s Church. The square is cut into two sections by Dorchester street, facing which is the Macdonald statue (unveiled in 1895), erected to the memory of the late Sir John A. Macdonald, Premier of Canada and one of the ” Fathers of Confederation.” The statue stands beneath a huge canopy, which is surmounted by a figure of Canada encircled by the nine Provinces of the Dominion; as a Macdonald memorial, there is hardly enough “Macdonald’, about it. The two cannons, facing Dorchester street, were captured from the Russians during the Crimean war and presented to Canada by the British Government. Dominion Square was at one time the Catholic Cemetery, and it is only of late years that the city has gone to any expense in the beautifying of the grounds. It has now, every summer, a most magnificent display of flowers and shrubs, and is a charming place in which to sit for a brief period of rest or conversation.

Another pleasant little breathing-place up-town is Phillips Square, around which are situated the Art Gallery, Christ Church Cathedral, the Colonial House, etc. Although covered with fine trees, there are no seatsa drawback that should be easily remedied. Passing through this square to Beaver Hall Hill, there is seen at the foot a shady garden, with fountains playing in the midst. This is known as Victoria Square, from the beautiful bronze statue of her late Majesty Queen Victoria which stands at the south end. Surrounded on three sides by lofty buildings and almost in the heart of the city, its pleasant shade is particularly appreciated. (The illustration gives a winter view of the square, and shows St. James Cathedral on the extreme left and St. Andrew’s Church on the right. The building in the centre, with the spire, is the old Y. M. C. A., now the offices of the Lachine Rapids Hydraulic and Land Company.) This square was originally the old Haymarket, the name being changed, in 1860, in honour of the Queen, during the Prince of Wales’ visit to the city. At one time it was the northwest limit of the city; and the sloping land extending back to Mount Royal, now occupied by streets and avenues, was then dotted, here and there, with the country-houses of the more wealthy traders. This square has been the scene of some of the worst fires in Montreal, to which fact the total destruction of St. Patrick’s Hall and the warehouses of Greenshields & Sons and Thomas May & Co. bear testimony. the next square to show its refreshing Continuing eastward, green amidst the surrounding buildings is the Place d’Armes. Here, one is indeed on historic ground, and the tablets on the surrounding walls mark places famous in the history of the town. (Great praise is due to the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal for the excellent work they have done in rescuing the sites of old landmarks from oblivion, and marking the scenes of historical events by neat marble tablets affixed to the walls of the buildings in various parts of the city.) On the Imperial Building a tablet reads: ” Near this square, afterwards named Place d’Armes, the founders of Ville Marie first encountered the Iroquois, whom they defeated, Chomedy de Maisonneuve killing the chief with his own hands, 30th March, t644.” From a tablet oil the Bank of Montreal we learn that ” the stone fortifications of Ville Marie extended from Dalhousie Square through this site to McGill street, thence south to Commissioners street, and along the latter to the before-mentioned square. Began 1721 by Chausse-gros de Lery. Demolished 1817.” Americans will find interest in a house on the south-east corner of the square, for ” here lived, in 1675, Daniel de Gresolon, Sieur Duluth, one of the explorers of the upper Mississippi, after whom the city of Duluth was named;” also in another house, a little further east, distinguished by a tablet reading: ” In 1694 here stood the house of La Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit.” Place d’Armes was originally the cemetery in which the first pioneers were buried, later on becoming the chief square of the town and the parade-ground, in turn, of the French, American, and British troops. It was not until 1836 that the city acquired the land from the Seminary, and many years elapsed before any attempt was made to lay out a garden. The Seminary still preserves the same appearance as when built, in 1710, except for the loss of a wing at the eastern end, which was demolished in 1851, three years after the erection of the new addition next the church. This new addition was built to accommodate the teachers of the Seminary, but, being in too confined a situation, another large building was erected, in 1854, on the hill behind the Montreal College. In the vaults of the Seminary are kept the old registers of the city from its commencement, besides a number of priceless literary treasures relating to the history of the city, and Canada generally. The interior of the building has remained the same for two hundred years; and the low flagstone passages, the signs of immense strength in the building (even the partition-walls being two to three feet thick), the Louis Quatorze clocks, the old chairs that came out from France in the seventeenth century-all mark the building as belonging to an age past and gone. The severe austerity of the Sulpician’s life is evidenced by the floors, bare walls, and plain hard chairs and beds alone to’ be seen, the only carpet or upholstered chair in the entire building being in the Bishop’s apartments-a bed-room and sitting-room reserved for such bishop as may visit the Seminary. The following interesting tablets contain a great deal of important history in brief space: ” The Seminary of St. Sulpice, founded at Paris by Monsieur Jacques Olier, 1641; established at Ville-iVlarie 1657, Monsieur Gabriel de Queylus, superior; Seigneurs of the Island of Montreal, 1663;” and ” Francois Dollier de Casson, first historian of Montreal, captain under Marshal de Turenne, then priest of St. Sulpice during thirty-five years. He died in 1701, cure of the parish.” Besides 1′ Abbe Troie, the parish priest, there are twenty-four priests living in the Seminary, who serve in Notre Dame Church, the Nazareth Church, Bonsecours Church, the Grey Nunnery, Congregation de Notre Dame, etc.

The statue that stands in the centre of the square proper is about the handsomest piece of sculpture on the continent, and represents Maisonneuve in the cuirass and costume of the seventeenth century, holding the fleur-de-lys banner. On the granite pedestal is inscribed ” Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve, fondateur de Montreal, 1642.” Set in the base of the pedestal are four bas-reliefs, representing (1) Maisonneuve killing the Iroquois chief; (2) the founding of Ville-Marie; (3) the death of Lambert Closse-one of the soldiers of the ” Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph “, who fell while bravely defending some colonists attacked by the Iroquois, 6th February, 1662; (4) the death of Dollard. At each corner is a life-size figure representing, respectively, an Iroquois, a soldier, a colonist with his dog, and Jeanne Mance tying up the -wounded hand of an Indian child. Two large “sky scraping” structures have lately been erected on the west side of the square; and, with the New York Life building on the east, the Bank of Montreal and the Imperial build ing on the north, and the huge church of Notre Dame on the south, the old, low, black-walled Seminary, which for two hundred and fifty years has been so indissolubly linked with this square, will soon be lost amongst the towering buildings that surround it.

Continuing east along Notre Dame street, a shady little square can be noticed in front of the Court House, and although not so generally used by the public, it is none the less welcome to the eye. These glimpses of green turf and trees in the heart of the business part of the city are so refreshing that it is a wonder even more open spaces are not thus util ized. At the further end of the square is a large bottle, standing some twenty feet high and used as a newspaper kiosk. The City Fathers, in their fond care of the people’s moral welfare, are deliberating as to the advisability of having this removed, it being considered as out of keeping with the reputation of the city. The column, that may be noticed in the background, was erected by public subscription, in 1809, to the memory of Nelson, and the panels around the base represent the battles of the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. Between the monument and the river lies Jacques Cartier Square, in the neighbourhood of which are some of the oldest houses in Montreal. St. Amable street is on the right-hand side near the bottom of the hill, and in close proximity, on St. Therese, St. Gabriel, St. Jean Baptiste, Vaudreuil and St. Vincent streets, old houses may be found, still in good preservation, that were erected nearly two hundred and fifty years ago. The square on market days is the scene of one of the quaintest gatherings in Montreal, an open-air market being held on Tuesdays and Fridays. The country farmers and habitants drive in on the preceding day and sleep on, in, or under their carts until sunrise, when the trading begins. Then commences the jabbering, the gesticulating, the haggling over odd cents and a host of little incidents typical of the provincial French-Canadian. In addition to food-stuff, there can be bought all kinds of home-made articles, such as rag-carpets, baskets and chairs, native-grown tobacco, etc.; and a stroll through the bargaining crowd is interesting in the extreme.

On the other side of the City Hall is a large open space known as the Champ de Mars. This was the military parade-ground during the days of the British garrison, and is now used by the volunteers, etc. The old city walls ran along the middle of the square, the foundation of which still remain, although hidden from view below the ground.

Below the Champ de Mars, but further east, is Viger Square, facing the Canadian Pacific Railway Station. It was named after Jacques Viger, the first mayor of Montreal, and is very popular with the French residents of the district. When a band plays in the evening, the large crowds that attend to listen to the music prove the appreciation with which it is regarded. It is a great pity that the musical talent of the various regiments and societies in Montreal cannot be utilized more in this direction.

The latest acquisition to the public spaces of Montreal lies on the east of Amherst street, just above Sherbrooke, and consists of about eighty-four acres. It has been christened Lafontaine Park, and only recently taken over by the city, the space being formerly known as Logan’s Farm, and the name being changed in deference to the wish of the French majority on the City Council. It is, at present, not quite completed, but promises to be the prettiest square in the city, when the work now in progress be finished. One half consists of a deep hollow, surrounded by sloping banks, and is to have a series of terraces artistically arranged, with ornamental ponds below. The other half is on a higher level, and is tastefully laid out with trees and flowerbeds, and has an elegant band-stand. A fine riding-track extends the entire length of the park. The large building on the east side of the park is the Jacques Cartier Normal School, erected in 1872.

The daintiest little square in the city-St. Louis-is the next to be viewed. This lies on the west side of St. Denis street, a little above Sherbrooke. Not very large, and nothing imposing about it, yet it gives one the impression of being just perfect. A lake occupies part of the grounds, with a large fountain playing in the centre, as well as one in each corner. Many stately trees give shade to the seats that are placed around, and the handsome turretted houses surrounding the square add to, rather than detract from, the beauty of the spot.

Several smaller squares and open spaces are to be found in various parts of the city, but none of them call for special mention.

The park at Westmount, however, deserves more than a passing word, as it is exceedingly pretty and preserves many natural beauties. The opportunity offered, by a small wood and one or two ponds, was taken hold of and made the most of; and now, rustic walks and bridges, sequestered nooks for seats, and a long, narrow pond (that has all the effect of a stream) combine to make the Westmount Park a credit to its originators.

Two parks remain to be describedtwo parks of such widely different character, and yet each so absolutely perfect, that Montreal stands unrivalled in the position of possessing the two loveliest parks in the world.

Mount Royal, rising in the rear of the city to a height of over nine hundred feet, is dedicated to the people in perpetuity, being acquired, in t 86o, from various private proprietors, as a result of popular outcry at one of their number felling the timber and thereby greatly disfiguring the side. Four hundred and sixty-two acres are laid out with drives, rustic steps, seats, etc., and there are footpaths leading off into every direction, following which one can wander for miles amidst a luxuriant undergrowth of ferns and flowers. From the summit such a glorious view is to be obtained that words but faintly suggest the rare grandeur of the scene. On one side-far away below-stretches the city, with its glittering domes and spires, its long line of shipping, its massive public institutions, its villas embowered in trees; and beyond, the gleaming waters of the St. Lawrence, flowing quietly, but irresistibly, towards the great ocean that one’s eyes almost unconsciously strive to descry. In the background, gaunt, rugged peaks rise up from the plains, which in former ages belched forth fire and smoke, and which now, although worn out and helpless, still defiantly rear their heads towards the sky; whilst further back again are to be seen the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York State. To the west lies Nuns’ Island; and a glimpse is to be had of the foam-crested waves of the Lachine Rapids, beyond which stretch fertile fields that gradually dissolve into the haze of the horizon. To the north, the marble statuary of the cemeteries may be discerned in the immediate foreground, with the Ottawa river further back, showing like a silvery thread through the trees, as it flows round the island to join the St. Lawrence; and in the far away distance lies the rugged Laurentian range, which marks the beginning of those unknown wilds that stretch in unbroken solitude to the far away north. Truly did Jacques Cartier name this place ” Mont Royal,”

The summit can be reached by several lovely carriage-roads winding round the mountain-side, intersected, here and there, by more direct foot-paths. Oil the eastern side is the ” Incline Railway ” or ” Mountain Elevator ” (starting from Fletcher’s Field), by which special cars carry passengers to the “Look-out” for a small fee. De Maisonneuve is reported to have made a pilgrimage to the top, in 1643, in fulfilment of a vow made in the winter on the occasion of a great flooding of the river, which swept up to the foot of the town palisades, and was, he believed, stayed by prayers.

St. Helen’s Island (so named by Champlain after his wife) lies opposite the city, and is reached by a ferry at frequent intervals from the wharf opposite Bonsecours Church. As a place for an ideal afternoon’s outing this park is unrivalled, as there can be found amusements to suit all-from the young people who love the merry-go-round, to the weary city man who wishes quiet and solitude. At the lower end of the island is an open-air swimming-bath, built out in the St. Lawrence and belonging to the Montreal Swimming Club. Interesting relics of byegone days remain in the form of an old loopholed blockhouse, situated amidst the trees, and the ruins of Baron de Longueuil’s residence at the back of the present restaurant. The Longueuil family acquired the island in 1688, but it was sold by them to the Government in 1818, for military purposes. The greater part of the island was granted by the Government to the city, in 1874, as a public park, but the north-east corner is still reserved for military purposes, being surrounded on the land side by a high palisade. On this island was played the last scene but one in the drama of the French rule in Canada, as on the night previous to the surrender of the city to the British, the Marquis de Levis, commanding the French army, burned his flags in the presence of his troops, rather than allow them to fall into the hands of the enemy.