The Fate of a Community

In 1970, St Ann’s Church was disassembled due to low attendance rates. Suburban flight, encouraged by slum land lording and poor public works, had plagued the community of Griffintown since the 1950’s. Factory closures along the Lachine Canal meant that the allure of the area’s proximity to industrial employment came to an end. In addition, aggressive modernization tactics by the Drapeau government during the 1960’s imposed market zoning regulations on Griffintown, disallowing further residential development. After renaming the region the Faubourge des Recollettes, Drapeau used such zoning reforms to replace the dilapidated hosing rows with low-level industry, much of which now lies dormant . Was Griffintown a victim of boundless modernization of a zealous municipal government? Or was the Drapeau plan just the final blow to a neighborhood ripped apart by deindustrialization?

The Decline of Industry

With the vast majority of Griffintown’s residents members of the industrial working class, the area was particularly vulnerable to the economic waxings and wanings of industrial Canada. According to a 1909 insurance survey of Montreal, Griffintown proper included the Montreal Tramways Power house, Dow’s Brewery, The General Fire Extinguisher company (vacant after 1916), woodworking companies, lumber yards, a milk pasturization plant, meat packers, metal works, and other industrial employers. This is in additon to the old Redpath Sugar factor, the GTR and other large industrial employers in Point St Charles, Victoriaville and the Vieux Port.

Examination of a later map of Griffintown, 1940, shows the area  in transformation yet still thriving. While much of the industry still remained, a large CN track had been constructed between Nazareth and Anne streets and right through the Haymarket Square, effectively dividing the area’s residential and indsutrial sectors. The track stood beside the O’Connell bathhouse and the William’s street protestant school. The General Fire Extinguisher had fallen, replaced by a paper company. Large factories remained within the area: the New City Light and Gas, the Darling Foundry, The CN railyard, amoung others.

With the factories of the region closed or barely producing and city planning restrictions forbidding residential development, the area went into decline. Where poorly maintained row houses once stood, warehouses and parking lots grew. Low level industry replaced the emptying lots and Griffintown would remain relatively dormant until the 1990’s.

Side Entrace to the New City Light and Gas Factory, now closed. The factory supplied energy to the surrounding area before the dawn of Hydro Power. Photo by Aymeric Grail, 2009

Side Entrace to the New City Gas Factory, now closed. The factory supplied energy to the surrounding area before the advent of electricity. Photo by Aymeric Grail, 2009 

Standing in the Shadow of Progress

As Griffintown became caught in the spiral of industrial decline, the City of Montreal voted in a mayor that would usher in a modern era at any cost. Mayor Jean Drapeau began his reign in 1958 and soon became known for his ties to organized crime and padding his councils with members of Montreal’s business elite. Yet Drapeau remains a controversial figure within the Montreal narrative not only for his dubious connections, but for his aggressive urban reforms in the spirit of progress. Under Drapeau, Montreal played host to the Olympics and Expo 67, which warrented reshaping and enlarging Isle St Helen in the St Lawrence river. It also saw remarkable infrastructure growth, with the development of the Metro system and multiple autoroutes.

Cartoon of Jean Drapeau by Montreal Cartoonist Aislin. In this, Drapeau is depicted as Mont Royal, overlooking a changed Montreal. The "Thank You" is from the artist, as Drapeau's contoversial persona provided ample fodder for jounalist and commentators. Cartoon by Terry "Aislin" Mosher, 1986, courtesy of the McCord Museum.

Cartoon of Jean Drapeau by Montreal Cartoonist Aislin. In this, Drapeau is depicted as Mont Royal, overlooking a changed Montreal. The “Thank You” is from the artist, as Drapeau’s contoversial persona provided ample fodder for jounalists and political commentators. Cartoon by Terry “Aislin” Mosher, 1986, courtesy of the McCord Museum.

Caught in the rhetoric of urban renewal and uncompromising modernization, Griffintown’s abandoned rear tenements and dilapidated factory shells were labled an eyesore. (Ley: Middle Class, 223) Nearby Victoriaville, also a victim of deindustrialization’s job loss and sub-standard housing, was bulldozed to avoid offending patrons of the upcoming Expo 67. The laissez-faire, market-oriented urban policy of the time alloted any unusable land in the area to commercial and low-level industrial purposes. (Ley: Middle Class, 227) While this market zoning was generally targetted to already abandoned lots in Griffintown, it also meant that those who chose to stay could not make the necessary repairs that would bring their houses up to code. Like other relics of bygone Montreal, Griffintown was relegated into Drapeau’s “dustbin of history”.

Writing on Griffintown wall, 1970. David Wallace Marvin, from the McCord Museum collection

Nous Sommes les Citoyens du Griffintown. Writing on Griffintown wall, 1970. David Wallace Marvin, from the McCord Museum collection

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3 responses to “The Fate of a Community

  1. Iris Mary Shestowsky

    My family comes from the Point and the Griff. The Griff and Goose Village were indeed slums. No sane person is happy living in delapidated cold water flats with poor insulation. What is being missed are the neighbours, but hey life moves on and so do people, neighbourhoods transform. I live in the Stelco building on Charlevoix and I like the fact that the Point, Little Burgundy, the Griff are all moving forward. Stop living in the past and enjoy the future. This is the 21st century.

  2. FYI Victoriaville was bulldozed for Expo 67 not the 76 Olympics.
    There are pictures of people still living in the houses, the day before the bull dozers came in.

  3. Hi Deb,
    Thanks for your edit, you’re completely right! Its been a while now since I’ve tuned up this blog, glad its still getting some use.

    Cheers!

    Abbey

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