May 21st, 2011 §
John Ostell, son of English saddler Isaac Ostell and an immigrant to Montreal in 1834 at the age of 21, was Montreal’s most important architect in the years 1836-59. He changed the face of the city with his design of some 25 major religious, civic and industrial buildings, as well as with his extensive surveying activities.
Chronicling all his business activities is daunting, so it is not surprising that what hasn’t been noted was his commitment to the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution (MMI est. 1828) and its successor organization, the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal (MIM est. 1840).
Perhaps literally just off the boat, John Ostell was proposed for membership in the MMI on January 14, 1834 by ordnance officer William Antrobus Holwell and painter William Boston. He was elected to the MMI’s Committee of Managers the following year. Patterned after earlier institutes established in Glasgow and London, the MMI and MIM were set up in Montreal to offer technical courses and library support for working men in the new industrial age.
1837 Buchanan House
He must have considered it a useful organization, because he served on its committees and executive intermittently for years—and he wasn’t a man to waste his time. Ostell served as president of the MIM from June 1845 until November 1846, and the minutes indicate that he presided at more than two-thirds of the 33 management committee meetings held during his tenure—so he was no absentee landlord. It was during his term of office in 1845 that MIM was incorporated under the laws of the Province of Canada; the organization is now known as the Atwater Library and Computer Centre.
Legend has it that as a young lad of 17, John Ostell had visited Montreal, assessed the situation, and went back home to England to take surveyor and architecture training. After his arrival in Montreal to stay four years later, he apprenticed himself to surveyor (arpenteur) André Trudeau where he learned Quebec practices in the surveying business and presumably honed his French. By July 1834, he had earned his surveyor’s certification (brevet de clériclature), and was on his way to a spectacular career in surveying and architecture. He would sign himself, as the work warranted, as surveyor, architect, or engineer.
In November 1835, he received his first major architectural commission, to design the Customs House on Place Royale, and the building was completed in 1836. It is now part of the Pointe-à-Callières museum.
Custom House, 1835 first major commission
Among smaller commissions at the time, he renovated a rental building for auctioneer and commission merchant Austin (Augustin) Cuvillier—also a Mechanics’ Institute member. The building is now called Maison Cuvillier-Ostell at 4 rue Notre Dame Street at boul. St. Laurent in the heart of Old Montreal.
By 1836 he had enough work to sign on William H. Mackenzie as an apprentice. There was a signed contract: the apprentice swore to be diligent, and Ostell promised to instruct him “in the science and business of land surveying and things thereto belonging.”
One of his first residential commissions was to design a house for lawyer Alexander Buchanan, a gracious building completed in 1837, still located at the corner of Sherbrooke and de Bullion in the area then known as Côte-à-Baron. The same year he designed twin houses for American-born railway and steamboat engine builders Samuel and Lebbeus Ward, on Wellington Street at King.
In January 1837, he married Élisabeth-Éléonore Gauvin, whose brother Dr. Henri-Alphonse Gauvin was a Patriote leader during the 1837 Rebellion and died as a result of sickness contracted while he was imprisoned. John and Éléonore Ostell were to have at least eight children, four sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Charles Joseph Ostell, born 1837, became a member of the Mechanics’ Institute on December 23, 1850 at age 13—presumably to take the drawing and other courses then offered at the Institute.
John Ostell’s marriage into a Roman Catholic family gave him an entry into the world of the ecclesiastics, and he secured significant commissions from the Sulpicians and the Roman Catholic diocese, including the towers of Notre Dame Church (1841-43) that were later destroyed by fire; and, in 1849-51, the Episcopal Palace--which burned during the major conflagration in Montreal in 1852. Also in 1851-54, he constructed the Church of St. Ann’s in Griffintown for the Catholic English-speaking Irish population of the area.
Active surveying business
Ostell’s surveying business also flourished. He replaced Jacques Viger as roads inspector in Montreal in 1840, and from 1842 to 1847 was city surveyor, responsible for building and maintenance of city streets. He drew up the first comprehensive city plan of Montreal. As city surveyor, he automatically sat as a member of the Corporation of Montreal, the chief administrative body of the city. He was provincial surveyor, 1848-51.
In the early 1840s, he produced the plans for dividing some of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice lands on the Lachine Canal (St. Gabriel farm area) into saleable lots. In the process, he acquired some of those lots, some of which he re-sold to John Redpath—a profitable investment for both men, whose later factories needed access to hydraulic power from the St. Lawrence River canal system.
Though he spent most of his time in Montreal, Ostell made forays into the countryside, probably in his capacity as provincial surveyor. In 1848, he produced a map of the propriétés de feu of William Yule in Chambly Township. This map, now in archives of the Société d’histoire de la Seigneurie Chambly, shows a cotton spinning mill (1842), the seigneurial manor houses of Gabriel Christie and Samuel Hatt; the plan of the mill race and locks in the Richelieu river which fed the seigneurial flour mill; and the Willett carding mill.
In 1853, he undertook the planning of Notre-Dame-des Neiges cemetery for the Fabrique of Notre Dame, plans later expanded by his nephew Henri-Maurice Perrault.
Ostell’s second major architectural commission was in the educational field: he won the competition in July 1839 for the first buildings of McGill University, whose patrons were looking for buildings that would symbolize English Protestant education in a French-Canadian mileu: the Arts building and the East Block (now Dawson Hall) were constructed 1839-1843.
When the Province of Canada was formed in 1841 resulting from the Union of Upper and Lower Canada, and the capital was to be in Montreal, it is noted in Wapedia that John Ostell was commissioned to renovate St. Anne’s Market (where Place d’Youville is today) to accommodate the new parliament. Sadly, the building and the archival treasures therein burned in an anglophone-instigated uprising in 1849.
By 1843, only ten years after his arrival in Montreal, and when just over 30 years old, Ostell was appointed one of the city’s 40 justices of the peace, a position requiring substantial financial and property resources. In that select group were some established Montreal figures who were Ostell’s patrons at various times: Jacques Viger (Customs House commission); George Moffatt (McGill University commissions); Peter McGill (president, Bank of Montreal) and James Ferrier (mayor of Montreal in 1845).
Ostell worked extensively with contractor John Redpath, beginning about 1840 when Redpath was president of the Mechanics’ Institute and chairman of the city’s Committee on Roads & Improvement. Redpath hired John Ostell to plan the sub-division of his large property known as Terrace Banks, located northwards from Sherbrooke Street at Mountain. Ostell designed Redpath’s Canada Sugar Refinery which opened on the Lachine Canal in 1854—Canada’s first major industrial enterprise, a complex which included a boiler house, filter house, kiln house, carpentry and paint shop, melting house and several warehouses. Some of the buildings are now a condominium complex.
Redpath Condominiums, at left.
At the beginning of the 1850s, Ostell was instrumental in the formation of the Saint-Gabriel Hydraulic Company, joining with businessmen John Young and Jacob De Witt and miller Ira Gould to purchase Seminary lots that could be resold to companies seeking to use the hydraulic waterpower that had become available with the reconstruction of the Lachine Canal 1843-48. The water held upstream in the canal locks could be channelled and used to turn wheels or water turbines, and industries needing such power could rent hydraulic lots from the those holding the rights to the land. It was a profitable investment for the businessmen concerned.
Another of Ostell's major commission was the Sulpicians’ Grand Séminaire de Montréal, on the north side of Sherbrooke Street at Fort. He was the architect in charge of construction, 1854-57. When the Collège de Montréal was built in 1868-70 just adjacent, the whole complex became one of the most imposing in Montreal.
John Ostell’s last major architectural achievement was Montreal’s (old) Court House, the building at 155 Notre Dame Street East, designed in partnership with his nephew Henri-Maurice Perrault, his apprentice in 1844 and partner in 1849 when the building plans were being prepared for competitive bidding. Ostell supervised construction between 1851 and 1856, but it did not go smoothly; there seems to have been controversy over various aspects, including the heating system, from beginning to end. John Kelly, the overseer of works, is quoted as calling him “…egoist… greedy…incompetent….”
In 1856, when he was just 43 years old, Ostell moved away from architecture to focus on the lumber and lumber processing businesses that he had established earlier. This was perhaps because he had been succeeded as diocesan architect for the Roman Catholic parish of Montreal by Victor Bourgeau; and perhaps because his reputation had suffered during the building of the Court House:
Ostell’s firm, Montreal Door and Sash Factory, established in 1852 following what was probably an earlier lumber venture in 1848, was next door to John Redpath’s Canada Sugar Refinery on the Lachine Canal. His company advertisements touted doors, sashes, blinds, architraves, skirting boards and mouldings, planks, scantling, furrings, laths and shingles. Ostell invested some £20,000 in the enterprise, had five acres with buildings and machinery, and employed 75 men. He sent some of its products to the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1856. The shop produced materials for markets in Lower and Upper Canada, and exported to the U.S., Great Britain and Australia. In the early 1860s, Ostell seems to have had financial difficulties and the factory was sold to William Molson, but Ostell later rented it back, and in 1886 it was still described as an important manufacturing business; Ostell was still its manager.
Ostell Advertisment, Lovell's Directory, 1874-75
City lighting and transportation
Ostell maintained a long-standing interest in lighting. He became involved when many prominent Montreal citizens including Moses Judah Hays, François-Antoine LaRocque, Jacques Viger, William Bingham and John Redpath--with Albert Furniss as manager—promoted the establishment of the Montreal Gas Light Company in 1836. It provided the gas lighting for some stores and expanded by 1838 to lighting a few streets; and by 1840 its business included such items as providing the lighting for the rented rooms of the Mechanics’ Institute.
Later, having withdrawn sometime previously from that earlier company, Ostell joined in 1847 in the formation of New City Gas, of which he became a director in 1850 and president in 1860-65. For this company, he designed his last building in 1859, an industrial structure at 956 rue Ottawa which now houses an art studio. New City Gas eventually evolved into Gaz Métropolitain.
Passenger transportation was another Ostell interest. In 1846, he produced a plan for the Montreal and Lachine Railroad. He was involved in the Montreal and New York Railroad, the Carillon and Grenville Railway Company, the Industry Village and Rawdon Railroad Company; and the Montreal & Champlain Railroad (of which he was president 1859-65). In 1861, he founded—with William Molson and others--the Montreal City Passenger Railway Company to provide horsedrawn public transport. That company was a forerunner to today’s Société de Transport de Montréal (STM).
Insurance was among his other business interests, and he was president in 1887 of the Royal Canadian Fire Insurance Company of Montreal.
Aside from his business interests, John Ostell and his family seem to have participated to a limited extent in other city activities. In addition to the Mechanics’ Institute, he was a life member of the Natural History Society, and its president from May 1850 to May 1852. Mrs. John Ostell was vice-president of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum in 1867-68; her husband had built the Protestant Orphan Asylum in 1848.
An Anglican from birth, John Ostell (1813-1892) was received into the Roman Catholic Church shortly before his death, and was buried beside his wife in a 300-ft. plot in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery that he had purchased in 1854. His married daughter in England was his only surviving child, but he did have several grandchildren, including brothers Capt. John Benjamin Ostell and Col. Joseph Thomas Ostell, both of whom served in the North-West Rebellion of 1886; and Edouard Sydney Ostell.
(This article appeared originally in Quebec Heritage News, May-June 2010.) Photos by John William, 2010.
April 12th, 2010 §
- “Robert Cleghorn was a public-spirited citizen and a man of domestic tastes, and the influences of a home of culture and refinement left their impress…”
So did W. H. Atherton sum up the life of Robert Cleghorn in his History of Montreal, published many years after Cleghorn’s death. Few details were given, because the piece was about his prominent son, James Power Cleghorn.
Robert Cleghorn should be remembered for being the owner of Montreal’s first large commercial nursery.
He was born in Scotland in 1778, the son of Dr. Robert Cleghorn, an Edinburgh-trained physician who lectured in materia medica (which included botany) in the years 1788-91 at University of Glasgow, and later taught chemistry, as well as carrying on a medical practice. Botany was probably an early interest of the young Robert Cleghorn, he most likely having been exposed to its many ramifications in a medical household, at a time when the study of plants played an essential role in medical education. Physicians needed to know about the simple drugs sold by herbalists and apothecaries, and to recognize plants that had medicinal properties--there being no pharmaceutical representatives around at the time to properly indoctrinate them.
In any event, the botanical world became the young Robert Cleghorn’s major activity. Early in the 1800s, he was in Montreal establishing his nursery, which he ran for some 30 years. According to Paul-Louis Martin (Les Fruits du Québec, 2002), these were the first nurseries in the Montreal area:
- Louis Charles, on the property of Simon McTavish [d 1804], fur merchant
- Robert Cleghorn, owner of Blinkbonny Gardens, who sold fruit plants and fruit trees--among them Belle de Montréal, Cirée and Blinkbonny Seedling.
Corallorhiz multiflora and Habenaria bracteata, sent to Glasgow by Robert Cleghorn. They appeared in Vol 3 of William Jackson Hooker’s Exotic Flora in 1826. (Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh)
Soon after his arrival in Montreal—which at the time had a population of less than 15,000 and was "not even an outpost of civilization" according to McGill by Hugh MacLennan----Cleghorn began to investigate the local plants, and sent unusual ones back to England and Scotland. In an article entitled "On the Culture of North American Plants" in John Claudius Loudon’s The Gardener’s Magazine (Vol. 2, March 1827), Ayrshire nurseryman John Goldie listed plants he observed 1817-19, among them:
"Cypripedium arietinum, in a swamp in Montreal, which I believe is the only place it has ever been found. It was discovered about 1808 by Mr. Robert Cleghorn, Montreal, and sent by him to London…it grows well in vegetable mould and soil, and should be kept moist and shady." This plant, known as ram’s head lady’s slipper, is now an endangered member of the orchid family.
By 1812, Robert Cleghorn was listed in the Montreal Herald as secretary of the Montreal Floral Society (which became the Montreal Horticultural Society in 1818; Robert Cleghorn was again its secretary in 1829). He was evidently known in the wider botanical community, because the important Saxon botanist Frederick Pursh, who lived for some years in the United States, died at the Cleghorn home in Montreal in 1820, less than 50 years old, destitute and alcoholic.
Habenaria orbiculata and Habenaria dilatata , sent to Glasgow by Robert Cleghorn,. They appeared in Vol 2 of William Jackson Hooker’s Exotic Flora in 1824. (Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh)
In the 1820s, Cleghorn sent plants to Glasgow, where William Jackson Hooker (whose son was a friend of Charles Darwin) was the University of Glasgow’s regius professor of botany. Some of Cleghorn’s plants were recorded in Hooker’s Exotic Flora, among them Corallorhiza multiflora, another member of the orchid family. Hooker notes: “For the introduction of this singular and highly curious plant, our Botanic Garden is indebted to Mr. Cleghorn of Montreal, who sent living roots of it."
Trillium erythrocarpum and Dielytra canadensis, collected by Robert Cleghorn and sent to Glasgow. They appeared in Curtis’ Botanical Journal in 1830.
A description of Blinkbonny Gardens at Côte-à-Baron appeared in John Claudius Loudon’s An Encyclopedia of Gardening, editions of 1860 and 1878 (years after the death of both Loudon and Cleghorn; the reference was presumably had not been updated:
"The principal nurseries in Lower Canada are at Montreal, and the best of these is Blinkbonny Garden, kept by Mr. Robert Cleghorn. Mr. Cleghorn has paid great attention to the introduction and cultivation of fruit trees, and has for sale about 30 kinds of apples, fifteen or eighteen kinds of pears, about as many kinds of plum, three or four kinds of cherry, as many grapes, and about six or eight kinds of gooseberry. He has also a collection of perennial, herbaceous, and greenhouse plants; and an extensive collection of indigenous plants and trees."
Recorded the weather
An interest aligned with his nursery activities was a continuing study of the weather in Montreal. Before 1840, Canadian meteorological observations were made by private individuals and explorers, and by some organizations such as the Hudson’s Bay Company. Robert Cleghorn provided diaries of the Montreal weather to at least two organizations in Montreal.
Cover of Cleghorn’s 1830 weather diary: McCord Family fonds, P001, File 0839 © McCord Museum, Montreal
Robert Cleghorn’s first wife Margaret died in Montreal after a long illness, aged 22, as recorded in the Montreal Herald in 1817. He remarried, Eliza Ann Power from Sorel and, according W. H. Atherton, there were 10 children in the Cleghorn family. The 1825 Montreal census notes his “grand jardin à fleurs et verger, pépinière…serre.”
His family and business commitments, however, did not prevent him from participating in the wider community of Montreal. He was a militiaman, and as such had participated in the funeral of his neighbour James McGill (founder of McGill University) in December 1813.
He was active in the Natural History Society of Montreal, formed in 1827, and contributed items to its museum, including,
- 1827: a petrified Echinus from Berkshire, England; and a curious stone from Three Rivers acted upon by water
- 1828: Mineral specimens from Mount Etna; an Egyptian pipe
- 1829: A tree wasp’s nest and comb, and three specimens of boletus. From Mrs. Cleghorn, three specimens of virgin honey comb
- 1831: An Indian stone axe found in his garden in Montreal
- 1831: From Masters William & George Cleghorn, 69 specimens of butterflies and other insects, collected by them during the last summer
- 1832: Diary of the weather, 1831
- 1834: Diary of the weather, 1832 and 1833
In December 1828, Robert Cleghorn became a member of the first committee of management of the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution (now the Atwater Library and Computer Centre) and served on committees from 1832 through 1834. He donated diaries of the weather to the MMI for the years 1829, 1832 and 1833.
In the Dr. A. F. Holmes collection at McGill University’s Herbarium is a specimen of Tolfieldia glutinosa, labelled “Cleghorn’s, Quebec, collected 1821.” It is commonly known as false asphodel. Like Cleghorn, Dr. Holmes--who was to become McGill University’s first dean of medicine--was associated with both the Natural History Society and the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution. His business
Graham Hardy, serials librarian at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, discovered this reference to Robert Cleghorn in James McNab’s handwritten journal of his 1834 North American tour (he was later curator at RBGE):
"[Mr. Cleghorn’s] collection of indigenous plants…for the British market was very great, viz., Cypripedium, Orchises, Habenarias, Goodyeras, Monetropas, &c. In the Nurseries the fruit tree flower department appeared most attended to. Few of the indigenous plants are cultivated, although ennumerable masses of the Genera Cypripedii, Trillium, Orchis’s, Habenaria, Calypso, Pogonia, and Sarracenia lay stored in boxes for sale and barter with the British merchants. "
John Adams’ 1825 atlas of Montreal shows Robert Cleghorn’s nursery in Côte-à-Baron, labelled “Blinkhonnie Garden.”
In his latter days, Robert Cleghorn converted his nursery grounds into a garden promenade. Alexander Gordon wrote in The Gardeners Magazine of January 1840, “Its numerous shady walks and rural retreats render it a desirable field of recreation for the citizens in general; while its rich and botanical stores eminently adapt it to the pursuits of the scientific.”
A section from John Adams’ 1825 atlas of Montreal shows Robert Cleghorn’s nursery in Côte-à-Baron, labelled “Blinkhonnie Garden” (highlighted in red). It is remarkable that the map lists very few individual properties—not even the former home of James McGill slightly to the west of Blinkbonny. St. Mary Street was also known as Sherbrooke, and soon acquired that name permanently. The north-south street just east of Blinkbonny is Bleury, and the intersection at the lower left is Bleury and Ste Catherine. The north-south street at right is the main street of St. Lawrence Suburb, now called Boul. St-Laurent.
The Montreal Gazette obituary in January 1841 notes Robert Cleghorn was “deeply regarded by all who knew him.” Three years later, in April 1844, his widow Eliza Ann went to Notary Stanley Clark Bagg to formalize the apprenticeship of her minor son, James Power Cleghorn, age 13, to drygoods merchant Samuel Ralston, thereby starting him on a long and successful business career, including membership on the first board of directors of the Sun Life Assurance Company in 1865.
(Article is based on research originated by the Rev. Harry Kuntz. Reference was kindly provided by Leonie Paterson, Graham Hardy and Lynsey Wilson at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh; Prof. Marcia Waterway at the McGill University Herbarium; Myriam Cloutier at Mount Royal Cemetery; Victoria Slonosky; Stephanie Poisson at the McCord Museum; and Rod MacLeod. Word Press layout by Ron Olsen)
(Adapted from an article in Quebec Heritage News, November-December 2009)
February 5th, 2010 §
Dorothy Williams, author of "Blacks In Montreal 1628-1986: An Urban Demography" and "The Road to Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal," spoke recently at the Women’s Canadian Club of Montreal. In his introduction to her talk, Richard Lord, who is a Board member at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre, mentioned a link between it and Montreal’s black history. Susan McGuire, a former executive director of the library, was also present at Williams' speech, and agreed to expand on it for the Westmount Independent.
The Atwater Library, in its previous incarnation as the Mechanics’ Institute, had an early role in defending the rights of the blacks in Canada, in that it provided provided a venue and platform for abolitionist ideas.
Henry Esson and John Redpath
The two men who were founders and guiding forces for the two successive Mechanics' Institutes in Montreal (1828 and 1840) both became abolitionists.
The Presbyterian founder of the Mechanics' Institution of Montreal in 1828, the Rev. Henry Esson, was in Toronto in the 1840s as a professor at Knox College when he became an active abolitionist, alongside his friend George Brown of Toronto's Globe.
Prominent Presbyterian John Redpath, who re-established a Mechanics’ Institute in Montreal in 1840, interceded in 1849 with Governor-General Lord Elgin to permit the set-up of the Elgin Settlement near Chatham, Ontario to receive black refugees who were coming to Canada from the U. S. on the Underground Railway. This town, now known as Buxton, was the last of four organized black settlements to come into existence. Through his church in Montreal, Redpath also arranged financial help for other black communities in Upper Canada.
Hanford Lennox Gordon
On January 10, 1860, the American Quaker abolitionist, lawyer and poet H. L. Gordon delivered a lecture at the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal entitled the “Harper’s Ferry Tragedy,” published the same year in a pamphlet produced by printer (and MIM member) John Lovell. It was the story of John Brown, an American abolitionist who was arrested, beaten, imprisoned, found guilty of treason and conspiracy with slaves, and hung in 1859. An older man who lost sons the the same battle, he lived in dignity to the last days of his life. It was an event that engendered a big outcry in the U. S., and some consider it a prelude to the American Civil War.
Gordon asked the questions, "Has [Brown] advanced the the cause of liberty? Has he forwarded the interests of the Anti-Slavery enterprise?" Then Gordon answered his own questions: "I think he has. He has given the world an heroic example. A greater gift he could not have bestowed....He has demonstrated one great truth, namely that slavery rests upon an insecure basis; that it rests on cowardice, cruelty and meanness...
"...Behold a new born hope for the African. He now knows that it is possible for a white man to love him and to die for him. Never was assurance more needed. The ancient slave [in Rome] had his master's complexion...the only distinction between them was removed when the slave was set at liberty. In America the master is white and the slave is black; when the African changes his condition he does not change his colour. Prejudice fastens on this only remaining distinction...and I think it becomes more intense as the black is elevated by the laws to political equality....Freedom then it would seem, instead of joining the two races, separates them. I hope that the love of John Brown and his heroic death will prove a blessing to the free coloured man...
"Southern men used to think Northern men cowards, and that the abolitionists were great talkers, but not disposed to sacrifice much for the cause they talk so earnestly about. But since a self-sacrificing old man makes them tremble beneath his eagle glance, they will think more highly of the class which he represented. The abolitionists too will entertain a higher opinion of their mission, and move with a more manly port in the presence of the nation...
"...Slavery destroyed Roman civilization, the force and dignity of which we so much admire. I fear it will destroy that of my native land.....There are those who expect, and not only expect but threaten, the dissolution of the Union of the American states. The Union is not so easily dissolved. The wisest men of the South, where it is talked of most, do not desire to, even if it were possible. The Free States are too powerful to allow the slave section to withdraw from the Union without their consent. The dissolution of the Union, logically speaking, means civil war....
"...In conclusion, permit me to say that I have not the language to express my admiration of the Constitution which at this moment is giving protection to the oppressed of all lands: I mean the free Constitution of Great Britain. The debt of gratitude which I owe it I can never hope to repay....In obedience of the Constitution, the [British] nation arose above the suggestions of material gain, and by an act unsurpassed in moral grandeur, abolished forever British slavery. The moment a slave breathes your free air he is a free man. The moment an exile touches your shores the genius of liberty attends him, and protects him evermore from the cruel tyrant. Hence the greatness and glory of the British empire."
John Anderson & the Legal System
As described by Edgar Andrew Collard in his book Montreal Yesterdays, the plight of fugitive slaves from the US South was one that moved some members of Montreal society (though not the editorialists at The Gazette).
John Anderson was an American-owned slave from Missouri who in the early 1850s had killed a man who was trying to prevent him from running to freedom in Canada. He lived quietly in Upper Canada until 1860, when someone reported Anderson's whereabouts to the American government, which in turn demanded his extradition to be tried for murder. There were, however, complicated issues of jurisdiction and interpretation of treaties. The British Parliament had abolished slavery throughout the British Empire in 1834, so the question was, since slavery was not recognized in Canada, how could he be sent back to where he would surely be treated as a slave again?
The case was tried in the Court of Queen's Bench in Toronto, and the majority opinion was that Anderson must be extradited back to the U. S. A dissenting voice was Judge Archibald McLean (an ancestor of Gary Aitken, a current member of the Atwater Library). Judge McLean (later Chief Justice), according to the Aitken's book Good People, Book One, wrote not only on the legality of the issue, but on the morality and ethics of slavery. He said that the oppressive laws of Missouri should never be cited in Canada to return a man to bondage. He argued, "Anderson's act was justified by the desire to be free which nature has implanted in his breast."
Not only Judge McLean felt that way. There was outrage among anti-slavery groups in Toronto, Hamilton, and in Montreal that the Toronto court had decided Anderson should be sent back to the U. S.
In January 1861, a meeting to discuss the Anderson matter was held in Montreal at the Mechanics’ Hall, attended by more than 800 people. Leading citizens spoke, including the mayor Charles-Séraphim Rodier (an early Mechanics’ Institution member); lawyer Antoine Aimé Dorion; the Rev. William Bond of St. George’s Anglican Church; Dr. William Taylor of Erskine Presbyterian Church; the Rev. John Cordner of the Unitarian Church; and Dr. William Hingston, who later founded St. Mary’s Hospital and became mayor of Montreal.
The Court of Queen's Bench in England signalled that it wished to have the matter settled in the English courts, but there was resistance in Canada to the idea of a British court deciding on what was viewed as a distinctly Canadian issue. So, before Anderson could be sent to appear in the British court, the matter was sent quickly to Toronto's Court of Common Pleas. Anderson was released on technicality, the court deciding that there had been faulty wording in the arrest warrant. Sir John A. Macdonald had arranged for the use of public funds to cover Anderson's legal fees.
Anderson left Toronto by train for Montreal on March 5, 1861, stayed in Montreal until May 23, and left by the steamer Nova Scotian on May 25 from Quebec City for Liverpool, where he arrived on June 6. From there, he left for Africa and apparently was never heard from again.
His legacy was important. The Anderson affair had significant implications for the evolving independence of the Canadian judicial system. In 1862, the British parliament passed on act which denied British courts the right to issue writs of habeas corpus for British colonies or dominions which had courts capable of handling the matters.
Site of the black cemetery
It is one of those coincidences that the site of the Mechanics’ Institute building of the time (at the corner of St. James and St. Peter streets), had been the site of the Cimetière des Pauvres where, during the French regime, black slaves had been buried.
(Acknowledgements: With thanks for help from Gary Aitken, Frank Mackey and Dr. Dorothy Williams)
(Based on an article in the Westmount Independent, February 24-25, 2009.)
Atwater Library and Computer Centre Archives
Hepburn, Sharon A. and Roger Hepburn. Crossing the Border.
Feltoe, Richard. A Gentleman of Substance. Toronto: Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc. Toronto 2004
Redpath, James. The Public Life of Capt. John Brown. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860
Gordon, H. L. "A Lecture on the Harper's Ferry Tragedy." Montreal, John Lovell, 1860
Mackey, Frank. Done with Slavery, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010.
Prevost, Robert. Montreal: A History
Aitken, Henry Gordon. Good People, Book One: The Kertlands of Canada, Montreal 2007
Wikipedia, "Extradition case of John Anderson.," 22 Feb 2010
Newspaper: Pilot, 5 March, 22 May, and 6 June.
February 1st, 2010 §
Montreal in the 1820s was not a cultural haven for the working man. Few educational opportunities existed for them in the 1820s and 1830s--or for the young immigrants arriving. There were no schools open to them; buying books was expensive. A few libraries offered books, magazines, and newspapers, but they were not free.
The early libraries in Montreal could be categorized:
• those run by religious institutions, not open to the general public;
• those run by professional groups such as medical and legal libraries, open to members of those professions;
• subscription libraries organized by and dependent on proprietor or shareholder support from men who had already achieved success. They sometimes allowed lower-cost annual and semi-annual memberships, which had to be approved by the proprietors--and thus were possibly from dependents living in the households of the proprietors, such as family, apprentices and clerks.
Probably the earliest of the subscription libraries was the Montreal Library that opened in 1796. The “proprietors” were English and French-speaking notables, and the share cost was 10 guineas ($42.50); this library amalgamated at times with the Montreal News Room, and existed in various forms until the 1840s. In 1827, the Natural History Society was established, by a group of mostly physicians and educators, to sponsor lectures on scientific topics; it counted a library as one of its essential elements. The Montreal Mechanics' Institution was established 1828 to provide library facilities and lectures for members and courses for sons of members and apprentices. The Mercantile Library was opened in 1842 by merchants' clerks who opted not to join the Mechanics' Institution, and was thus an effort to provide a wider access to persons of lower status; and shortly thereafter the Institut canadien was formed in 1844 to provide a library and debating facility for mainly French-speaking intellectuals, lawyers and other young professionals. The Natural History Society survived until 1925, and the Mechanics' Institution continues today as the Atwater Library and Computer Centre.
The formation of the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution (MMI) in 1828 was the first effort in Montreal to provide an educational facility where, for a modest fee, working men and youths could have access to a library as well as classes, lectures, and meetings where discussions (called “conversations”) were held on the particular interests or needs of the group. Membership costs were modest, as befitting the incomes of the people it was designed to serve; in 1831, new members of MMI were required to pay 20 shillings & seven pence half-penny, of which 10 shillings was considered an entrance fee.
At the time, “mechanics” referred broadly to skilled workers such as carpenters and joiners, tanners, blacksmiths, plasterers, masons, painters, coopers, plumbers, bootmakers and blacksmiths. The MMI also welcomed employers of the skilled, such as builders, iron founders, printers, brewers, confectioners, innkeepers, bookkeepers--and was open to members of the new professions including surveyors, civil engineers and architects. Lawyers and doctors also joined the new organization, perhaps partly as a means to contribute to society. The officers of the first MMI were a cross-section of business and civic-minded community leaders, chosen for their interest in education, and the active MMI leadership was generally provided by craftsmen, as provided in the MMI constitution.
The History of the Book in Canada notes that “the principles of equality, accessibility and utility [that the Mechanics’ Institutes embodied] anticipated the development of free public libraries later in the 19th century.” (This did not apply universally in Quebec, where the 1828 Montreal Mechanics’ Institution survives today as the Atwater Library and Computer Centre, and remains at its core a subscription library.)
Among the aims of the MMI in 1828 were to establish:
• library and reading room;
• museum of machinery and models, minerals and natural history;
• school for teaching such subjects as arithmetic and algebra and their applications in architecture and navigation; and languages;
• lectures on natural and experimental philosophy, practical mechanics, astronomy, chemistry, civil history, political economy, literature and the arts.
MMI activities were disrupted by devastating cholera outbreaks in 1832 and 1834, and by political tensions involving liberal thinkers seeking to loosen the control of Britain over the governments in Upper and Lower Canada. MMI activities ceased abruptly in April 1835, brought about apparently by the deepening political crisis that evolved into the Lower Canada rebellions of 1837-38. There was a hiatus in MMI activities until 1840, when it amalgamated with the newly-formed Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal, led by John Redpath, contractor, who had been active in the earlier organization as early as 1831.
Glimpses of what interested the upwardly mobile working-class and young professional men of the time, and how they sought to develop educational resources and expertise, are revealed in the minutes of the (sometimes) weekly meetings of Montreal Mechanics’ Institution. The minutes of the “Committee of Managers” have been lost.
MMI members appear to have been guided in their activities not only by the patterns set in the British mechanics institutes where education was emphasized, but also by the activities of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia that had been founded in 1824 along the same principles. This is of relevance in the area of patents, a particular interest of Dr. Isaac Hays, long-time active member of the Franklin Institute, who was a corresponding member of MMI, and a relative of Moses Judah Hays, an MMI member. One activity of the MMI was to provide a forum for members’ inventions; it may have helped in patent applications in England and Canada. Such applications required a description, diagram and model where feasible.
The histories of mechanics’ institutes often have the refrain expressed in the preface to Bruce Sinclair’s Philadelphia’s Philosopher Mechanics: “On public occasions leaders of the [Franklin] Institute frequently hearkened back to the democratic impulses which gave it its early vitality. But educational reforms initially designed to benefit poor and disadvantaged artisans usually served a more literate clientele.” This appears to have been true at the MMI from the beginning.
How successful were the founders of the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution in achieving their aims? Certainly their efforts were not always completed or effective, but on the whole the 1828-35 efforts by the MMI members achieved modest success. The projected school got off to the slowest start, in part because of the difficulties in finding suitable teachers that the MMI could afford with its low fee structure.
Following are edited excerpts from the 1828-35 MMI minutes, focusing on the range of practical and scientific discussions. Some spellings have been modernized, or corrected where research has indicated errors may have been made in the original minutes. Also incorporated is research that has identified how some MMI members earned a living.
16 December: MMI founder, the Rev. Henry Esson, gave the introductory lecture: “Objects and Advantages of Mechanics Institutions.” The Rev. Esson was minister at the Presbyterian St. Gabriel’s Street Church, and a founding member of both the Montreal Library and the Natural History Society.
23 December: William Antrobus Holwell [Hallowell], ordnance officer, proposed an improvement in the construction of steam engine valves. A “secret” committee was struck to report the merits of the proposed improvement: Joseph Clark, builder/surveyor/architect; John Henderson, civil engineer/iron founder; James Clarke; [Guy or Joseph] Warwick, iron founders; and John Bennet, iron founder.
Alexander Stevenson, surveyor/schoolmaster, read an essay on “Causes and Cures of Cahots” [potholes]. A committee was struck to consider the suggestions: William Shand, cabinetmaker and builder; Alexander Stevenson; William Holwell; Teavill Appleton, builder; William Boston, painter; [Alfred or Francis] Howson.
William Shand suggested the importance of introducing to the “parent country,” the Canadian gin [crane] for raising large logs of timber; and the Canadian truck or cart for raising and carrying off large burdens. (The Canadian gin had been used to raise the timber in building Notre Dame Church). Suggestions were referred to the “Cahot committee.”
30 December: William Boston submitted specimens of a paint pigment, and a paper descriptive of its qualities and use. “The paper was held in retentis.” (His submission may have been inspired by William Green, who had submitted a paint specimen to the Literary and Historical Society in Quebec City, and had been awarded a prize by the British Society of Arts and Manufacture.)
William Shand promised to furnish a paper and drafts relative to the Canadian gin and truck cart.
6 January: Aaron Philip Hart, lawyer, presented an improved scuttle pipe. It was unanimously agreed to.
Joseph Clark read an essay on “Progress of the Arts.”
Mr. Esson gave a sketch on the manner in which the Society could direct its attention.
13 January: William Boston donated four copies of Nicholson’s Journal [Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts].
20 January: Aaron Philip Hart read on essay on “Prison Discipline,” to which there were many comments. It was read again 31 March 1829.
27 January: William Ayers [Ayres], painter, read from the American Mechanics magazine, published by the Franklin Institute, about a baking machine to obviate the unseemly practice of immersing hands and arms in the material in preparation of bread. Mr. Ayers said he had completed a model of a machine to the end proposed, and sought a committee to examine it. Committee appointed: Clarke; James Poet, turner; Teavill Appleton; John Cliff, builder/architect; Joseph Russell Bronsdon, builder/fireman.
31 March: (Dr.) A. J. Christie, MMI corresponding member, military and civilian doctor at Bytown during the building of the Rideau Canal, editor of the Bytown Gazette, and former editor of the Montreal Herald and the Montreal Gazette, donated Linnaeus’ The System of Nature.
29 March: Joseph Clark read an essay on “The Excellence and Utility of the Arts.”
A committee was appointed to devise the best means of carrying out the course of education prescribed in the Constitution: Louis Gugy, MMI president, and sheriff of Montreal; Horatio Gates, merchant, and MMI vice-president; William Shand; Aaron P. Hart; Charles Wand, builder; Robert Cleghorn, garden nursery owner; George Holman, navigator; the Rev. Henry Esson; John Molson, industrialist; Clarke; William Holwell; William Boston; George Gray, furniture maker; Howson; Warwick; William Buchanan.
31 March: Mr. Sinnott suggested an improvement for brickmaking. Committee appointed to examine and report thereon: Messrs Clarke, Stevenson, Ayers, Cooper, Wand.
7 April: James Cooper, joiner, suggested a Canadian window & door.
14 April: A Query Book was set up, in order for members to suggest topics for discussion.
A further explanation was requested on Mr. Bronsdon’s report respecting Mr. Ayers’ invention of baking machine.
Alexander Stevenson read an essay on “Nature and Culture of Lucerne.”
James Cooper presented a [plan of an apparatus] for boiling grain, feeding cattle, heating water etc., and read an explanation of same. Referred to Committee of Management for consideration.
21 April: A secret committee had investigated the merits of William Holwell’s model of a new type of steam valve, and this report was received and read. Mr. Holwell deposited the model with MMI. A copy of it would be sent to England, along with a copy of the report.
28 April: Alexander Stevenson suggested a subject for discussion at the next meeting: “What is the reason why the rivers running southward have not the abrupt rapids that exist in those that run in a northerly direction?”
5 May: The Rev. Esson suggested a discussion subject: “What are the peculiar advantages to be obtained from mechanicsí institutes in the existing state of society in this part of the world?”
William Ayers suggested a Query: “What is the cause of water spouts in seas, lakes and rivers?”
12 May: Subjects for conversation at weekly meetings were to be made public in city newspapers so that members could be acquainted thereon.
William J. Spence, printer, submitted an improvement for supplying ink for the type used in the printing press. Committee to examine and report: William Boston; Clarke; Alexander Stevenson; Robert Armour, merchant/printer; William Holwell. (This inking machine later went into commercial production.)
26 May: William Holwell proposed an improvement in the construction of watch keys. He was requested to furnish a plan and description.
James Cooper asked, “Has it ever been published to the world which is the best way of cutting timber into planks and board to promote strength, durability and elegance for all the particular purposes of joiners and cabinet work? As it is generally known that almost all the evils arising from contracting, splitting and twisting of boards and planks is through mis-management in cutting them out of the log.”
Question was entered into the Query Book.
28 July: Aaron Philip Hart said he would deliver an essay on “The Discovery and Progress of Architecture.” [It was never delivered.]
William Satchwell Leney, engraver, was awarded a life membership for his gift of a copper plate for Institute cards. He donated Manual on Museum Français; Lives and Works of the Most Celebrated Painters; by Mr. Maclean, Companion to the Glasgow Botanic Garden.
29 September: Lucius L. Solomons donated a box containing “several specimens of mineralogy, also an analysis of Saratoga Water.”
6 October: James Cooper presented two pieces of timber and gave his opinion of each, further to his query of 26 May. He was requested to give his opinion in writing.
13 October: James Cooper submitted a Query: “What would be the advantages of a Rail Road between the town of Montreal and the best stone quarry in its vicinity that would supply the demands for building, exportation, roads and all other public works. What would be the probable expense of constructing it in the best manner and what would be the best course to pursue in the execution of all the various parts of the work to promote the interests of this town and the province in general?” Ordered to be entered into book as Query No. 8.
20 October: Corresponding member Thomas O’Neill (O’Neil) of Boncher Pointe, Bonnechere Township, Upper Canada, donated natural history specimens.
15 December: Alexander Stevenson read an “Essay on Pure Lime.”
Report on the sub-committee on Mr. Cooper’s apparatus for boiling grain or feeding milk cows and other cattle was handed in from the Committee of Management.
22 December: Alexander Stevenson read a continuation of his answer to Query No. 3, being “Essay on the Impurities of Lime (Hydraulic Mortar).”
29 December: Benjamin Workman, teacher, and Robert Armour, Jr., lawyer, from the Natural History Society appeared. They noted that out of a NHS grant from the Provincial Parliament, £20 was directed to be spent for the purchase of Philosophical Instruments. That sum being inadequate, Andrew F. Holmes, M D., Professor of Chemistry in the University of McGill College, had kindly volunteered to deliver a course of popular lectures on Chemistry, illustrated by experiments, in aid of the instrument fund. The NHS had accepted this offer and had fixed the admission for its members and those of its sister institution the Mechanics Institution at 10p. Gentlemen not associated with either institution would be charged 15p, and ladies at 7p5. The MMI meeting agreed to this proposal.
Alexander Stevenson announced an “Essay on Gypsum (Selenite).”
Robert Armour submitted a Query: “To Whom is the Palm of Merit mostly due for their Eminence in the Arts and Sciences, the Ancients or the Moderns?”
5 January: Robert Cleghorn presented to MMI a Register of Meteorological Observations, taken at his Blinkbonny Gardens for the year 1829.
15 January: Dr. A. F. Holmes offered the use of his cabinet of minerals for the gentleman about to give a course of lectures on Materials for Building.
19 January: Joseph Clark read an “Essay on Principles of Architecture.”
26 January: J. T. Gaudet presented a box, send by corresponding member Richard Power, containing a shell snail from the farm of Commissary Forbes at Carillon on the River Ottawa.
Mr. T. French donated a large red-crested woodpecker, or poule du bois.
2 February: Henry Johnson and William Smaille presented to MMI several very beautiful specimens of [sphene school] black lead [graphite] from the Plumbago mine in the Township of Chatham, Lower Canada.
Alexander Stevenson laid before the meeting a plan of a winter carriage referred to in his previous essay on Cahots.
16 February: Alexander Stevenson presented a letter from Donald Livingston, Esq., DPS of Land, Mount Johnson, containing a solution to lawyer James R. Pomainville’s Query No. 9.
William Spence applied to the Institution for a certificate relative to the improvement he has made for the distribution of ink to the printing press. Said application referred to the sub-committee appointed to investigate its merits.
9 March: “The report of the sub-committee appointed (in May last) to examine the improvement by W. J. Spence in the hand printing press for the distribution of ink etc was made to the meeting.”
Page 11 _ Canada Patents 1824
[On December 19th 1829, W. J. Spence had obtained the 9th patent ever issued in Canada, for “a machine for distributing ink over printing types.” On May 31, 1830, a contract was notarized at the office of George D. Arnoldi for John Fellows, blacksmith (also an MMI member) to produce the inking machine of William John Spence.]
George Holman read an answer to lawyer J. R. Pomainville's Query No. 9 from “a friend in the country. The opinion was that the answer is a general application to isosceles right-angled triangles but is not in point with respect to the proposed triangle.”
16 March: Donald Livingston presented an answer to J. R. Pomainville’s Query No. 9 from John P. Johnson of the Cote near the Tannery.
23 March: Samuel Joseph of St. Jacques, Township of Rawdon, donated a specimen of mineralogy.
30 March: Willard Ferdinand Wentzel, retired furtrader, donated a specimen of claystone from Nipigon to the northward of Lake Superior, also a piece of spunt or Indian tinder.
13 April: A paper was handed in by William Boston concerning the mechanical construction of a fireproof safe “apparently invented by John Scott.” Mr. Boston recommended that a sub-committee be appointed to examine it. It was referred to the Committee of Management to appoint a review committee.
24 June: James Cooper invited members to examine a geometrical staircase at his dwelling.
6 July: David Hollinger presented eight specimens of minerals from the Falls at Niagara and its vicinity.
13 July: Samuel Joseph, tobacconist and merchant, donated an Indian carved pipe in the form of a monkey. Charles Lamontagne donated a specimen of talc. A curious stone and two handsome specimens of gum copal were presented by William Ayers. A remarkable handsome knot from the butternut tree was presented by James Allison.
James Allison, land agent, reported that there were in his opinion about 140 members of MMI. By donations and deposits, many valuable works had been added to the library; about 600 specimens were in the museum; plus valuable specimens of the mineral kingdom, and other curiosities.
17 August: Thomas A. Starke, printer/ bookstore owner, donated six books: Scott’s Mechanics’ Magazine; Marly, or A Planterís Life in Jamaica; J. J. Griffin, A Practical Treatise on the use of the Blowpipe; W. M. Wade, The History of Glasgow, Ancient and Modern; William Paley, Natural Theology.
James Snedden donated a petrified snake.
31 August: Thomas O’Neill donated the skull, tail, hind foot, forefoot and smellows of a beaver; a hummingbird; velvet buds of deer horn.
7th September: John James Williams donated two books, one 287 years old and the other 190 years old, plus eight ancient coins.
21 December: James Allison donated part of an elk’s horn taken out of the Ottawa River.
26 January (second anniversary meeting): President Louis Gugy was not in attendance, but sent a donation of six books on Experimental Philosophy.
Benjamin Workman, teacher, offered to give a few discussions on Practical Geometry to any members of the Institution who choose to attend them.
Benjamin Workman gave a report of the Committee of Management on the progress of the Institution.
A vote of thanks was proposed to (teacher) Mrs. James Huddell for the donation of “a great Natural Curiosity.”
1 February: Corresponding member Samuel Hudson, machinist, “gave an interesting explanation of the method of hardening steel, partly in answer to Query No. 12 entered by Henry Johnson.”
Samuel Hudson gave his opinion re Query No. 5 by Alexander Stevenson, “What is the reason why the rivers running southward have not the abrupt rapids as those running in a northerly direction?” Answer: “The rocks generally incline to the southward and water running in that direction forms an incline plane, but running in a contrary direction, it falls abruptly over the edge of the rocks.”
22 February: Joseph Andrews, master builder, gave mahogany compasses and John White gave Coopers compasses to assist Benjamin Workman in his course of lectures.
George Holman said that James Matthews [millwright, Niagara?] intended to lay before the Institution a model of a bridge for their inspection and asked for a sub-committee to examine its merits. Committee appointed: Joseph Clark, William Shand, Joseph R. Bronsdon; J. Andrews; John Fellow(s); John Redpath; William Lauder, builder; Samuel Hudson; Lieut. William Bradford, 8th Regiment.
29 March: The corresponding secretary read a letter from James Matthews on the subject of his model of a bridge left for the inspection of the members some time past.
Query No. 14 by Samuel Hudson was read. Joshua Woodhouse, grocer, gave his opinion: “That in the day the ray of the sun causes the water to expand and becomes impregnated with the common air. Consequently, the water is lighter in the daytime than at night and does not condense the steam so quick in the daylight as at night.”
5 April: Alexander Stevenson read a paper in answer to Query No. 9. He requested that a sub-committee be appointed to examine the same and report thereon.
12 April: Thanks given to Robert Cleghorn of Blink Bonny Gardens in the vicinity of Montreal for his neat and useful Diary of the Weather for the Year 1830.
Received from James Teacher of Lachine, an answer to Query No. 9. Referred to sub-committee.
Donation by George Holman of a piece of lace bark from the Island of Jamaica in the West Indies.
19 April: Messrs Douglas and Wilkinson gave front piece of American military cap, a georget and part of a bayonet, dug up by a plough in Chateauguay where ìthe Americans were defeated in the last war.î
26 April: Alexander Stevenson reported that he had received a solution on Query No. 9 in algebraic characters and that he had delivered it to Benjamin Workman for examination and had requested him to lay the same before the Managing Committee for it to be referred to the Sub-Committee according to the usual form.
Donation received from Mr. Allen of Cote à Baron, a potato of curious growth, having a piece of iron attached to it.
William Boston donated a book on Turning; a Land Steward’s Guide; and an ancient Roman coin of the reign of Emperor Commodus who began his reign in AD 180.
3 May: Plan of Mr. Dow’s bridge referred to the Managing Committee.
7 June: Received from (Dr.) A. J. Christie a box containing specimens of materials used in construction of the Public Works in the Rideau Canal: stone used at Cataraqui, Jones’ Falls, Davis’ Falls, Smiths Falls; natural stone found at Davis’ Falls; specimens of pyrites found near Old Slicers on the Rideau River, Bytown 28 May 1831.
Donation by James Allison of a number of natural curiosities collectd by him on a tour through Upper Canada.
6 December: Donation by James Allison of a petrified turtle from a young lady.
Lewis Betts, engineer, donated a book containing views of the Liverpool Railroad.
William Holwell donated a book by Dr. Brewster, On the Kaleidoscope.
10 January: Robert McGinnis donated a Greek & Latin Testament.
24 January: Alexander Stevenson donated specimens and curiosities taken by him from different excavations through Point à Moulin near the Cedars, Upper Canada.
A number of specimens of minerals from Saxony were presented by James Allison from J.-M. Arnault, machinist, of Montreal.
21 September: Meeting called to investigate merits of a plan said to be an improvement on the present work of propelling steamboats. Present: Louis Gugy, William Boston, Alexander Stevenson, Samuel Hudson; Lewis Betts; James Cooper, John Whitelaw, carpenter; James Poet, turner.
“Resolved that model now exhibited by Mr. John Pigott [Piggot] of 3 Rivers offers in principle much simplicity and some novelty and bids fair to overcome in its future application the principle of acknowledged objections against the work of propelling steam engines now in general use, to wit, by paddle wheels, and such as a valuable improvement in the application of power, is highly deserving the approbation and encouragement of this Institution.
“Wherefore the Society hereby recommends the inventor and his plan to the attention of all persons or Societies having mechanical improvements for their principal objective.
“Resolved secondly that Mr. John Pigott be requested to furnish this Society with a plan, elevation and specifications of his said invention.”
“The Society as a tribute to the considered merit of the said plan awarded Mr. Pigott with the sum of Thirty Dollars.”
Alexander Stevenson donated the skeleton of a frog.
30 January: Received a model of bridge and three plans of bridges from James Porteous, Esq. of St. Therese, corresponding member, by hands of William Boston.
5 February: James Cooper delivered remarks upon the injurious effects of the frost on stone foundations of wooden houses, walls, etc, and effectual work of preventing the same. He was requested to give same in writing.
26 February: James Cooper presented in writing a mode of securing the foundations of buildings from the injurious effects of frost.
5 March: Alexander Skakel, schoolmaster, prepared to deliver first of a course of lectures to MIM members on 12th March at his own rooms. “Declines remuneration, but allows the Society to sell tickets if they think proper, to those who are not members, but expects that a sum of money will be expenses for models of machinery etc equal to the value of his services, which models shall belong to the Society, of which he will be entitled to the use until required.”
Resolved that tickets to persons shall be 1/3 to each lecture. Members’ families and apprentices to be admitted gratis.
Resolved, Public to be notified in the public journals of the city. 100 tickets to be printed.
19 March: Book purchase: History of the Power of Steam
26 March: Book donations from :William Holwell Howson; Clarke; and John Dougall, Cabinet of Art and Arcana of Science.
4 June: Book donation from Shannon Peet, late of Boston: Cobbett’s Grammar.
26 November: “The members present (as well also in concurrence with the recommendations of the Committee of Management) having taken into consideration the propriety of establishing a School for the Instruction of the sons and the apprentices of the members have resolved to commence the same (if possible) on Wednesday evening the 4th of December next at 7 o’clock in the evening, and that the members generally be apprised of the same through the public journals of this city. And a suitable advertisement be prepared by the sub-committee that was chosen on the 25th Inst. to devise the best mode of establishing the said school.”
3 December: A report from the sub-committee appointed for devising the best means for establishing an evening school was handed to the chairman and read. When some objections were made by the members present, a portion of the said report was returned to the said sub-committee for alteration.
Moved that advertisements be immediately prepared and inserted in the Montreal Herald, Courant and Gazette newspapers, apprising the members generally that the School will open on Wednesday Evening, the 19th Inst at 7 o’clock.
10 December: John Durie, teacher, allowed use of one room for a day school, provided he will devote two hours of his time each of the evenings that he may be required in his capacity as Teacher to instruct the sons and apprentices of the Members of this Institution.
The School sub-committee reported they had reason to hope there would be about 15 of the sons and apprentices of the members at the commencement of the Evening School tomorrow Wednesday evening at 7 oíclock.
17 December: Committee of Managers agreed last evening that the School sub-committee should be empowered to engage a competent master to teach the sons and apprentices the art of drawing.
Thomas Mitchell, teacher, offers to teach a course of lectures on Political Economy. Members to be apprised by advertisements in the public journals, inviting them, their sons and apprentices.
24 December: John Cliff was appointed Drawing Master to the Institution. School shall be open Monday evening, 30th December, and shall continue open every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings at 7 o’clock.
James Allison and Joshua Woodhouse met with the Hon. Louis-Joseph Papineau. “The Honorable Gentleman proposed the following query which he requested should be recommended to the serious consideration of the Institution, viz. Could the united ingenuity of the Members of the MMI invent a method to warm houses and public buildings in Canada from a cheaper, cleaner and in all respects a better plan than the present mode with stoves.”
10 January: John Redpath donated 60 numbers of the Repertory of Inventions, published in London.
Thomas Mitchell, Esq. gave lecture on Political Economy.
21 January: Horatio Carter (chemist/pharmacist) donated 13 numbers of the Verulum, six numbers of The Guide to Knowledge; and the Penny Magazine, all published in London.
28 January: Horatio Carter gave a preliminary lecture on Chemistry. Crowded audience. Next lecture scheduled for the following Tuesday.
11 February: Robert Cleghorn was thanked for his diary of the weather, 1832 and 1833.
J. Rattray, tobacconist, donated book, Scientific Irrigation.
Horatio Carter was thanked for two lectures: “General Principles of Chemistry” and the “Nature and Properties of the [Blow Pipe] Oxy Hydrogen Gas.”
Thomas Mitchell gave lecture on Political Economy.
18 February: Horatio Carter to purchase, in London, books and apparatus for MMI. Money donated by Gillespie, Moffat & Co.
25 February: Dr. William Primrose-Smith gave 116 numbers of Dictionary of Mechanical Science, the completion of the work.
George Bernard, livery stable keeper, submitted for inspection and approval or disapproval, models of two-wheel carriages, said to be an entirely new principle. Sub-committee appointed: Joshua Woodhouse, James Cooper, Teavill Appleton, John Cliff; George Garth, plumber.
18 March: Sub-Committee reported “somewhat favourably” on Mr. Bernard’s models of carts.
10 February: A committee of James Poet, John Cliff and James Allison were appointed to make enquiries for suitable rooms for the accommodation from May 1, 1835, and that they report to the Committee of Managers as early as possible.
Alexander Stevenson donated two Indian spearheads found by him at the Seignory of Beauharnois.
17th March: Treasurer John White reported he had effected insurance at the Phoenix Fire Office on the property of the MM Institution to the amount of Two Hundred Pounds for one year, at ten shillings and sixpence per one hundred pounds.
24 March: (Annual Meeting): “Resolved that a permanent committee be appointed to take the necessary steps for establishing as soon as possible an elementary school in conformity with the constitution and bylaws.”
7th April: [Last item of business recorded in the minutes of the MMI]: “Resolved that the present meeting recommends to the Committee of Managers to consider of the propriety of having the letter S added to the word Mechanic to the engraved Plate used for striking off the Cards of the Institution.”
Archives of the Atwater Library and Computer Centre
Kuntz, Harry, The Educational Work of the Two Montreal Mechanics Institutes," (master’s thesis), Concordia University, 1993;
Kuntz, Harry, “The Montreal Library 1796-1843,” unpublished essay.
Mackey, Frank, Steamboat Connections
Passfield, Robert, Building the Rideau Canall
Tolchinsky, Gerald, River Barons
Historical Atlas of Canada, Online Learning Project, “The Printed World 1752-1900”
List of Canadian Patents from 1824
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
History of the Book in Canada
January 27th, 2010 §
The danger to Montreal's historic New City Gas Company building near Griffintown that was represented by a proposed new high-traffic bus corridor to the South Shore, has perhaps been averted by changes announced by City of Montreal in May 2010. The building--now an art studio-- would have been pounded to death by constant vibrations from the buses, said experts consulted by Heritage Montreal.
The 149-year-0ld gas company building was designed by architect John Ostell. Construction began in 1859 and was completed in 1861, making it one of the oldest factory buildings in Montreal. The company burned coke to produce the gas that was used to light Montreal's streets before the advent of electricity.
Architect John Ostell was also a long-time member of the Mechanics' Institute, and was its president in 1845-46. This organization (now the Atwater Library and Computer Centre) has a long history with New City Gas, starting in February 1848 when New City Gas supplied gas gratis for the Institute’s annual Mechanics’ Festival. It then began supplying gas for lighting the Institute’s rented rooms.
When the Mechanics' Institute moved in 1855 into its brand-new Mechanics Hall at the corner of St. Peter and St. James streets, New City Gas supplied gas for the lighting. (Non-functioning) gas light fixtures still grace the walls of the upper floor of the current Atwater Library building that was completed in 1920.
First street lighting in 1816
Montreal's first street lights were whale oil lamps, installed in 1816 front of stores along the west end of St. Paul Street, the city's main commercial street. Proprietors along the east end of the street lighted up a month later. Within a short time, oil lights were installed on Notre Dame Street, at a cost of $7 each. Men were hired to light the lamps each night, keep them supplied with oil, and extinguish them in the morning. Initially the costs were born by private citizens, but city authorities began to assume the costs in 1818. Not until 1837 did kerosene replace the nauseating smell of the of whale oil from the lamps.
First gas company in 1836
The parliament of Lower Canada passed legislation in 1836 to form the Montreal Gas Light Company. Among the many interested parties to the incorporation of that first company were active members of the Mechanics’ Institute, including civil engineer Moses Judah Hays, businessman François-Antoine LaRocque, printer Robert Armour and his son lawyer Robert Armour Jr., banker C. H. Castle, brewer William Dow, builder Joseph R. Bronsdon and contractor John Redpath. Manager was Albert Furniss.
By 1840, the sole shareholders of the company were Furniss (who by then owned half the shares), and businessmen Joseph Masson, Hugh Robertson and John Strang. In August and September 1840, Mr. Furniss negotiated with the Mechanics' Institute to "introduce the gas and and lay the fittings at his own expense," into the rented rooms of the Institute, after which there would be a £1 annual rate for rental of the fittings, plus charges for supplying the gas.
In 1841, Albert Furniss went on--with backing by Joseph Masson--to set up the City of Toronto Gas Light and Water Company, though he retained an interest in the Montreal company.
New company formed
In 1847, New City Gas Company was formed in competition to the Montreal Gas Light Company. Directors of the new company included businessman James Ferrier, soap and candle manufacturer John Mathewson and hardware merchant Henry Mulholland--all Mechanics’ Institute members. In 1850, John Ostell become a director of New City Gas, and was its president 1860-65.
New City Gas evolved in Royal Electric Company, then Montreal Light, Heat & Power, and latterly into Gaz Métropolitain.
(Adapted from an article that appeared in the Westmount Independent, April 2009)
Minutes, Mechanics' Institute of Montreal
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: Joseph Masson, John Ostell
Prevost, Robert. Montreal, A History
Website: Industrial Architecture of Montreal
January 27th, 2010 §
Shorthand was first used in the civil courts of Montreal by Mr. M. Hutchinson of the law firm Macmaster, Hutchinson & Weir, according to an 1883 letter in the archives of the Atwater Library and Computer Centre.
The letter, from James Henry Browning of Carter & Carter, Advocates, 131 St. James Street, is dated 9 June 1883 and is addressed to John Harper, Esq., Chairman of Lecture and Class Committee, Mechanics Hall. Mr. Browning, who had taught a course in shorthand at the Mechanics' Institute, suggests that Mr. Hutchinson be one of the course examiners because he was "the first to ply the vocation of Shorthand Writing in the Civil Courts of this district."
Shorthand, or phonography as it was called in earlier years, was first taught at the Mechanics' Institute of Montreal in 1846, using the system developed by Isaac Pitman in England in 1837.
Pitman's system had quickly become the most popular of those developed during the first part of the 18th century in England from much earlier systems, all of which had recorded sounds rather than letters. The use of phonography was accelerated in the early 19th century when it became legal to report House of Commons proceedings, an advance that happened at about the same time as improved printing presses allowed for the rapid circulation of newspapers.
Among those who had mastered a form of phonography was Charles Dickens who, prior to becoming an idolized writer had, at the age of 18, followed in his father's footsteps and become highly skilled in the art. This allowed him, like his father before him, to gain admittance as a reporter to the gallery of the House of Commons in 1831. Dickens visited Montreal in 1842 while on a North American speaking tour, and just four years later those first phonography courses were offered in the city.
(Adapted from an article in the Westmount Independent, January 20-21, 2009)
Atwater Library and Computer Centre archives
Leacock, Stephen. Charles Dickens, His Life and Work. Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2004
January 27th, 2010 §
The Jewish community has been an integral part of Quebec society for two and a half centuries but few people are aware of it, according to Dr. Victor Goldbloom in a letter to the editor in The Gazette of April 10, 2009.
The Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal (now the Atwater Library and Computer Centre) doesn’t go back that far, but an examination of its records going back to 1828 reveals that the closely-knit Jewish community, then numbering about 100, began participating in Institute activities more than 180 years ago.
Aaron Philip Hart was to become a prominent and controversial lawyer in Montreal. As a youth in 1824-25, he attended the Montreal Academical Institution, owned by the Rev. Henry Esson, founder of the Montreal Mechanics' Institution. As an MMI member in January 1829, Aaron Hart read an essay on “Prison Discipline”—while still only 17 years old (as verified in a Hart family bible). In July 1829, he announced to the weekly meeting that he would read an “Essay on the Discovery and Progress of Architecture” at the next meeting. However, by September 1, he had not yet produced the essay, and the Secretary was asked to ascertain by letter whether Mr. Hart intended delivering the essay and when. Mr. Hart replied by letter, and on September 15 he was chastised for his letter “so derogatory to the dignity of the Institution.” The MMI minutes then note, “Mr. Hart, after speaking a few words, took farewell leave of the Society.” The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says that he was “imbued with both panache and hot-headedness.”
According to one source, Aaron Hart was the owner of the first winner of the King's Plate in Trois-Rivières in 1836 (foreunner of the Queen's Plate in Toronto).
During the 1837-38 rebellions, Aaron Hart took time out from his law practice to raise recruits and serve as an officer in a loyalist militia regiment, along with many of his extended family. Then, at age 27 and in company with Lewis Thomas Drummond, he defended the 12 Patriotes on trial for their lives for their actions during the rebellions. Ten of the twelve were condemned to death. In their final appeal, which fell on deaf ears, Hart and Drummond said that, in their opinion, “the proceedings followed in regard to the prisoners were illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust.”
By 1841, he evidently thought better of having walked out of the Mechanics’ Institute. The April minutes report his lectures on “Vegetable Physiology” and on “St. Jean d’Acre from its earliest history down to the recent destruction of its forts, impregnable to all but British valour.” The minutes continue, “We may also state the generous intention of that talented gentleman to devote the profits arising from a pamphlet published by him on the latter subject to the Institute.”
Joseph family. Samuel Joseph was a young man of 26 when he joined MMI. He was based primarily in Berthier-en-haut (now Berthierville) where he was running family enterprises, and his father Henry Joseph had extensive businesses in Montreal. Having become an MMI member on July 7, 1829, Samuel Joseph chaired a meeting on July 21, and the following year he donated to the MMI museum an Indian carved pipe in the form of a monkey—at which time his address was listed as St. Jacques. Tragedy struck in 1832, when Samuel was stricken with cholera in Berthier. His father rushed home to be by his side, but was too late; Samuel died on June 15. His father too was stricken with the disease and died on June 18, 1832.
About 1840, another of Henry Joseph’s sons, Jesse Joseph, commissioned Mechanics’ Institute member architect James Springle to build a series of warehouses at 386 Lemoyne, one of which has recently been declared a National Historic Initiative site, and the building will be turned into luxury condominiums.
Samuel Joseph’s sister married Rev. Abraham de Sola in 1852. His brother Jacob Henry Joseph became a life member of MIM in 1867.
Hays family (Hayes). Moses Judah Hays was a man of extraordinary energy and enterprise, had a sense of civic duty, and he had rotten luck. Born in Montreal in 1789 into the successful Andrew Hays family, he entered the Royal Engineers in 1814, but soon resigned to become involved in family enterprises.
He joined the fledgling Montreal Mechanics’ Institution in 1829 where he played a small but continuing role. When it was organized as the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal in 1840, he acted as auditor for the election of the new officers, and soon afterwards became a life member. In the MIM guestbook, his name is listed as host in 1854 for Mr. G. Thompson of New York.
A cousin in Philadelphia, the renowned ophthalmologist and editor Dr. Isaac Hays, was a founder and long-time secretary of the Franklin Institute, which had similar aims to those of the mechanics institutes. Dr. Hays was proposed as an MMI corresponding member in September 1829 by Aaron Philip Hart and ordnance officer William Holwell. On November 26, 1829, Dr. Hays donated a copy of the “Constitution and Laws of the Montreal Mechanics Institute” to the Franklin Institute. There was continuing communication between the two organizations.
In 1830, with the help of the influential Peter McGill, Moses Hays was successful in raising money in England to purchase and upgrade the Montreal Water Works Company. A man of practical vision, he petitioned Parliament in 1831 to run a ferry from Montreal to St. Helen’s Island and then a bridge to Longueuil, but was refused—it was 29 years before the much more elaborate Victoria Bridge project was completed--which more than achieved the efficiencies he had anticipated
In the mid-1830s, Moses Hays was made a judge of the Court of Special Sessions, a position he held until 1840. He helped to establish the Hebrew Philanthropic Society in 1847 to assist Jewish immigrants arriving from Germany. He held the office of sword bearer in the Masonic Provincial Grand Lodge. The owner of a farm in what is now Westmount, he was president of the County of Montreal Agricultural Society 1846-51. On part of that property, he built Metcalfe Terrace: a group of four houses, of which two still exist, Nos. 168 and 178 on Cote St. Antoine Road; according to Aline Gubbay, they were originally built to house part of the Governor-General's staff--his residence being Monklands, now the Villa Maria school.
In 1845, the Corporation of the City of Montreal bought Moses Hays’ Montreal Water Works. Two years later, in the major project of his life, he built the Hays Block in tony Dalhousie Square. It housed a shopping area, a fashionable hotel and a comfortable theatre that could seat 1,500. In 1852, the result of a hot spell and poor municipal planning, a terrible fire broke out, which destroyed 1,100 homes in Montreal, along with the Hays Block.
Moses Hays was financially ruined. But later that year, he was appointed Montreal’s Chief of Police, a position he held until his death in 1861.
Solomons Family. Lucius L. Solomons, son of a prominent furtrader, was proposed as a member of Montreal Mechanics’ Institution in 1829 by Samuel Joseph and turner James Poet. In September 1829, he donated a “box containing several specimens of mineralogy, also an analysis of the Saratoga Water.” Solomon Solomons became an MIM member in December 1840; perhaps he was a relative of Lucius Solomons.
Samuel(s) Family. Little of the Samuels family is revealed through the MIM minutes. These men may have been related: Arthur Samuels and Steven Samuels joined MIM in 1841. Mark Samuel became a first class member in 1855 (the same year as Alexander Levy). Henry Samuel became a 3rd class member (apprentice furrier) in September 1869; J. Samuel became a 2nd class member [journeyman] on April 11, 1870.
Levy Family. Baltimore, Maryland resident James Levy was elected a corresponding member in August 1930. In 1855, Alexander Levy became a first class member of MIM, followed by Henry Levy in 1859 as a 3rd class (apprentice) member.
De Sola Family. The Rev. Abraham de Sola arrived in Montreal from England in 1847, at the age of 21, to take up duties as rabbi for the Corporation of Portuguese Jews of Montreal. He was to hold this position for 36 years.
Born into a prominent London rabbinical family with roots in Spain and Portugal, Abraham de Sola early on gained international recognition for his writings on Eastern languages and literature, and on Jewish history and scripture. The year after his arrival in Montreal, he was appointed lecturer in Hebrew & Oriental languages at McGill, and in 1853 was made professor. An active member of English Montreal’s intellectual community, he gave talks at many organizations, including the Mercantile Library and the Numismatic & Antiquarian Society. He collaborated with Sir William Logan and Sir William Dawson in the work of the Natural History Society.
He spoke several times at the Mechanics’ Institute, including in 1851 on “The Ancient Hebrews as Promoters of the Arts and Sciences,” and in 1856 on “The Arts and Sciences among the Ancient Jews.” He was awarded a life member of MIM.
In 1872, at the age of 46, he was asked by the U.S. government to deliver the opening prayer for that year’s session of the U. S. Congress, the first non-US citizen and the first non-Christian to perform that ceremony.
Two of his sons, Meldola and Clarence, became members of the Mechanics’ Institute.
Meldola de Sola, who later succeeded his father as rabbi, joined MIM in September 1872, and among those signed in as his guests in the 1870s and 1880s were E. P. Cohen of Philadelphia, S. Belain and James Davies of New York, and the Rev. H. P. Mendes.
Clarence de Sola became a successful Montreal businessman active in large construction projects, and served as Belgian consul in Montreal beginning in 1905. In 1880, along with Maxwell Goldstein (later the first president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies), Clarence de Sola, then 22 years old, was active in MIM’s Literary and Debating group. The MIM guest book lists Percy David as his guest on December 28, 1890. His substantial home, at 1380 Pine Avenue, still exists.
Women pupils. The first female pupil recorded in the MIM minutes was Isabella Sternberg. She joined MIM in 1869 as a third class (pupil) member, and it is likely that she was registered in one of the architectural, mechanical and ornamental drawing classes then offered at the Institute. She was followed in 1870 by Miss Carry Lazarus, Miss Himes, Miss K. Franklin and Miss P. Teichman (all 3rd class members—i.e, under 21 or apprentice/pupil).
(Acknowledgement: With thanks to Anne Joseph, chronicler of the Joseph family, for reviewing this article.)
(Adapted from an article that appeared in Quebec Heritage News, July-August 2009)
Archives of the Atwater Library and Computer Centre
Gubbay, Aline, Monteal, the Mountain and the River. Trillium Books, 1981.
Kuntz, Harry, "The Educational Work of the Two Montreal Mechanics Institutes," (master’s thesis), Concordia University, 1993;
King, Joe. From the Ghetto to the Main: The Story of the Jews of Montreal. Montreal: The Montreal Jewish Publications Society, 2000
Sinclair, Bruce. Philadelphia's Philosopher Mechanics. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.
January 27th, 2010 §
Rev Henry Esson by James Duncan (Presbyterian Church of Canada No. G-16-FC)
In early 1817, a letter was received at Marischal College in Aberdeen from the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Montreal, asking that a clergyman ordained in the Church of Scotland be sent to Canada to assist in the Montreal church, known popularly as the St. Gabriel Street Church. The salary offered was £400, a goodly sum at the time.
The man chosen for the job was Henry Esson, born in 1793, son of a respected Aberdeenshire farmer. In 1807, he had entered Marischal College in Aberdeen, winning prizes for academic excellence and graduating in 1811. He earned an MA. He was ordained in the Church of Scotland in May 1817, arriving in Canada in the fall of 1817 at the age of 24. After a few years, he replaced the incumbent minister, and in all remained at the St. Gabriel Street Church for 27 years.
One of the intellectual leaders of Montreal, idealist, scholar and sparkling conversationalist, the Rev. Esson was not afraid of controversy. He was a vocal proponent for recognition of the Presbyterian Church as an established church in Canada, in order to gain for the Presbyterians a share in the revenues from the extensive lands called Clergy Reserves that had been established in 1791 in Upper and Lower Canada.
Of major importance in the development of education in Canada were his efforts over a period of years against the continuation of McGill College as an exclusively Anglican preserve, and he stood up for the rights of the Church of Scotland to share in directing the schools in the province and in furnishing them with teachers. The Rev. J. S. S. Armour, minister emeritus at Montreal’s Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, comments: “Without Esson, there might have been no William Dawson at McGill nor, I think, the highly successful High School of Montreal. The fact that both institutions were decidedly Scottish in outlook might also be to Esson’s credit.”
One of Esson’s projects was the establishment in 1822 of the Montreal Academical Institution. In this he was assisted between 1822 and 1827 by the Rev. Hugh Urquhart, and it became a successful private school catering mainly to the English-speaking Montreal establishment. By the end of 1823, the school had 79 pupils, 58 of them studying the classics. Among the pupils in the school were Henry Starnes who was mayor of Montreal in the 1850s; and Aaron Phillip Hart, who became a prominent lawyer. Another pupil for a time was Amédée Papineau, son of Louis -Joseph Papineau, who attended the school in 1828. He notes in Souvenirs de jeunesse 1822-1837 that it was at the Esson school that he took his first lessons in French --studying Fenelon’s Télémaque. (Amédée had previously gone to Miss Waller’s school until she died.)
In 1829, Esson published A sketch of the system of education and course of study pursued in the Montreal Academical Institution. His school closed in 1832, the year of the first cholera epidemic and also of a controversial riot that was a precursor to the 1837-38 Rebellions.
Montreal Mechanics’ Institution
In 1828, the Rev. Esson was the founder and guiding light of another learning institution, one which subsequently had a lasting impact on adult education in Montreal: the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution, which continues to thrive today, 180 years later, as the Atwater Library and Computer Centre.
Esson’s vision for the institute was formed by his sense of Canada’s need to progress into the future. He perceived that the apprenticeship system was breaking down in Montreal as it was in Scotland and England, and that there was a resulting need to educate young Canadian-born workers, as well as the young immigrants flooding into Montreal. At that time, there was no educational facility in Montreal where young men could learn the arithmetic, geometry and drawing skills needed to work effectively in the evolving building trades and in the newly emerging factories.
Henry Esson based his proposed model on ideas that had evolved in Scotland in the early 19th century and which had become formalized in the Mechanics’ Institute established in London in 1823. He called a meeting at his home on November 21, 1828 to explore the idea of establishing a mechanics’ institute in Montreal, the first of its kind in Canada. The goal of the proposed new organization would be “to instruct the members in the principles of the Arts and in the various branches of Science and useful knowledge.” And he described how this goal would be achieved:
1. The voluntary association of mechanics and others and the payment of a small sum annually or half-yearly each.
2. Donations of money, books, specimens, implements, models, apparatus.
3. Library of reference and reading room.
4. Museum of machinery and models, minerals and natural history.
5. Academy or school for teaching arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry, and their different applications, particularly to perspective, architecture, mensuration and navigation, to which might be added ancient and modern language.
6. Lectures on natural and experimental philosophy, practical mechanics, astronomy, chemistry, civil history, political economy, philosophy of the human mind, literature and the arts.
7. An experimental workshop and laboratory.
At least twelve men paid a $2 membership, and were appointed at that first meeting to draw up a constitution and laws for the governing of the new Institution. These were the Rev. Esson; John Henderson, civil engineer; Thomas Cliff, cabinetmaker; William Shand, cabinetmaker & builder; Teavill Appleton, builder; P. H. Ogilvy, teacher; William Farquhar, jeweller; William Boston, painter; James Poet, turner; and Messrs Savage, Clarke and Walker
After several intervening meetings, Esson chaired a meeting on December 9, 1828, at which the constitution of the new organization was adopted, and a Committee of Management elected. As expressed in the documents s surrounding the development of the London Mechanics’ Institute, and in the Montreal institution’s constitution which also closely followed that of the London organization, the founding officers were leading citizens in the community who would provide preliminary funding and direction, but the actual running of the organization would be by men in the trades and professions. It was to be non-political and non-religious.
First president was the Swiss-born sheriff of Montreal, the Hon. Louis Gugy, who was a member of the Rev. Esson’s church, but whose family in Three Rivers [Trois-Rivières] were Anglicans. Vice-presidents were Canadian-born lawyer and politician Louis-Joseph Papineau; American-born merchant Horatio Gates and English-born industrialist John Molson, both former members of Rev Esson’s church; and Esson. Treasurer was builder/cbinetmaker William Shand, a member of St. Gabriel’s Church; and P. H. Ogilvy, teacher in the Rev. Esson’s school, was secretary. In addition there were elected 32 committeemen representing a cross-section of trades and professions in the city.
At the December 16, 1828 meeting, the Rev. Esson delivered an introductory lecture entitled, “Object & Advantages of Mechanics Institutions.” He chaired most of the weekly meetings in the first year of operation. Others who chaired the weekly meetings during the first year were Robert Cleghorn, garden nursery owner; teacher and surveyor Alexander Stevenson, ordnance officer William Holwell, lawyer Acheson Clarke, immigration officer and land agent James Allison; tobacconist Samuel Joseph, British & Canadian School teacher John Minshall, builder Joseph Bronsdon; and Messrs Savage, Shand, Boston, Poet, Francis Howson and L. M. Janes. The two semi-annual meetings were chaired by the president, the Hon. Louis Gugy.
On May 5, 1829, the Rev. Esson appears to have been thinking about adapting the original ideas that came from England to the realities of the situation in Montreal. He suggested a discussion be held at the next meeting to seeking answers to “What are the peculiar advantages to be obtained from a Mechanics’ Institute in the existing state of society in this part of the world?” Adaptations to the format and programs of the meetings were made often during the first months and years.
Henry Esson served as vice-president of the Mechanics’ Institution in 1828, 1829, 1830, 1834 and 1835.
Rev. Esson was a founder of the Montreal Auxiliary Bible Society in 1820, and of the Protestant Orphan Asylum in 1822. He was a founder of the Natural History Society in 1827, a group of mainly physicians and educators whose chief activity was to sponsor lectures on scientific topics. He was a founding member of the St. Andrew’s Society in 1835, and was its chaplain from 1835 to 1844. Rev. Esson was elected to the committee of management of the École Normale de Montréal in 1836, a two-denominational, teacher-training school that was open to both Catholics and Protestants until 1842. He was a founder of the High School of Montreal in 1844.
In one of the more bizarre happenings in his life, in 1936 he testified, along with architect John Ostell (a member of the Mechanics' Institution and later president of the Mechanics' Institute) and others, in front of Justice of the Peace Benjamin Holmes, against one Maria Monk, who had made salacious and sensational accusations against some Catholic clergy. His statements helped debunk the story she had told in the booklet published as “The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk.”
The early 1800s had seen struggles between moderates and evangelicals in the Church of Scotland. This division was mirrored within the St. Gabriel Street Church, where the moderates sided with Henry Esson; while the evangelicals—including early Mechanics’ Institution members Robert Armour, William Dow and John Redpath—favoured the second minister at St. Gabriel’s, the Rev. Edward Black (who had arrived in Montreal in 1823). This evangelical group separated from St. Gabriel’s and formed a new church. A few years later there were more changing loyalties among the Presbyterians, not the least of which were Henry Esson becoming an evangelical Presbyterian shortly after his second marriage in 1842, and Edward Black becoming a traditionalist.
The struggles among various factions within the Presbyterian community in Montreal led in 1844 to the Rev. Esson’s departure for Toronto, where he accepted an offer to teach history, literature and philosophy at what later became Knox College for the training of Presbyterian clergy. While in Toronto he published works including A Plain and Popular Exposition on the Principles of Voluntaryism (1849); and Strictures on the Present Method of Teaching the English Language and Suggestions for its Improvement (1852). Sharon A. Rogers Hepburn, in her new book Crossing the Border, notes that, “Rev. Esson, a professor at Knox…possessed strong abolitionist sentiments.”
The Rev. Esson was married first to Maria Sweeney, from a prominent Montreal family headed by Campbell Sweeney; she died in 1826 at the age of 24, and both their children died in infancy. He married Elizabeth Campbell in 1842 before moving to Toronto.
Henry Esson died in Toronto in 1853 at age 60. His friend George Brown, editor of the Globe and later a Father of Confederation, wrote, “He was a man of studious habits and of varied learning; of unquestionable logical powers and of fertile imagination; and into all that he did, he carried with him a noble enthusiasm, which enabled him to triumph over many obstacles…Of most agreeable manners and amiable temper, in his private life he was respected and beloved.” The Rev. Principal Willis, DD, of Knox College said in a sermon, “Mr. Esson was one whom it was impossible to know and not to love.”
He is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery near his first wife and sons.
Acknowledgements: With thanks to the Rev. J. S. S. Armour and the the Rev. Harry Kuntz for their assistance with this article.
Adapted from articles that appeared in Quebec Heritage News, November-December 2008; and in The Journal of the St. Andrew's Society of Montreal, May 2009.
Minutes of the Montreal Mechanics' Institution
Armour, J. S. S., Saints, Sinners and Scots, A History of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul.
Borthwick, J. D., History and Biographical Gazetteer of Montreal to the Year 1892.
Campbell, Robert, A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church.
Papineau, Amédée, Souvenirs de jeunesse 1822-1837, ed. Georges Aubin.
Kuntz, Harry. "The Educational Work of the Two Montreal Mechanics' Institutes" (master's thesis). Montreal: Concordia University, 1993
Dictionary of Canadian Biography: (Esson; François-Joseph-Victor Regnaud).
“Awful Exposure of the Atrocious Plot Formed by Certain Individuals against the Clergy and Names of Lower Canada 1836.”
J. H. Dorwin, “Montreal in 1816.”
January 26th, 2010 §
Copyright issues make the headlines every few days, often about Google making millions of books available on the Internet.
Back in the early 1840s, it was a similar issue—on a smaller scale. Supposed culprits were American publishers paying no royalties on books that had been first published in England.
Charles Dickens was angry at those American publishers in 1842 when he arrived in Montreal following a trip to the United States. Stephen Leacock notes in his book Charles Dickens, His Life and Work, that Dickens wrote home:
Is it not a horrible thing that scoundrel booksellers should grow rich here from publishing books, the authors of which do not reap one farthing from their issue by scores of thousands; and that every vile, blackguard and detestable newspaper, so filthy and bestial that no honest man would admit one into his house for a scullery doormat, should be able to publish these same writings…?
In 1880, the copyright issue was still around. In November, the Literary and Debating Society at the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal had this item as a subject of debate: “Is the action of the American Publishers respecting copyright likely to advance literature?”
MIM member Anthony Loftus argued for the U. S. disregard for British copyright, saying “Apart from the moral bearing of the matter, any action which has the effect of disseminating literature must advance it.”
Gilbert Wanless, for the negative, contended that the flood of literature introduced by the Americans, and filched from English authors, had the effect of stifling new literature and therefore of retarding it.
The debate was decided in the affirmative.
Secretary of the MIM debating group was Maxwell Goldstein, who later was a founder of Montreal’s Temple Emanu-El, now at Sherbrooke and Elm. Another member, 22-year-old Clarence de Sola, was the third son of the Rev. Abraham de Sola, noted speaker and professor at McGill College. In 1890, Clarence de Sola planned and oversaw construction of the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, then on Stanley Street. His substantial residence, completed in 1913, still exists at 1380 Pine Avenue.
Members of the MIM debating society in 1880 were:
M. S. Berry Canada Guarantee Co.
Anthony Loftus P. Office
James Crankshaw 103 St. François Xavier
John McCallum 68 Bleury
Gilbert Wanless 43 Notre Dame
H. Y. Bulmer 735 Dorchester
Maxwell Goldstein P. O. Box 933
Jonathan Findlay 49 Metcalfe
C. J. de Sola McGill College
W. S. Walker St. James Street
Chas. Stevens 38 Hippolyte Street
D. J. M. Darling 98 St. Chas Borromé
A. Stuart 143 Bleury
G. Tuck 127 St. […..] St.
J. Anthony McShane 238 Guy St.
J. B. Henderson 41 Mayer St.
J. T. Dutig 28 Aylmer St.
E. J. Stipple c/o Messrs Greenshields & Bartsted
Henry Lanpard 28 Cadieux
(Adapted from an article in the Westmount Independent, November 25-26, 2008)
January 26th, 2010 §
Dr. Jonathan Barber (Brome County Historical Society)
In 1825, eleven years before Dr. Jonathan Barber settled his family in Montreal, he published in Pennsylvania a booklet entitled Exercises in Reading and Recitation, now on display at Riversdale House Museum in Maryland. It was a marker of Dr. Barber’s move from medicine into elocution and oratory--fields then in vogue at schools and universities..
The booklet marked one of the many turning points in Dr. Barber’s life. His was a long odyssey, which took him from a medical practice in England and the U.S., to teaching elocution at Harvard, lecturing in phrenology in the U.S. and Montreal, a medical and homeopathic practice in Montreal, a stint as professor of oratory at McGill College, and finally retirement to the village of Knowlton in the Eastern Townships of rural Quebec.
Jonathan Barber, son of a pharmacist, was born in 1784 in Scarborough, England, practiced medicine there and in London as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and immigrated to the U. S. in 1820 “for health reasons, having been impaired by devotion to his profession” according to his obituary in the Waterloo Advertiser when he died at Knowlton in 1864 at the age of 80.
As a young man, Jonathan Barber achieved stature as a “man of great elocutionary powers,” according to Robert Leader in the 1875 booklet published in England entitled Reminiscences of Old Sheffield.
After leaving England in 1820, he practiced medicine for several years in Washington, following which he changed his focus to literary pursuits, especially literature and elocution. He taught at Yale, and then in 1829-30 became an instructor at Harvard, teaching in the Department of Rhetoric and Oratory until the close of 1834.
A analysis of his efforts appeared in 1932 in The North American Review, published in Boston. Referring to Barber's A Grammar of Elocution, published in 1830, the reviewer notes,
...he has performed a service hitherto unattempted, and by many persons deemed impossible--that of presenting to the world a work on the important science of delivery, which is philosophical in its character, and intelligible and lucid in its details. For the philosophical character of the present work, the author acknowledges himself indebted to Dr. [James] Rush [of Philadelphia]; but the praise of having made a practical application of Dr. Rush's theory to the art of elocution, is certainly his own.
His stay at Harvard could not have been the happiest of times. A 2003 “Harvard Magazine.com” article notes that Barber initiated students into the mysteries of rhetorical gesture with a bamboo cage apparatus that he devised. The article contains this quote from Prof. Michael West’s Transcendental Wordplay:
The student stood inside four equal vertical hoops, each angled at 45 degrees from the others. Around these meridians ran three horizontal great circles, so seven hoops encircled a student. Constituting a hollow glove over six feet in diameter, the hoops divided its surface into 32 different apertures.
The student could thrust his hands into various openings in front of him. The postures so defined corresponded to ‘15 fundamental or systematic positions’ that the orator’s arms might assume while speaking, each associated by Barber with a specific emotion…To master eloquence, all Harvard students were marched into this bathosphere and required to declaim under his watchful eye, thrusting their hands through designated slats at appropriate points in the text.
Concludes West, “More beloved by its inventor that by its victims, the bamboo sphere was found one morning dangling from a barber pole.”
Andrew Peabody says, in in the online Harvard Reminiscences, “He was probably an accomplished trainer of vocal chords. A man of respectable character, zealous in his work, and disposed to hold pleasant relations with his pupils. But he was pompous and fantastic in mien, speech and manners.”
After leaving Harvard in 1834, Dr. Barber began to lecture on phrenology, a distant precursor to the neurosciences. It was developed in Europe in the early 19th century by Dr. Franz Joseph Gall and then by his pupil Dr. Johann Spurzheim.
Phrenologists suggested that the brain consists of separate faculties, each located in a particular part of the brain, and each controlling an aspect of character and personality. Dr. Gall postulated that the brain was made up of 27 of these individual “organs,” and that by measuring and analyzing the bumps and indentations of the skull, a person’s strengths and weaknesses--and thus personality and behaviour--could be predicted. It claimed value in such areas as choosing a marriage partner, making career choices, hiring employees and improved child-rearing.
Phrenology became popular with the emerging middle classes in the U. S. and Canada as a route to self-improvement--a more egalitarian approach to a person’s worth and possible advancement than existed within the traditionally rigid European class system. The leading American phrenologist Orson Fowler, active in phrenology’s heyday from the 1820s into the 1850s, taught that a person’s defects, identified through phrenological analysis, could be rectified through exercising the appropriate brain faculty, and the improvement would show up on subsequent physical examination of the head.
In 1834, Dr. Barber’s family life started to get complicated. His first wife presumably had died some years before, and he was left with two daughters, Mary and Emma. His second wife was widow Martha Hemming Dunkin, and they had a daughter, Susan Fitch Barber, born in 1831.
Martha Barber also had a son, Christopher Dunkin, from her earlier marriage. He was a highly intelligent young man who studied classics and mathematics at London and Glasgow universities but never graduated, and he came to live with the Barber family in the U.S. at the age of 19. He studied for a time at Harvard and, though not having been graduated with a degree, was nevertheless awarded an honorary degree and appointed tutor in Greek at Harvard for the year 1834-35. However, that experiment ended poorly; in May 1834, his freshman class provoked what became known as the "Dunkin Rebellion," in which classroom furniture and windows were broken, followed by disruptions in morning and evening prayers. Dunkin's contract was not renewed.
In August 1835, Christopher Dunkin married Dr. Barber’s eldest daughter Mary —she had been born in 1813, according to her birth certificate now at the Brome County Historical Society, to “Jonathan Barber, Surgeon, and his wife Elizabeth” at Scarborough, England.
North to Montreal
The Barber and Dunkin family moved to Montreal, probably in 1836, where Dr. Barber had contacts that included the family of Charles Bancroft, who was a member of the influential Bancroft family of Boston and business partner of the important Montreal merchant Horatio Gates. Both Bancroft and Gates had died of strokes in 1834, but their young families remained in Montreal.
Dr. Barber lost no time in involving himself in Montreal life. A reporter for The Montreal Transcript of Sept. 6, 1836, wrote,
"We yesterday visited the new gaol, in company with Dr. Barbour [sic], who proposes in a few days to give a series of lectures on Phrenology...The object of the visit was, by a practical examination of the heads of most of its inmates, to decide upon the character of the individuals....Though no believer in the science of Phrenology, we were certainly much struck with the correct and pointed decisions of Dr. Barbour, at least in twenty-five out of forty examinations, wherein he distinguished between the bold and determined offender and the novice in crime; the ruffian and the man of gentle disposition; the abandoned wreck, destitute of religious principles, and he who maintains his belief in Christian revelation. Several of the definitions were remarkably correct, more particularly two."
In the Transcript of November 17, 1836, there was an advertisement detailing Dr. Barber's forthcoming lectures at the Methodist Chapel on physical, moral and intellectual education and Phrenology.
It appears that he charged a basic amount for a series of lectures, and any surplus was for the benefit of the House of Industry (La Minerve, January 5, 1837).The same day in early 1837, the Transcript noted, "During the period that Dr. Barber has been among us, he has acquired a popularity far beyond that of any other lecturer who has proceded him in this city....His addresses at various meetings and more particularly his lectures on Shakespeare's writings and drama, have met with a most favourable reception."
The Transcript of March 11, 1837, notes that a guarantee fund was subscribed by 53 persons to keep Dr. Barber as a lecturer in Montreal on Elocution. One of the class participants was John Redpath, by then an established building contractor, who wrote that year to Mr. M. Donaldson in New York,
"Dr. Barber…is lecturing on elocution and by attending them I have discovered that I am quite a novice in the service of speaking or writing correctly, although I daresay you will think it did not require any great stretch of intellect to make this discovery."
The Rebellion of 1837 in Lower Canada disrupted Dr. Barber's speaking schedules, and in the Transcript of December 28, 1837, it is noted discreetly that public lectures by Christopher Dunkin and Dr. Barber, "deferred on account of the general excitement," would begin in January 1838.
Subsequently, Dr. Barber went back to England. When he returned in 1842, he was versed in homeopathy, a holistic system that seeks to stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Early proponents viewed homeopathy as a gentle alternative to then-prevalent bleeding and purging procedures. Dr. Barber maintained a homeopathic practice for some years: in Lovell’s Directories, he is listed as “doctor” from 1847 to 1852, and as “homeopathist” until 1859-60. In the 1851 Montreal Directory he is listed under two categories: physician & surgeon, and homeopathic medicine.
Willing and knowledgeable to talk on many subjects, Dr. Barber was a frequent lecturer at the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal. In the winter of 1845-46, he gave a talk entitled, “Best Means of Preserving Health of Large Towns.” In 1850 he gave a talk on “Oratory with Reminiscences of English Speeches,” and in 1853 spoke on “The Philosophy of France.” He and his son-in-law Christopher Dunkin were made honorary members of the Mechanics’ Institute in 1848, “in consideration of their valuable services to the Institute as lecturers during several sessions” and were later both were awarded life memberships.
While winding down his medical practices, Dr. Barber began again to teach elocution, and in the McGill University Archives he is listed as Professor of Oratory in the years 1859-64. Dr. J. D. Borthwick notes in his Montreal History and Gazetteer to the year 1892, “The writer well remembers when associated with him in the old [High School Department of McGill College], and Barber’s method of Elocution, then in vogue, was one of the most interesting lessons the youth of Montreal learned.”
The family for some 20 years lived on Little St. James Street in Montreal. Christopher Dunkin became a successful lawyer in Montreal, then a politician based in the Eastern Townships, and later a judge. He settled in Knowlton where he built a handsome house called “Lakeside,” and established a large farm on the shores of Brome Lake—now the site of the Knowlton Golf Club and the Brome Lake Boating Club. Mr. and Mrs. Dunkin seemed to have provided a gracious home for the Barber family, and for receiving guests, including a visit by Prince Arthur in 1870, as well as a refuge and home for a procession of ailing relatives.
Dr. Barber’s second daughter Emma Gertrude devoted her life to good works. She started a Home for Girls in Montreal, first in her own home where women in domestic service could go on their day off so they wouldn’t be in the streets and couldn’t be tempted to drink, and could receive religious education and sewing courses. This evolved into the Sheltering Home of Montreal in 1866 and later into the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
In 1872, Emma Barber with Mrs. Samuel W. Foster, wife of the sheriff of Knowlton, were conducting a Sunday School for farmers’ children in a little schoolhouse two miles from the village—probably the Tibbits Hill schoolhouse. They also started a sewing class on Saturday afternoons to teach the children needlework. Both were active during the establishment of the Distributing Home in Knowlton for English orphans, who were placed mostly on farms in the area—a project supported by Christopher Dunkin.
Dr. Barber’s third daughter, Susan Fitch Barber, married Henry Bancroft, son of Montreal merchant Charles Bancroft. He became a lawyer, retired early because of ill health, and died at Christopher Dunkin’s Knowlton home at age 45, leaving three children, one of whom was named Christopher Dunkin Bancroft. Susan Barber Bancroft later married George Rice of Montreal.
Dr. Jonathan Barber gave an address at the 50th wedding anniversary of Dr. and Mrs. S. S. Foster in Knowlton in 1863. He died the following year at the Knowlton home of Christopher Dunkin, and is buried, alongside Dunkin and Bancroft family members, in Mount Royal Cemetery.
More than 30 years later, In “Stories of 50 Years Ago” in Montreal’s The Daily Witness of January 11, 1896, James Mathewson notes: “The late Dr. Barber and afterwards his clever son-in-law Christopher Dunkin about 1836, gave the most interesting lectures on phrenology ever given. Hs collection of skulls and casts and charts was very extensive. Both were finished speakers and both thoroughly understood the subject.”
(Acknowledgements: Arlene Royea of the Brome County Historical Society, Knowlton, was of great help in the research for this article. Assistance was also kindly provided by the Rev. Harry Kuntz, Montreal; Dr. Ann Wass, Riversdale House Museum; Myriam Cloutier, Mount Royal Cemetery; Jennie Ferris, McGill University Archives; and Judy Coy, San Anselmo Museum. John Blundell, M.D., suggested several revisions to an early draft of the article.)
(Adapted from an article in Quebec Heritage News, March-April 2009)
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