Outremont

17th CENTURY

In 1663, the St. Sulpice order became the Seigneurs of the Island of Montréal. In a bid to increase farming on their land, they divided it up into rows of long, narrow tracts. On November 9, 1694, Doiller de Casson granted six of these tracts on the north slope of Mont Royal to the Tessier, Gervais and Prud'homme families. This grant, which accounts for a large portion of present-day Outremont, became known as Côte-Sainte-Catherine.

Located far from Ville-Marie, the inhabitants of Côte-Sainte-Catherine had to grind their wheat at the Côte Notre-Dame-des-Neiges seigneur’s mill. For nearly 200 years, they had to travel to Notre-Dame Church to celebrate marriages and baptisms. The isolation fostered the development of certain characteristics, as well as the hamlet’s independence.

18th CENTURY

Following the British Conquest, Côte-Sainte-Catherine became home to a growing number of affluent British citizens, like John Gray, the first president of the Bank of Montreal, and John Boston, member of the Queen's Counsel. With the exception of the lands belonging to Pierre Beaubien, a physician at the Hotel-Dieu hospital, the farms, owned by French settlers until 1778, began to change hands, and by 1825, 59% of residents were English-speaking. This proportion rose to 80% by 1880, then fell back to 45% by 1925. It was only then that first majority French Canadian municipal council was elected, and it was not until 1967 that the city stopped recording council meeting minutes in English.

The British left a legacy in Outremont that includes a cemetery known for its beauty, parks and notable buildings. Influenced by avant-garde British and American urban planners, they also enact the first regulations on tree planting and protection (1879) and building quality control (1904).

19th CENTURY

The villages on the island of Montréal have been linked as administrative units since 1845. Côte-Sainte-Catherine was joined with Côte Notre-Dame-des-Neiges for nine years, and after 1855 was governed by a council based in St-Henri. Used to fending for themselves, the petites patries ("small countries") resented this type of political leadership, leading many of them to demand legal recognition. Thus, in 1875, Côte-Sainte-Catherine became the Municipality of the Village of Outremont, and in 1895, obtained its status as a town. In 1915, it officially became the City of Outremont. The march towards independence for the municipalities halted at the turn of the century, however, when Montréal absorbed some 20 municipalities that were forced to trade their independence against the cancellation of debts incurred for their development. Twice, Montréal appealed to the Québec legislature directly to force the annexation of Outremont. With overwhelming support from residents, Outremont Mayor Joseph Beaubien replied: "If necessary, the men, women and children of Outremont will rise up as one against this outrage!" That time, it was the small town that won...

In the 1830s, the pace of Montréal’s industrial and urban development began to quicken, and the bourgeoisie began to migrate to the slopes of Mount Royal to escape the bustle of the city. Despite the first residential developments (1850), the village of Outremont long retained its bucolic charm, undeveloped lands and flowering orchards. T. J. Gorman, a gentleman farmer, exported his melons to the United States, national assembly member Louis Beaubien raised horses, and Lorne McDougall practiced crop rotation farming methods. The village and its three hotels attracted Sunday strollers. At the start of the 20th century, cattle were still jumping fences and circulating freely on Côte-Sainte-Catherine, to the consternation of early motorists. In 1927, a municipal law was enacted to prohibiting keeping farmyard animals at one’s home, but in 1930, Mr. Chartrand’s cackling hens on Lajoie Street were still annoying Mr. Pratt, who complained to city council...

The Beaubiens belonged to Côte-Sainte-Catherine since Pierre, a professor at the École de médecine et de chirurgie de Montréal, first bought a farm there in the mid-19th century. (...) A large, close family made up of professionals, large landowners, entrepreneurs, financiers and industrialists, the Beaubiens were a clan. Over the generations, many became involved at various levels of politics: first Pierre, a Reform member during the union period, then Louis, Provincial Legislature member and speaker, and finally, Joseph. An alderman in 1889 and mayor from 1910 until his death in 1949 at the age of 84, Joseph, more than any of the others, would leave his mark on Outremont’s urban development.

As Outremont became increasingly French, Catholicism gained in importance. In 1887, when the Clerics of St. Viateur acquired the Bouthillier-McDougall farm and built the Institution des sourds-muets, the associated chapel became the official place of worship for the local faithful. At the instigation of Brother Arsène Charest, their attorney, the Clerics quickly become among the largest landowners in Outremont, and in 1902, Monsignor Bruchési put them in charge of the new St. Viateur parish.

Some of the city’s most majestic buildings were built by five other religious communities that later settled in Outremont: the Soeurs des Saints-Noms de Jésus et de Marie (1889), Sœurs Missionnaires de l'Immaculée-Conception (1903), Sœurs Marie-Réparatrice (1911), Sœurs de Sainte-Croix (1917) and Frères de Saint-Gabriel (1920).

The Outremont municipal council held its first meeting on May 10, 1875; on the agenda were Outremont’s roads. The councillors decided to build a boardwalk through the village, which would make getting the mail each week in Côte-des-Neiges easier. They also agreed to allow Mr. Whitehouse to make twice-daily return trips to Craig Street with his coach drawn by four horses. Public works, like road construction and maintenance and the installation of water mains, gas and electricity, were privately run at the time. The Montreal Turnpike Company managed Côte-Sainte-Catherine Road and generated income with tolls that slowed traffic considerably. By 1893, the electric "cars" of the Park and Island Railway Company were running in Outremont.

20th CENTURY                                             

Outremont developed very quickly in the 20th century. In the first thirty years of the century, 2,484 buildings were built and the city became one vast construction site. Broadly speaking, between 1900 and 1920, development started in the east and moved northward, then looped around toward the centre from 1920 to 1930, before heading west, then back to south between 1930 and 1940. 

Five architects were prominent during this period: Charles Bernier (46 buildings), Zotique Trudel (67 buildings), Joseph Gauthier Zéphirin (112 buildings), Jean-Julien Perreault (125 buildings, including Stanislas College, Ecole Saint-Germain and 22 apartment buildings totaling 452 units), and René Charbonneau (112 buildings, including the Outremont Theatre and 17 apartment buildings). Supported by developers, these architects were sometimes responsible for entire sections of Outremont’s streets and neighbourhoods, contributing to its fluid, balanced look and calm feel.

Joseph Beaubien had a nearly sacred worship of trees. According to Mr. Boileau, the contractor who built Mayor Beaubien’s house on Maplewood, the mayor was distraught at the thought of losing a century-old maple, and asked whether the contractor could save the tree by building an atrium around it. In the 1920s, city council put in place a green policy marked by beautification programs and huge investments. Between 1924 and 1930, when municipal employees earned an average annual salary of about $1,000, the city spent $5,415 to plant trees and $14,456 to maintain them. Eight parks were created between 1920 and 1930 under the supervision of engineer Emile Lacroix, landscape architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne and municipal horticulturist Thomas Barnes. The municipal greenhouses grew up to 100,000 flowering plants per year that were sold to residents at cost. Nurturing a remarkable spirit of neatness and aesthetics, Mayor Beaubien even offered residents the use of municipal services for lawn maintenance!

Outremont remained an oasis of peace amid the chaos: during the crash of 1929 and the two world wars, unemployment was lower in the Outremont than anywhere else. In 1941, the population reached 30,000, including an ever-increasing proportion of French Canadians. It became a sign of social advancement to move from Montréal East to Outremont, considered the island’s most upscale residential area.

After 1945, building space in Outremont became scarce and the population peaked. The city faced strong pressure to allow the erection of high-rise buildings to increase density, at a time when Montréal was undergoing an unprecedented wave of demolition. In 1965, urban planning expert Jean-Claude La Haye recommended the construction of a set of high-rise apartments in the heart of the triangle formed by Laurier Avenue, Côte-Sainte-Catherine Road and Montréal, and in what was then Beaubien Park. Acting in the name of growth and progress and inspired by the functionalism movement in architecture, even the architects and urban planners of the time attributed little worth to the cultural value of the existing buildings, and as a result, some houses of great historical value were destroyed. Since the 1970s, however, greater historical awareness has helped support the preservation of heritage.[1]

21st century 

The City of Outremont merged with the City of Montréal on January 1, 2002, becoming one of the new city’s boroughs and ceasing to exist as a separate municipality.

Source: City of Montréal

[1] Loose translation of an extract from Raconte-moi Outremont et ses trois siècles d'histoire by Monique Deslauriers, published by the City of Outremont in 1995

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