The Port of Montreal

From the establishment of Montreal as a city in 1642, until the arrival of steam-powered ships in the early part of the 19th century, the Port of Montreal was mostly used by trappers throughout the fur trade and then by French and English sailing vessels bringing supplies to their colony. However, with the appearance of steam-powered ships and the resulting opening of many new and international trading routes, the Port of Montreal would leave behind its humble beginnings and enter into a new period of growth and expansion.

An oil painting of a harbour and waterfront, with a green island visible on the right.

Montreal Harbour, painted by Andrew Morris in 1847, e008300982

Throughout the mid to late 1800s, the Port of Montreal saw countless changes and improvements, starting in 1830 with the establishment of the first Harbour Commission. By 1832, almost three-quarters of a mile of docks had been constructed, and by 1854, the navigation channel between Montreal and Quebec City had been successfully dredged to a depth of 16 feet. Other improvements during this time frame include the movement of goods from the port by train, the installation of electric lights, a further dredging of the channel to 25 feet, as well as the introduction of regular steamship service between the Port of Montreal and Liverpool.

The Port was further enhanced during the early part of the 20th century. The construction of grain elevators began in 1902 and transit sheds in 1908. And by 1910, the deepening of the channel between Montreal and Quebec City to 35 feet was well under way.

A black-and-white photograph of a wharf lined with various types of cargo with a large neo-classical building and a church along the shoreline.

View of the Bonsecours market, wharves and church, photograph by Alexander Henderson, ca. 1875 (c007943)

Because of the harsh Canadian winter, the Port of Montreal was open only seven months of the year up until the early 1960s. However, in 1962, the National Harbours Board (which had become responsible for the Port of Montreal after the demise of the Harbour Commission) introduced icebreakers to the waterway between Montreal and Quebec City. By 1964, the Port of Montreal was open all year long.

A watercolour of a huge ice buildup along the port shoreline of a city.

“Breaking up of the ice in the St. Lawrence at Montreal,” painted by George Henry Andrews in 1864 (e000996176)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has many items that chronicle the evolution of the Port of Montreal. The earliest item is a photograph taken in 1870 by Alexander Henderson depicting the steamship S.S. Quebec docked at Montreal harbour with horse-drawn carts on the shore in the foreground. There are also photographs of the Port by William Topley, Henry Joseph Woodside and Hayward Studios. LAC also has a beautiful oil painting completed in 1847 by Andrew Morris depicting the harbour and waterfront of Montreal from the unusual vantage point of Montreal’s shore across from St. Helen’s Island.

A black-and-white photograph of a busy harbour front, showing a street of buildings and boat-lined piers.

View of Montreal Harbour, photograph by William Topley, September 1902 (a201779)

A black-and-white photograph of railway lines running along a ship-lined harbour front.

Wharf and harbour, undated photograph by William Topley (a008893)

The first European settlers in Montréal

By Karine Bellerose Caldwell

On May 17, 1642, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Jeanne Mance and a group of settlers founded Ville-Marie on land granted by the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, despite attempts by Governor Charles Huault de Montmagny to convince them to choose Île d’Orléans. Their settlement, known today as Pointe‑à‑Callière, had a specific purpose: Maisonneuve and his companions, members of the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal for the conversion of “savages” in New France, wanted to convert the Indigenous peoples to Catholicism and to live piously in the new colony.

As elsewhere in New France, it was difficult to settle Ville-Marie, because of climatic and geographic challenges, fear of Iroquois attack, and low numbers of settlers arriving in the colony. A decade after the arrival of the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, the total population was only around 50. To compensate for the lack of settlers and maintain a French presence on the island, Maisonneuve returned to France in 1651 hoping to recruit people prepared to follow him to that distant island. He went back to Ville-Marie two years later with some 100 colonists. While those settlers substantially increased the population of the colony, it was only near the end of the 17th century, after the arrival of the Filles du roi and the Carignan-Salières Regiment, that the population of Ville-Marie grew significantly, as was the trend across New France. To mark the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montréal, Library and Archives Canada is sharing a small collection of original documents that tell the story of colonization attempts on the island of Montréal in the first decade after the arrival of the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal. One of the documents shows the names of individuals who played a key role in establishing the colony. The list includes Jean Saint-Pierre, the first clerk and notary in Ville-Marie; Gilbert Barbier, surveyor and churchwarden for Ville-Marie; and Lambert Closse, merchant, lord and interim governor of Ville-Marie. The three declared in writing that the Compagnie de Montréal was free of any obligations to them, in return for concessions granted and specific promises by Maisonneuve.

 

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Ernst Neumann

By Judith Enright-Smith
Artist and printmaker Ernst Neumann was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1907. His family immigrated to Canada five years later, taking up residence in Montreal, Quebec.

Conté and pencil drawing of a young man seated at a drawing board looking at the viewer. It is signed EN31.

Self-portrait by Ernst Neumann, dated 1931 (MIKAN 3028626)

Following high school, Neumann began his artistic studies at both the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal and the Art Association of Montreal. At the latter, Neumann met and studied with Canadian painter and engraver Edwin Holgate (MIKAN 3929083), renowned in the Montreal art scene at that time. Holgate was responsible for cultivating Neumann’s interest in and enthusiasm for wood engraving and printmaking.

An etching of a female nude seated, holding her face and resting her elbows on bent knees.

“Seated Nude,” dated 1935 (MIKAN 3025069)

Neumann made a consistent and meaningful living working as an artist. He created and sold commercial prints of Montreal’s streets and other urban scenes as well as portraits of the city’s social elite. However, Neumann found his true passion in depicting the marginalized of society during the Great Depression. These engravings of the poor and unemployed would often appear in the less mainstream Montreal newspapers and periodicals, particularly those with a left-leaning perspective.
In 1936, together with fellow École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal graduate Goodridge Roberts, Neumann opened the Roberts-Neumann School of Art. The school provided classes in painting and drawing as well as art appreciation. It remained open for only three years.

An etching of a person walking downhill along a snowy path toward a city, with its buildings visible through the trees.

“Descent from Mt. Royal,” signed and dated 1951 (MIKAN 3025050)

Neumann was also a member of an unofficial collective of Montreal artists later termed by art historian Esther Trépanier as the “Jewish Painters of Montreal.” According to Trépanier in Jewish Painters of Montreal: Witnesses of Their Time, 1930–1948, this group of artists, whose members also included Harry Mayerovitch and Ghitta Caisserman-Roth to name a few, were responsible for “… [depicting] the social realism of Montreal during the 1930s and 1940s.”

A lithograph of a harbour landscape with the slightest suggestion of boat masts, buildings and construction.

Montreal Harbour, dated 1935 (MIKAN 3024945)

The Ernst Neumann fonds at Library and Archives Canada was acquired from a private donor in 2005 and 2010. It consists of 156 etchings and lithographs, 49 drawings, 5 watercolours and 36 printing plates. The textual material includes a small amount of Neumann’s personal correspondence along with some catalogues.

Funded by a fellowship grant, Ernst Neumann travelled to Europe in 1956. In March of that year, while visiting a fellow artist in France, Neumann suffered a heart attack, and died at the early age of 49. His remains were brought back and interred in Montreal thanks to the generosity of his peers.


Judith Enright is an archival assistant in the Aboriginal and Social Affairs Section of the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Jackie Robinson and the baseball colour barrier

By Dalton Campbell

In April 1946, Jackie Robinson took the field with the Montreal Royals baseball team, which played in the International League. He was the first black man signed to a Major League Baseball team in the twentieth century. After signing a contract in October 1945 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was assigned by Dodgers’ management to the Royals, the Dodgers’ top minor league affiliate, in order to gain experience. They thought that Montreal would be a less hostile city for him to learn to deal with media scrutiny and fan attention and to endure on-field discrimination and physical intimidation.

Black-and-white photograph of a baseball player running the bases. His foot is on third base and he is turning and heading to home plate. In the background are other players, and in the distance the outfield fence and trees.

Jackie Robinson, in a Montreal Royals’ uniform, circles third base and heads for home during spring training. April 20, 1946 (MIKAN 3574533)

In the first game of the season, he more than held his own. He had four hits, three runs, and a home run. A famous photograph captures Royals’ teammate George “Shotgun” Shuba shaking Robinson’s hand as he crossed home plate after his home run. This is believed to be the first photograph of a white man congratulating a black man on a baseball diamond. Continue reading

“The Pointe”

Pointe St. Charles or “The Pointe” as it is more commonly known, is a Montréal, Quebec neighbourhood located southwest of downtown that has a rich and varied history. The area known as Pointe St. Charles was first acquired by Charles le Moyne in 1654, and is named in his honour. Throughout its early history, it was occupied by various religious communities and is also where Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, welcomed and housed les Filles du Roi, the young French women who immigrated to New France to increase its population. Thereafter, Pointe St. Charles remained primarily a farming community until the mid-nineteenth century.

Black-and-white stereoscopic photograph showing the construction of a bridge.

Stereoscopic photograph of the Victoria Bridge construction in progress from Pointe St. Charles (MIKAN 3357662)

The landscape and population of Pointe St. Charles changed dramatically upon completion of the Lachine Canal in 1848, and further still with the new railway infrastructure and construction of the Victoria Bridge to Montréal’s south shore. Several companies were drawn to the area; new jobs were created, and land previously given to agriculture was bought for residential housing. According to Héritage Montréal, by the beginning of the 20th century, Pointe St. Charles had become the largest industrial sector not only in Montréal but in all of Canada. It was at this time that The Pointe also became the quintessential example of an ethnic melting pot. Populated primarily by English (75%) and French (25%) Canadians, The Pointe increasingly became home to many different ethnic groups.

Black-and-white photograph showing a locomotive under construction.

“Trevithick” railway engine under construction at Pointe St. Charles, from the Alexander Mackenzie Ross collection by William Notman, 1859 (MIKAN 3192802)

Several factors would contribute to The Pointe’s dramatic turn from Canada’s largest industrial sector to one of its most notorious slums. The Great Depression was the first event that contributed to the decline of the area’s primary economic activities. This was followed by the exodus of various factories and businesses to other industrial areas around Montréal, then culminating with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and the closing of the Lachine Canal. Adding further to the area’s decline was the building of expressways that now run along The Pointe’s north and southwest borders. The Richard Arless photographic collection held by Library and Archives Canada substantiates the existence of these slum conditions. Montréal-born Richard Graham Arless (1906-1995) began his career as a Second World War military photographer. After the war, he worked for various newspapers and magazines, eventually opening his own commercial studio in Montréal. His photographs of the slum conditions of Pointe St. Charles, all taken on the same April day in 1946, capture the bleakness and poverty of this once vital, now broken-down and battered neighbourhood.

Black-and-white photograph showing a courtyard with laundry hanging from various clotheslines. Three children are playing on the ground.

Children playing in a courtyard in the Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380642)

Black-and-white photograph showing a long, narrow lane strewn with garbage. A young child stands at the far end looking at the viewer.

View of a child in a narrow, garbage-strewn lane in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380643)

The people of Pointe St. Charles have always been a gregarious and hardy bunch. As their population dwindled and their neighbourhood and living conditions deteriorated, the residents banded together to confront and improve their lot. Community groups were started to improve housing, build parks and promote recreation and health care.

Black-and-white photograph showing the dilapidated back lane behind the row houses. Children look towards the viewer.

View of a dilapidated back alley in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380652)

Most recently, The Pointe has experienced a revitalization. Land around the Lachine Canal was transformed for recreational use with bike paths, while many of the abandoned factories have been converted into condos that have attracted many new residents.