Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Tall Tale Tuesday: Bringing Electricity to Montreal

Welcome to Tall Tale Tuesdays. Not every Tuesday, but when I have a tall tale to tell, I'll write about it on a Tuesday.

My father was one of six siblings, who between them, produced 29 children. Only two siblings remained in Montreal. The rest put down roots in Ontario and New Jersey, So we cousins didn't all know each other, let alone know of each other, and collectively, we never met growing up. Geography, expensive long distance charges and not a lot of extra cash for visiting all factored into why this didn't happen. That has changed in the last 20 years when most of us became connected, thanks to the internet making research easier.

One of the stories my siblings and I heard growing up was that our grandfather, John James Dougherty, was responsible for introducing electricity in Montreal. My father made it sound like Grandpa single-handedly was responsible for this herculean feat. Or maybe that's how my younger self imagined it.

A few years ago, two cousins and I went to a gathering of most of the children and some grandchildren of my father's older brother a couple of hours outside Toronto. We met first and second cousins we'd never met before. It was great. Over the afternoon, many stories were told and notes were compared. Good times. Then, one of my cousins said that our grandfather was responsible for the introduction of electricity in Montreal. I burst out laughing. It's incredible that although we were completely disconnected, we heard the same stories growing up.

So, about that. Let's do some fact checking. My grandfather attended McGill University from 1905 to 1908, studying electrical engineering in the Faculty of Science. But for whatever reason, did not graduate. Maybe it was that appendicitis that sent him up the street to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where he met my grandmother.
My grandfather in 1906 at McGill University

City directories tell us that he did work as a manager at Hill Electric the first few years out of McGill. In fact for many years, he worked in the electrical field in Montreal. But surely electricity had already arrived in a major city like Montreal earlier than the 1910s.

In a history of electricity in Canada, I found this. Check the third bullet from the bottom. Montreal received electricity in 1903. Aha!

So, what is far more likely is that he worked--with many others--to make electricity more widely available across Montreal. But what a great story for easily impressed children.

The never ending story continues ....


  1. Where did the quote beside the photo come from? "A man he is with that dry wit...."

    1. In the 1906 McGill yearbook, all the photos have quotes beside them. I think these are what other classmates thought of the student. I googled that exact quote, as I'm sure you did too, but nothing came up.

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