Historical Bits and Pieces
In 1650, the first settlers who were going to put down roots in Coteau-Saint-Pierre (see down below)_ arrive in Ville-Marie. Only eight years old, Ville-Marie (Montreal) is a small colony, that is however rapidly expanding. It needs better protection against Indian attacks and more food to feed an ever growing number of people. Therefore “Monsieur de Maisonneuve” will lease land to new settlers. These brave men, and eventually women, will live, plow, seed, cultivate and weather Indian attacks in Lachine, Rivière-des-Prairies, and closer to us, Coteau-Saint-Pierre. The land will serve as buffer-zone and garde-manger.
Among the new agricultural tenants on the Coteau we find : from as far back as 1666 and here to stay, families bearing names such as Décarie, Simon, Milot, Beaudry, Chevalier, Leduc, Hurtubise.
Back then the Coteau was a vast area that included what is now, from east to west “la Côte-des-Neiges” down to the Lachine land and north to south from “la Côte-Saint-Luc” to the “chemin Lachine” which ran along Rivière Saint-Pierre. The Coteau will grow around Notre-Dame-de-Toutes-Grâces’ parish (NDG) and when eventually fragmented will become Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Hampstead, Montreal West and part of Côte-Saint-Luc.
From village to ward
NDG village was established in 1876. In 1906, the municipality of NDG was incorporated and on June 4th 1910, was annexed to the city of Montreal and from then on called NDG ward ( “quartier NDG”).
Fast growing population
1818 : 177 persons of which 61 are men, 59 women, 33 little boys and 24 little girls.
1888-89 : according to the Lovell’s Directory, 400 people live on the Coteau.
1906 : app. 4,000
1914 : app. 5,000
1930 : the population has exploded to approximately 50,000
In 1880, M. Eustache Prud’homme is Côte-Saint-Luc’s Mayor and M. D. Jérémie Décarie, Mayor of NDG.
Leduc and Décarie, stonemasons
In 1688, neighbours Leduc and Décarie, stonemasons helped Pierre Hurtubise build his house on Décarie land in a part of Coteau-Saint-Pierre that is now Westmount. The house still stands today, basically untouched, with the same fortified basement that was meant to protect women and children against Indian attacks.
Landlordship in NDG?
More often than not, Sulpicians were giving land away, but according to the seigniorial system, new settlers were leasing the land and owed their “landlords” concession fees. For example, it is recorded that :
On April 27th 1699, Joseph and Lambert Leduc signed a 3 year share-crop lease: their due, 14 bushels of wheat per year.
And on October 1st 1796, Jean Boyer, Jean Descary, Paul Poirier, Francois Descary and John MacNab signed a 5 year lease in exchange for one third of the grain, half the produce from the “garden” and half the hay crop. Landlordship only stopped in 1859.
Villa-Maria, yesterday and today
1774, following American Independance, Loyalist William Powell along with retired soldiers, merchants and of course other Loyalists comes to Montreal and eventually builds a country house on the Coteau, right where Villa-Maria now stands. It is a really simple country house. In 1795, he sells land and “shack” to another Loyalist, James Monk, who builds the original part of Villa-Maria, where he will reside, with the same characteristics as his ancestral home in Scotland. Monkland(s), after his death, from 1844 to 1849, (when Ottawa becomes the capital) is rented by Monk’s niece to the British Government for the Governor of Canada.
Villa-Maria’s “best years”
It has been said that around 1849, Joseph Compain, owner of the “Café Dillon” was renting the premises to use as a hotel. The Monkland’s Hotel received clients from the Café, sent by special coach, through the day and evening, to dine and dance till the wee hours of the morning to the despair of quite a few parishioners.
Comes 1882, when the Congrégation Notre-Dame, founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys, buys the domain and occupies the premises, nuns complain about the saloon smell in the basement…
These wonderful buildings still surrounded by beautiful grounds now house College Villa-Maria.
Cabbage, apples and melons
NDG land was proverbially fertile. Cabbage, tomatoes, onions, apple orchards and the famous melons were growing happily. These melons were world renowned, having been tasted and appreciated in Montreal Hotels like the Windsor Hotel but also as far away as New York’s Waldorf Astoria . It is also said that at the beginning of the century after a devastating frost, a Montreal restaurateur asked Anatole Décarie, melon grower, whether it would be possible to replace the fresh melon on his dessert menu with Mme Décarie’s amazing melon jam. For a while the Décarie kitchen was turned into a small factory. The smell was pungent but the jam very much appreciated in the Windsor Hotel dining room.
Ours, the best!
Word has it that the Côte-des-Neiges melons ripened ten days later than NDG’s. NDG melons were even enjoyed by King Edward VII, sent to Buckingham Palace by special order in boxes bearing Anatole Décarie’s name, his occupation “cultivateur” and his address.
Picnicking in the orchards
In the last century, when came time to harvest, farmers would get together and organise picnics on each other’s farm, complete with drinking, dancing, eating and of course harvesting. Kids were climbing ladders, elders ordering apples by size. At lunchtime we ate and hopefully there was some dancing…Then back to work till sundown. The “hosts” had prepared a filling dinner, a warming fire and all that was followed by serious dancing after which everyone went home dreaming about the next picnic… Our grandmothers remember St Henry’s youth apple picking in NDG.
For the longest time the only road between NDG and Ville Marie, the “chemin de la Côte Saint-Antoine” was a path used by Indians, that neighbours Hurtubise and Décarie were going to expand and improve. Victoria avenue was also originally a path open through Hurtubise land so that son-in-law Ephrem Hudon could reach his father-in-law’s (Pierre Hurtubise) house much faster. How things change…
Help us tell the story of our community with your personal reminiscences or copies of photos or documents. You will enjoy sharing our history with your neighbours. Yvan Pelland