François-Antoine LaRocque: Furtrader & Businessman

January 23rd, 2010 § 0

François-Antoine LaRocque, elected first vice-president of the Mechanics’ Institution in 1830, had one of the more exciting young lives among the early members of that new organization, yet his life ended more quietly than most.

He was born in 1784, son of a prosperous fur-trading and commercial family in the town of L’Assomption, now about a half-hour's drive from downtown Montreal.   He was first sent to Collège de Montréal for his education then, following his father’s early death in 1792 and his mother’s remarriage to Hugh Munro, a young Loyalist from New York with strong Scottish roots, he was sent to school in the U.S. to learn English.

At age 17, he travelled to Grand Portage near Winnpeg where his uncle, Dr. Henry Munro, had until a short time earlier been the wintering partner for the North West Company before going to a new posting.  There, LaRocque  joined the XY Company as a clerk.  A few years later he joined the North West Company, at which time his explorations and furtrading activities ranged from Grand Portage to Missouri, Montana and Wyoming. He wrote two respected journals, considered of significance particularly in the United States--the Missouri Journal and the Yellowstone Journal.  He is reputed to have been the first white man to meet the native peoples in those areas, and was certainly the first to detail and comment on their surroundings and activities.

In 1805, LaRocque left exploration and furtrading in the the west for Montreal--perhaps coincidentally the same year as his uncle Dr. Munro.   Like several others making the transition to Montreal from fur trading, he became a commission merchant, and invested in steamboats and railways. He joined other furtraders in the prestigious Beaver Club, where he became secretary.

He was a captain in the Chasseurs canadiens during the War of 1812, and was imprisoned by the Americans in Cincinnati for six months. He became chief warden of Notre-Dame Church and secretary of its building committee.  He was a director of the Bank of Montreal from 1817-1826, a harbour commissioner, and vice-president of the Montreal Savings Bank.  He was an 1822 charter member of the Montreal Committee for Trade (forerunner of the Board of Trade), a governor of the Montreal General Hospital, a director of Champlain & St. Lawrence Railway, and a trustee of the Lachine Turnpike Road.

Along with Louis-Joseph Papineau and Horatio Gates, F.-A. LaRocque was on the board of directors of the British & Canadian School during the 1820s.   A secular, free or low-fee school for English and French working class boys and girls, some of school’s philosophy was carried forward into adult education at the Mechanics’ Institution.

Even with all his community and business activities, he was nevertheless arrested for a short time during the 1837-38 Rebellions in Lower Canada, apparently for distributing a newspaper article that had first appeared in London. His commission merchant company, LaRocque Bernard, went bankrupt in 1838.  Three years later, in 1841, after his only son was married, he withdrew from business activities.   In the early 1850s, he undertook an extended trip to the United States.   He spent his last years in seclusion, from 1855 to 1869, at Hôtel-Dieu in Saint-Hyacinthe, an institution that was funded in part by his younger brother Joseph LaRoque, also an important figure in the fur trade, particularly on the West Coast, for both the North-West Company and the Hudson Bay Company.

In 1818, François LaRocque had married Marie-Catherine-Émilie Cotté, daughter of an important fur baron, Gabriel Cotté.  She died in 1838.  Their only son, François-Alfred-Chartier LaRocque, was active in Montreal church affairs, real estate and in businesses including City & District Savings Bank, was a member of the Mechanics’ Institute in the 1840s, and for a time—acting for his beneficent father-in-law Olivier Berthelet--was landlord of the Mechanics’ Institute.

F.-A. LaRocque's name is still known in the American mid-west.  Orland Ned Eddins, author of the 1997 Indian tale, Mountains of Stone, describes him as "an interesting man," and LaRocque figures in the book as an honourable gentleman.

(Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Westmount Independent)

Engraver William Leney, Artist Robert Sproule

January 23rd, 2010 § 0

Shortly after the Mechanics’ Institution was formed in 1828, William Satchwell Leney donated an engraved copper plate for “striking off the cards of the Institution.”  In thanks, he was made a “Member for Life.”
How and why he came to Montreal is unclear.  He was born in 1769 in London and, according to Britain’s Dictionary of National Biography, became an engraver accomplished in both line and stipple while studying with Peltro William Tompkins; he engraved several of the series produced in the 1790s by John Boydell for The Shakespeare Gallery.

William Leney and his wife Sarah immigrated to New York about 1806. They had nine children.  Among other commissions while in New York, he engraved small portraits of notable Americans including George Washington and John Adams. He won a gold medal for some of his works in 1807.

The Leney family arrived in Montreal in 1820, and settled on a farm at Longue Pointe on the northeastern tip of Montreal Island. William Leney engraved the first banknotes for the Bank of Montreal. He died in 1831 at age 62 and is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery

His granddaughter Sarah Leney married Alexander Walker Ogilvie, who grew up on a farm near the Leneys, and as a young man joined the Ogilvie milling enterprises. Alexander Ogilvie was able to retire early, and spent many years in public service, including several years active in the Mechanics’ Institute in the 1850s.

Robert A. Sproule
was elected to the MMI managing committee in 1830. He had arrived in Montreal from Ireland a few years before, and advertised himself as a miniature painter, drawing master and decorator of window blinds.

In 1830, he had completed a series of six views of Montreal, watercolours, which were engraved on copperplate by William Leney.  A new edition of the prints was made in the 1880s.  The six watercolours are said to make up the most handsome series published in Canada, and “show a maturity achieved in pictorial printmaking during the first half of the 19th century,” according to George Spendlove in The Early Face of Canada.

Robert Sproule and his expanding family moved to Ontario after 1834, where they lived a somewhat peripatetic existence until he died in 1845.

(Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Westmount Independent)

John Cliff, James Duncan, John C. Spence & the Mechanics’ Institute

January 23rd, 2010 § 0

In Montreal in 1828, the leaders of the new Montreal Mechanics’ Institution envisioned the establishment of classes in such subjects as writing, arithmetic, French, and various aspects of drawing.  The courses would serve two purposes:  provide a source of education for the young men who were flooding the city and had nowhere to learn except on the job; and keep them out of the pubs.

However, after long hours of work, the young men were not necessarily interested in attending classes—by candlelight.  Employers did not always want to let their young employees leave work early to go to school. Funding was a problem: it was difficult to charge young pupils enough to cover the costs of renting classrooms and paying teachers.  Some teachers were willing to provide instruction gratis, but continuity was a problem.

Nevertheless, a surprising number of young men did sign up—as young as 13 (including William Hutchison's son Alexander Cowper Hutchison and John Ostell’s son Joseph)—and maintained their membership in the Mechanics’ Institute over the years.  Some of the teachers, who were also members of the Institute and volunteered their time, included:

  • John Cliff, from England, was described in Dr. Daniel Tracey’s anti-English Vindicator in 1830 as “a man of science and much talent in his profession.”  In the 1831 census he is listed as a carpenter, in 1842 as an architect; in the Dictionary of Canadian  Biography he is referred to as an architect.  On December 24, 1833, he was appointed drawing master for the first classes to be held at the Montreal Mechanics' Institution’s.  These were to start December 30, 1833, and be held Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings at 7 pm.
  • James Duncan taught drawing with the Rev. J. Hutchinson in 1851-52 at what was now known as the Mechanics' Institute of Montreal.  Duncan later taught landscape and ornamental drawing in 1854-55 with J. C. Spence. He was a skilled draftsman, but is primarily known as a watercolourist.   Originally from Ireland, by 1830 he was already established in Montreal as a painter, lithographer and teacher of drawing. He also taught at the British & Canadian School for working class children.  He was commissioned by John Samuel McCord to paint views of the city and its environs, and was the artist for Bosworth’s Hochelaga Depicta published in 1839. Some of his drawings, part of the extensive David Winkworth collection in England, have recently been repatriated by Canadian Archives in Ottawa. He was an MIM life member.
  • John C. Spence taught landscape and ornamental drawing in 1854-55.  He was—according to Joseph T. Dutton quoted in the Mechanics’ Institute minutes— the “son of William Spence, a celebrated sculptor of Liverpool, England.”  Probably  Montreal’s first stained glass decorator, his works include three stained glass windows over the organ loft at the Montreal's Church of St. John the Evangelist; and three windows over the altar at tiny Holy Trinity Church in the Eastern Townships community of Iron Hill. He was on the MIM Committee of Management in the 1850s.

(Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Westmount Independent, September 2-3, 2008)

Mechanics’ Institution: Leadership, 2

January 23rd, 2010 § 0

Montreal’s development into an industrial and manufacturing metropolis was spearheaded by men who belonged to the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution in 1828-35, and to the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal after 1840. They included men of different skills in the building and shipping trades, as well as those who were architects, lawyers, doctors, bankers, grain merchants and retail merchants. These are some of them:

  • Edward Maxwell joined MMI in 1829, the year he came from Scotland, and was elected to the Managing Committee in 1832. In the early 1850s, along with William Hutchison, he made preliminary design plans for the Mechanics Hall, and had the £1384 carpentry contract for the Hall built in 1854.  He was the father of specialty woods merchant E. J. Maxwell who was also a member of MIM, and grandfather of noted Montreal architects Edward and William Maxwell.
  • Aaron Philip Hart, the fourth lawyer in the extended Hart and Judah families to be admitted to the Bar in Canada, gave lectures at the MMI in 1829, left in a huff, and was a member again in 1840. He raised a Loyalist militia regiment during the 1837-38 rebellions, then defended the Patriotes in the 1838-39 trials. He is reputed to have owned the horse that won the first running of the Queen’s Plate in Toronto.
  • François-Antoine LaRoque, born in L’Assomption, educated at Collège de Montréal and in the U.S., became a furtrader and explorer at age 17.  He served in Chasseurs canadiens in the War of 1812 and was imprisoned by the Americans in Cincinnati for six months.  Upon retiring from the fur trade in 1815, he became involved in many aspects of commercial and cultural life in Montreal.  He was elected Mechanics’ Institution vice-president in 1830.  His son François-Alfred-Chartier LaRoque was a founder of the Montreal City & District Savings Bank, and became an MIM life member in 1854.
  • John Ostell joined the Mechanics’ Institution in January 1834 at age 21, having just arrived from England.  He was elected to the Committee of Managers in 1835, and served as president in 1845 and 1846. A surveyor and architect, he designed the Customs House (1836), now part of the Pointe-à-Callières museum; McGill Arts Building (1843); Grand Séminaire de Montréal on Sherbrooke Street; and the (old) Court House (1859). Later, he ran a door and sash factory on the Lachine Canal. His son Joseph Ostell joined the Mechanics’ Institute at age 13.
  • John Lovell, one of the eldest in a large Irish farming family located near Montreal, became a printer’s apprentice and then started a publishing company that still operates-- the oldest family-owned enterprise in Canada. He published books, city directories, textbooks and sheet music. With his brother-in-law John Gibson, an MIM member, he published  The Literary Garland, the first journal in Canada to pay authors for their fiction work. John Lovell was elected to MIM’s Committee of Management in 1840 at the age of 30.
  • William Watson arrived from Scotland in 1801 with his parents, siblings and two millstones.  They set up shop as millers near Montreal to take advantage of the Nun’s Island current, and William Watson learned milling at an early age. The fortune he earned enabled his nephews --Alexander Walker Ogilvie, John Ogilvie and William Watson Ogilvie—to build the largest flour milling enterprise in Canada.  William Watson joined MIM in 1840, and his three nephews were also MIM members, Alexander being the most active of the three in the 1850s.
  • William Hutchison, son of a Scottish farmer who immigrated to Canada with his young family, became a mason, built the imposing Bank of Montreal building designed by John Wells, and was involved with the plans for the Library of Parliament in Ottawa. He joined MIM in 1843, and with Edward Maxwell made the preliminary plans for the Mechanics Hall that was built in 1854.  William Hutchison’s  brother Matthew Hutchison, also an MIM member, for a time held the important post of flour inspector in Montreal, and he later formed a milling business with the Ogilvie brothers in Goderich, Ontario.
  • Sons of William Hutchison were prominent for many years in the Mechanics' Institute.  Alexander Cowper Hutchison apprenticed as a stonemason with his father, learned architectural drawing at the Mechanics’ Institute starting at age 13, and later taught the course.  In addition to designing or building many of the enduring and graceful structures in Montreal, A. C. Hutchison and his brother John Henry Hutchison were responsible for the design and building of the ice palaces that were highlights of Montreal winter festivals in the late 1800s.

(Adapted from an article in the Westmount Independent, August 26-27, 2008)

Overview of the Atwater Library, 1828-2009

January 23rd, 2010 § 0

The Atwater Library and Computer Centre traces its origins back to 1828, when the first mechanics' institute established in continental British North America was formed in Montreal. Today, with its official name being the "Atwater Library of the Mechanics' Institute of Montreal," it is the sole survivor of the many mechanics' institutes established in Canada in the mid-19th century. The rest were either closed or merged into public library systems. The Atwater Library and Computer Centre carries on proudly, aware of its traditions, but focused on the future.

In 1828, some prominent Montreal citizens organized the Montreal Mechanics' Institution because they saw a need to educate young workers for the emerging industries of the growing city--and to keep the young men out of the pubs.

Patron of the new organization was Sir James Kempt, governor of Lower Canada.  First president was Louis Gugy, sheriff of Montreal. Vice-presidents were industrialist John Molson; merchant Horatio Gates; Louis-Joseph Papineau, speaker of the Assembly of Lower Canada, and the Assembly's representative from the west end of the city; and (its true founder) the Rev. Henry Esson, educator and Church of Scotland minister at the St. Gabriel Street Church.

Weekly meetings of the new organization were attended mainly by employers of  artisans, craftsmen and shopkeepers, but also by ambitious young men eager to increase their knowledge and expertise.

Patterned after mechanics institutions that had already sprung up in Scotland and England earlier in the 19th century,  the aim of the new Montreal Institution was, according to its real founder and guiding light, the Rev. Esson, "to see to the instruction of its members in the arts and in the various branches of science and useful knowledge." In its early days, the institution ran a lecture program, organized weekly "conversations" on a wide variety of subjects, and had a library and a reading room.

It was a time when the building trades were expanding rapidly, highlighted by the construction of  Notre Dame Church and the Lachine Canal. The population of Montreal was about 23,000, and the principal commercial and social centre of the city was St. Paul Street. Educational institutions were being developed, including privately-run elementary and secondary schools; McGill University began fledgling classes in medicine in 1829.

By 1834, two cholera epidemics, pre-Rebellion political unrest in Montreal, and rivalries based on religion and educational objectives, led to a suspension of activities of the Mechanics' Institution, its last meeting being held on March 24, 1835.

Second Institute Formed: A New Era

In 1840, with the Rebellions of 1837-38 passed and Montreal returning to a semblance of political stability, the Mechanics' Institute of Montreal was formed--and amalgamated with the previous Mechanics' Institution. The constitution of the two groups was essentially the same, equipment was obtained from the earlier group, the proposed courses of study were similar, and eighty members of the first group were eligible for free membership for a year (twenty-four joined). John Redpath, a Scottish-trained stonemason who had already achieved considerable success in Montreal as a builder and contractor, and who had been an officer of the Mechanics' Institution in 1833, became president and guiding force of the new Mechanics' Institute.

A public lecture program was established as "the best means of awakening in the public a desire for knowledge" (Annual Report 1841). Night classes were created at various times for apprentices and workmen--concentrating on reading, writing, arithmetic, French, and architectural, mechanical and ornamental drawing. Elementary school courses were offered, but the main focus was on secondary studies. This represented the first organized effort in Canada to establish adult education programs, and it continued virtually uninterrupted for nearly thirty years, when the courses were taken over by the government.

Beginning in 1843 and continuing for some years, small industrial exhibitions were held annually by the Mechanics' Institute to present to the public the scientific advances being made by various industries active in the city. Held in Bonsecours Hall, they were called Mechanics' Festival and were popular social events in Montreal.  The festivals  included vocal and instrumental music and a dance.

In 1845, during the presidency of architect John Ostell, the Mechanics' Institute of Montreal was incorporated by an Act of the Parliament of the Province of Canada. (In 1840, under the Act of Union, the Province of Canada had been created from the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada.)

By 1855, the Mechanics' Institute had built and opened its own building, at the corner of Great St. James and St. Peter streets (now St. Jacques and St. Pierre, in Old Montreal). For the opening ceremonies, led by the president Henry Bulmer,  the building was decorated with banners such as "To Make a Man a Better Mechanic and the Mechanic a Better Man." With a large lecture hall, it became one of the main cultural centres of the city, and remained so for nearly half a century until the residential population began to shift north and west.

Books the defining feature

By 1859, the library of the Institute had become one of its most important features. The annual report notes: "The library and reading room form the chief attractions of the Institute, and the manner in which these departments are supplied and managed will always have great influence on the membership list."

For several years beginning in the late 1850s, Alexander Cowper Hutchison taught architectural drawing at the Institute. The son of  William Hutchison, a Scottish-born stonemason, A.C. Hutchison had apprenticed as a mason with his father,  had taken mechanical drawing at the Institute, went on to teach mechanical drawing at the Institute,  and became one of Montreal's leading architects. He was involved in the design and construction of major buildings in Montreal, including the Redpath Museum, Erskine and American United Church, the old La Presse building and Montreal's City Hall.    His firm, Hutchison, Wood and Miller, would later design the current Atwater Library building.  His mason and builder brother John Henry Hutchison was a long-time active MIM member, and his brother Matthew was a life member of MIM.

In November 1868, a mechanical drawing class with twenty-four students having a syllabus of practical geometry, details of engines, and other machinery and solid geometry, became the last class sponsored by the Mechanics' Institute. The government-sponsored Board of Arts and Manufacturers took over running of the classes, which were offered free to members of the Institute and as a result attracted more pupils. The library and the lectures series became the main focus of the Mechanics' Institute.

Moving West

By 1910, support was growing for selling the St. James Street building and relocating the Institute closer to residential areas. The value of the land had increased vastly during the previous fifty years and it was now in the centre of what had become the city's financial and banking district. The building was sold, and the new site at the corner of Atwater and Tupper streets was chosen. Budget for building and equipping the new building was $120,000. Sufficient proceeds of the sale were invested to provide income to cover projected maintenance and operating costs of $12,000 a year. President during this transition period 1913-1920 was William Rutherford.

Construction of the building was begun in 1918 and completed in 1920. Design was by the architectural firm of Hutchison, Wood and Miller, and by that time A. C. Hutchison was retired and the drawings were prepared by his grandson. His brother, builder J. Henry Hutchison, a long-time member who served on the Mechanics' Institute board of management, headed the building committee.

In 1920, with great ceremony, and with Masonic traditions observed, the new building was opened. In January 1995, seventy-five years later, Montreal architect Susan Bronson spoke at a special evening commemorating the building opening. During her talk, she described the exterior of the building as follows:

"[The building has] a solid sense of architectural integrity resulting from its simple and clear composition, selective and consistent detailing, and high-quality construction.

"[It] is clad in buff brick with certain features--cornice, frames around the upper floor windows, medallion reliefs, panels below the windows, band moulding that signifies the ground level--highlighted in Indiana limestone. The ground floor, the level of which is signified on the exterior by a continuous stone moulding, is raised to allow maximum light to enter the lower level. Large arched windows on three sides provide the building with the prestige of a Renaissance palazzo; yet its detailing is simple and dignified, almost modern...

"The Atwater Avenue facade, facing the public square across the way, is perfectly symmetrical. Its composition is dominated by a central doorway that fits snugly into the centre arched opening. On Tupper Street, also a major facade, the composition is similar....The west facade has a series of long narrow windows that are proportioned according to the spacing of the two storeys of stacks inside....Nine medallions on the north, east and south facades illustrate aspects of art, science and industry."
History Current Building

By 1940, the library boasted one of the finest technical reference libraries in Canada, and had a total of approximately 45,000 volumes. At the time, encouragement of non-fiction reading was a library policy, conforming to the needs of its reading public and the educational objectives of the library.

Changing Focus

In 1962, the library changed its name to the Atwater Library of the Mechanics' Institute of Montreal to reflect its interest in serving a wider public. The focus of its book collection was changing to fiction, biography and travel, with the technical portion of the collection having become more of historical and research interest.

In 1977 and 1978 efforts were made to make the library work better for its constituency at a time of declining revenues and dramatic political change in Quebec. The large-print book collection was expanded. Books-by-mail, a project of president Thomas Anglin, began operations. It was widely successful, reaching a peak in 1983 when 4,697 books were distributed to members across Canada, especially in the relatively isolated North Shore of the St. Lawrence River. An Atwater Library children's division was initiated, catering to three to twelve-year-olds.

In the 1978 annual report, Tom Anglin reported that financial assets were being depleted to meet operating expenses. He spoke of the possibility of selling the building to the adjoining Reddy Memorial Hospital, but he indicated that the Reddy had offered to pay only the value of the land. Dr. Norman Eade, then a member of the board, noted that "at the time, among the moves contemplated was to reestablish the library in the Mile End district of Montreal, a multi-cultural area where there was no library. Subsequently, the City of Montreal established a library there in a former Anglican church, so that proposal was abandoned."

In his 1980 president's annual report, Dr. Eade said that the decision had been made to revitalize the library in its current Atwater Avenue location and "leave intact a legacy that had been entrusted to our care." This involved a move into the computer era. According to Dr. Eade, "offering computer courses and providing computer support outside of the university context seemed an apppropriate avenue in keeping with the traditions of the library."

In 1981, the Montreal Children's Library moved its head office and main branch into the lower level of the Atwater Library building. This was made possible by a grant in memory of Judith Ewen Reford. When the move took place, the Atwater Library children's division was closed.

In 1984, the remarkably far-seeing Dr. Ted Connolly (president 1982 and 1983, and in 1984 vice-president and chairman of the board's computer committee) introduced the beginnings of the present-day computer centre within one of the main floor reading rooms, and a short time later a computer course classroom was established on the second floor.  A grant from the federal Ministry of Communications had enabled the project to go forward.  It was the first computer establishment in Montreal open to the public.

1990 was a year of financial crisis for the library as a result of a major decline in municipal government grants combined with increasing operating costs. Financial assets were depleted. Rather than close the facility, the membership decided to reduce paid staff to three, increase the responsibilities and number of volunteers, and seek new methods of financing. Over the next couple of years, charitable foundations were approached for help, led by library president Ralph Leavitt, and the response enabled the library to continue operations. New directions were examined over the next couple of years, with the help of Board members Anne Pasold and Philip Chartrand, Westmount mayor Peter Trent, and others.

By 1994, under the leadership of  Anne Pasold (president in 1992, 1994 and 1995), one of the reading rooms was re-equipped and refurbished to house an enlarged computer centre. Architect and board member Susan Bronson ensured that the reading room was restored in a manner faithful to its architectural beginnings.  A few years later, Susan Bronson led the major fundraising effort to replace the roof of the building.

In 1996, pentium computers (then new on the market) were purchased for the computer classroom, with funding from a charitable foundation. The same year, as a result of budget constraints, the books-by-mail project that had been so successful in the 1980s was cancelled.

In 1996, Andrea Rutherford Burgess became president of the Atwater Library, continuing a family tradition. Three of Mrs. Burgess' relatives, great-uncle Henry Bulmer (1851); great-grandfather William Rutherford (1889); and grandfather William Rutherford (1913-1920) were all presidents of the Mechanics' Institute. Upon her untimely death in 1998, the reading room was named the Rutherford-Burgess Reading Room. She was the guiding force behind the establishment of the Montreal Association of Independent Libraries. The family tradition continued with architect Mary Leslie-Aitken joining the Board in 1998 and serving as president from 2003 to 2005. Lynn Rutherford Burgess joined the Board in 2008.

In 2001, under the aegis of Board members Susan McGuire and Dr. Naomi Holobow, efforts began to have  the Federal Government declare the Atwater Library building a National Historic Site.  The lengthy process was completed in 2005, and the official ceremony was  held in November 2009.

In 2003 with the generous help of several charitable foundations, the automated library catalogue system went on stream, a project that had been started by Andrea Burgess several years previously. A website was introduced, under the direction of  board member Simon Dardick.

Beginning in early 2004, the Board of Directors began updating organizational functions.  Accounting procedures were modernized by treasurer Martin Cundall, and management procedures enhanced with the help of  vice-president Sam Gatelaro.  The position of library director was changed to executive director, the first incumbent being former Board vice-president Susan McGuire.  A monthly newsletter for members and volunteers was re-introduced after many years.  Emphasis was placed on ALCC becoming more involved in the surrounding community, and  new or expanded partnerships were developed with community groups, particularly with those leasing space within the building:  the Montreal Children's Library, Quebec Writers' Federation, Association of English-Language Publishers of Quebec, Peter McGill Community Council,  and Fondation Aubin (with its special book collection from the estate of Prof. Stanley B. Ryerson).

During that period, an emphasis was given to the Libary's book collections, including the  Quebec Writers' Federation collection. With funding from the St. Andrew's Society, a special Scottish Collection was established under the direction of  Mary Leslie-Aiken and Board member Agnes McFarlane, and a special Black Collection was established by Susan McGuire with the help of library members Richard and Carole Lord. In the fall of 2004, the Atwater Poetry Project was organized by Montreal poet Oana Avasilichioaei.  Montreal writer Mary Soderstrom continued her book discussion group.

In 2007, a  project to introduce specialized computer skills to less advantaged youth in the immediate area of the library was initiated, under the direction of Board member Hugh McGuire. A popular lunchtime program with speakers and performers, running from September to May, was introduced by Executive Director Lynn Verge.  Under presidents Mary Leslie-Aiken and Hugh McGuire, fundraising procedures and activities were enhanced; and introductory computer courses were diversified and targeted towards specific groups in the general population.

In late 2009, during the presidency of Ellen Bounsall, the Federal government announced a cost-sharing grant of $425,000 to restore and upgrade the 90-year-old Atwater Library building.


Minutes of the Montreal Mechanics' Institution; Mechanics' Institute of Montreal; Atwater Library

Atwater Library.  Atwater Library of Mechanics' Institute of Montreal, c 1972

Bronson, Susan. 75th Building Inauguration Anniversary Lecture 1995, Atwater Library (unpublished)
Eade, Dr. Norman. telephone interview, October 10, 1997
Hamilton, William. Mechanics Institute of Montreal, 1920
Kuntz, Harry. "The Educational Work of the Two Montreal Mechanics' Institutes" (master's thesis), Concordia University, January 1993
Roberts, Leslie. Montreal: From Mission Colony to World City, Macmillian, Toronto, 1969
Robbins, Nora. "The Montreal Mechanics Institute: 1828-1870," Canadian Library Journal, pp. 373-379

Mechanics’ Institution: Leadership, 1

January 21st, 2010 § 0

The view of education that predominated in Anglican-dominated, early 19th century England looked with disfavour on educating the working classes.  Anglican leaders believed national prosperity depended on the workingman’s hard work, deference, sobriety, and religious virtue.

The more liberal Scots began to think that having workers knowledgeable in science and technology would lead to greater prosperity for everyone. Thus it was in Scotland that the mechanics’ institute movement began. Later, in 1823, under George Birkbeck, MD, a Mechanics’ Institution was established in London, and its concepts spread worldwide.

The purpose of a mechanics’ institute was to give evening instruction in technical subjects and in the arts to working adults, in a setting free of religious and political affiliations. Leaders in the community would provide initial direction and funding, but the institutes would be run from among the members who were master craftsmen and employers of labour.  The by-laws were set up to achieve this purpose.

The initiator of the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution in 1828 was the Rev. Henry Esson, one of Montreal’s intellectual leaders. The MMI constitution mirrored that of the London institution, and the first executive was a cross-section of leading Montreal residents who had a connection with deserving institutions of the day.   As was the custom at the time, the officers took little part in the daily running of the Institution.

Louis Gugy (courtesy Chateau Ramezay)

President was Louis Gugy, sheriff of Montreal, aged 58. Born in France of Swiss parents having military origins, his family were Anglicans in Trois-Rivières, but he was a member of Rev. Esson’s church.

Vice-presidents were:

Louis-Joseph Papineau, Canadian-born lawyer and politician, aged 42.  He was a founder in 1822 of the British & Canadian School, a free or low-fee and non-sectarian school for poor working-class children, both French and English-speaking.

Horatio Gates (courtesy Bank of Montreal)

Horatio Gates, American-born Presbyterian merchant in foodstuffs and potash, aged 41.  A founder of Bank of Montreal in 1817, he also was on the board of the British & Canadian School, and was a member (for a time) of the Rev. Esson’s church.
The Rev. Henry Esson, Scottish-born minister of St. Gabriel’s Presbyterian church, teacher and owner of a school, aged 35. In 1844, he moved on to teach philosophy, literature at history at what became Knox College of the University of Toronto.
John Molson, English-born industrialist, aged 65. Though a Unitarian by instinct, he was a member of the Rev Esson’s church.

Secretary was P. H. Ogilvy, a teacher in the Rev. Esson’s school.  Treasurer was William Shand, a cabinetmaker and builder.

(Adapted from an article that appeared in the Westmount Independent, August 19-20, 2008.)