Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A visit to Montreal

I've been visiting Montreal and was busy there for the past week, but am now back to blog about my never ending family stories. In Montreal, I spent a great half-day doing genealogy research at the magnificently modern Grande Bibliotheque, a downtown building that opened to the public in 2005, and which houses Quebec's national archives and library.

For family historians and genealogists, this facility is a mecca.

I could spend weeks in their Collection Nationale room, where they have new, modern, microfiche machines on which to read a collection of Quebec newspapers in both English and French. This is the only place to find these newspapers. For the first time ever, I didn't have to wrestle with a microfiche machine, earlier versions of which presented nothing but frustrating problems to me as a student long ago. I barely scraped the surface of all that I had wanted to research--I came prepared with a list. A return trip is a definite plan.

I did drive to my ancestral (!) neighbourhood of Notre Dame de Grace, and to the streets where both sets of my grandparents and my parents lived. These homes still stand today.

4186 West Hill Ave, Montreal
My Dougherty grandparents lived in a house on West Hill Avenue, that they purchased new in 1919, when their family of six children was complete, until their 1953 deaths. The house remained in the family until the mid 1970s.

The exterior has changed of course, from when it was first built, probably a few times, and the windows have been replaced too. Here is a photo of the front entrance in the mid 1940s with a couple of my then very young cousins and an aunt.
4186 West Hill, mid 1940s

A few of the neighbouring houses are having their exteriors re-done right now. But none of those homes has been knocked down to be replaced by any monster home. Which I suppose says a lot about the neighbourhood and the solidity of the original builds.

4206 Hampton Ave, Montreal
My paternal grandfather, John Matheson, bought a solid home six blocks away from West Hill, on Hampton Avenue in the late 1920s for his family. This is where my mother lived most of her life until she married. I remember when I was a teenager that there was a real estate open house for my mother's home. Off we went. The house was empty of all furnishings. She told many stories about growing up there as we walked through the rooms.

Because my grandfather was a locomotive engineer, he was often away from home for days at a time. During the Great Depression, my grandmother would often have out of work, homeless men knock at the kitchen door looking for something to eat. She never turned them away, always inviting them in to sit at the kitchen table and have a sandwich and a cup of tea. She must have felt very safe to do that. It was a very different era.

I was also going to post a photograph here of St Michael's the Archangel Parish, where my grandparents John James Dougherty and Alice Nelson were married in 1909, but realized while reading its history that the structure that still stands today was only completed in 1915. My grandparents were married in an earlier building, which the community had outgrown. So far, I haven't been able to find a photograph of the original structure, which stood at Drolet and Boucher streets, and where its cornerstone was laid on May 29, 1904. But I'm waiting to hear back from a potential lead.

The parish celebrated its centenary in 2002. A brochure prepared for that event notes that St Michael's became the largest English language parish in the province of Quebec. When my grandparents attended mass there with their growing family from 1909 to 1919, it was a predominantly Irish community of worship.

The never ending story continues...


  1. Another reason to visit Montreal, where I have family and family history. I would love to spend some time looking through those newspapers! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Anna, you'll be fascinated by these newspapers. Go with a list, so you don't get distracted (as I did). Enjoy!