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.