Montreal History: A Man in a Hurry

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.

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Architectural commissions

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).

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