The Fortier House, “Notre Dame and St. Peter Streets”

 (extracted verbatim from the May 9, 1904 edition of The Montreal Star)

Topics of the Street

“With the onward march of commerce, with the continued and ever-increasing demand for new modern buildings, the quaint structures which lined our downtown streets but a comparatively few years ago are now fast disappearing. Probably a more interesting relic of the mediaeval past cannot be found than the old structure, corner Notre Dame and St. Peter streets, which two centuries back sheltered the Fortier family, and afterward became the temporary residence of Generals Montgomery, Wooster, and Benedict Arnold.

“The old house stands much as it did then but soon it will disappear; for already the Carsley Company have acquired it, and it is only a matter of months when it will be razed to the ground, a commercial establishment of modern proportions rising in its stead. On the Notre Dame street side of the old house has seen many changed since the American troops marched in by the Recollet gate on that morning in November 128 years ago. The interior and the rear of the building, however, have changed but little since those days. The heavy masonry, the quaint French windows and the old-fashioned chimneys can be seen by any one who takes the trouble of walking down St. Peter street a few rods beyond Notre Dame. As houses ran in Montreal a century and a quarter ago, the Fortier mansion was first, for the historian of that day tells us that General Montgomery lodged himself in the handsomest residence of the city.

“The Fortier family who, by the way, have retained the property from the day it was first granted by Louis, of France, in 1656, up to the time it was sold to the Carsley firm, were people of taste, as well as means, for we are told that the principal rooms were wainscoted and that above the wainscot were tapestries depicting scenes in the life of Louis XIV. Then again there were handsome gardens in those days extending down toward the river. So it is little wonder that Montgomery had the good taste to choose it as an abiding place during the winter of 1775-76.

FortierHouse1775

“Let us picture something of Montreal that morning of November 13, 1775, when at nine o’clock, Montgomery marched in at the head of the American ‘Rebels,’ Sir Guy Carleton not having sufficient troops to seriously oppose him, and having in consequence retreated toward Quebec. The Recollet Gate by which General Montgomery and his forces entered stood about at the juncture of Notre Dame and McGill streets, the latter thoroughfare marking the western limits of the city at that time. The city’s eastern limits extended as far as the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Place Viger Station; the northern limit was Fortification lane and the southern limits the harbour front. About the whole was a stone wall, not over tall nor over strong. Here and there were placed a few cannon and the walls were loop-holed for musketry; while about the wall on the outside was a dry ditch seven feet in depth. Within the city wall were a little over five thousand people, and the historians of the day state that there was a great deal of style among the women who were given much to silks, satins and laces, and in the afternoon they promenaded along St. Paul and Notre Dame streets.

“When General Montgomery marched on to Quebec, there to fall in his efforts to storm the battlements, he left the old Fortier house in the hands of General Wooster, who succeeded him in command of Montreal, and before long, Benedict Arnold, that brilliant, misguided soldier, was also in Montreal and made the house his temporary home. Here they lived until driven out by the advancing Sir Guy Carleton, who returned in the spring with reinforcements. So it was the American occupation of this old mansion ended and the owners, the Fortier family, the forefathers of our present Mr. Joseph Fortier, took possession of their own again.

“When Notre Dame and St. Paul streets ceased to be the centre of the residential district, the old Fortier house was turned into a mart of trade. First it was cut up into two storerooms of equal frontage, the old doorway being retained in the centre. Then the residential windows disappeared and in their place came plate glass show windows, while the interior alterations have been such as to practically obliterate the old building so far as the first floor is concerned. Above this, however, there are still the old-fashioned French windows peeking out of the steep roof, flanked on either side by the massive chimneys.”

Below, the Fortier House in 1896, a decade or so before its demolition –

FortierHouse1896cropped

 

 

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