There’s a quaint little “Bed and Breakfast” just a few buildings down the street from where I write. It’s been in business for a number of years and doing, to all appearances, quite well. Occasionally, from the public pathway, I’ll assist guests who are heading to its portal by answering their questions about Montreal’s notoriously confusing parking signs and other far- reaching queries about the neighbourhood in which they find themselves. Not too worry – it’s safe, I tell them.
What I don’t tell them is that the auberge in which they will be shortly sojourning was, in November of 1979, the scene to one of the most gruesome and horrific murders ever recorded in this city. I don’t reveal the details because that tragic event is in itself completely immaterial to their Montreal visit and, besides, who amongst us knows what happened in earlier times in the homes in which we live, especially those dwellings from our Victorian past.
History informs us, however, that births and deaths were customary matters in the sombre rooms of our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors. More often than not, infants were born in the family domicile while obsequies were normally conducted from the actual residence in which the death occurred, frequently also the very lieu of the traditional visitation rite.
It was never really established with any degree of certainty the exact date that Mr. Samuel Di Silva died in his rooming house apartment located at 2031 St. Hubert Street, just below the hill from the chic Plateau – Mont Royal ward of Montreal. What was demonstrated unequivocally, nonetheless, was that his remains were discovered only after complaints were expressed to the authorities by other tenants of the then dilapidated building that a very distinct and nauseous odour was emanating from unit number four – Di Silva’s living quarters. Presently the police arrived to investigate.
As chance would have it, I passed by the victim’s premises at the very moment officials from the morgue carried to their singularly woeful vehicle several garbage bags, each containing parts of the butchered corpse that was once Samuel Di Silva’s body. Seems he was the prey of a deranged individual, the forensic experts proffered.
Needless to say, I was deeply affected by such a grisly slaying taking place only a few doors from my tranquil abode. In truth, it distressed me such that to this day I cannot walk by the peaceable and delightfully – restored guest house without thinking of that lamentable incident now some twenty – eight years ago. And still.
Alone in my own Victorian row home, I wonder what occurrences, both joyous and tragic, have unfolded within and without the walls of this dwelling, now some 123 years old. For heaven’s sake (I say to myself), John A. Macdonald was Prime Minister of Canada when this very structure was fashioned, then on the outskirts of a late nineteenth century Montreal. There must be something concealed within its expanse. I set out, therefore, to learn what I can.
As a devotee of local history, I have little difficulty stumbling upon my first findings. It appears (according to newspaper reports from the period) that the original owner of my house and his wife both died within its walls and that their respective funerals were conducted from the premises – Mme. Clement in 1903, supervened by that of her husband seven years later.
A little further casual digging into the chronicle of my thoroughfare and I unearth yet another gratuitous killing, only this time on the sidewalk, virtually outside the door of that same unchanged building of which I am now the owner. It seems that one Ernest Messier hadn’t taken kindly to his replacement by another for the affections of Rose Anna Paquette of 2089 St. Hubert Street. Consequently, on one damp and despairing Saturday evening many years ago, through the heart he shot her dead, on the very steps of her home. That was in the autumn of 1928 and less than a year later Messier paid with his life for his feeble-minded misdemeanour.
For all that, however, I later determined that not every occurrence concealed in the history of my street was sorrowful in nature. On September 11, 1910, for instance, a solemn procession (the closing event of the eminent Eucharistic Congress of that same year) moved piously along my avenue while meandering its way to its final destination – Fletcher’s Field on the slopes of majestic Mount Royal. Surely this was (I thought to myself) in sharp contrast to the shootings and decimations of later years.
Having easily satisfied my curiosity in this matter, I ended my clumsy investigation into the past and stepped outside my door for a breath of fresh air. As I looked to my left, I caught sight of yet another holidaying couple as they climbed the steps to that nearby “Bed and Breakfast” about which I probably know too much. “Welcome to Montreal,” I called out. They looked back at me, smiling easily as they leisurely entered their historic lodgings.