When, on March 5, 1909, the founder of the Salvation Army General William Booth was received at Marlborough House by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King George V), the meeting heralded a new beginning in the uneasy relationship between the “Army” and the conventional authorities. Later that same month, Booth appeared in Montreal and spoke to a full house at His Majesty’s Theatre on Guy Street.
Up to that point, the Salvation Army, founded by Booth in London in 1865, had struggled against prejudice and even violence in its initial days. Established in Montreal in 1882, many of their early meetings were disrupted by ruffians suspicious of the benevolent social policies of the fledgling organization. In the early 1900’s, a torrent of hostility followed the “Army” virtually everywhere it went within the city. Many were leery that mass conversion was the ultimate goal of the intrepid organization.
In those earlier days, Citadels provided some shelter from the unpleasantness faced by many in the Salvation Army’s day to day charitable activities. The first refuge was located on St. Alexander Street during the period 1886 – 1906. Its second sanctuary was situated at another site; this one on University Street. The third, and most familiar to Montrealers, was its Citadel found on Drummond Street from 1948 – 2007. The “Army” held its first service within its walls on September 11, 1948.
Ironically, for all the enmity faced by the Salvation Army throughout those early years, the only deaths incurred by the sect were the loss of two members in a tragic summertime accident near the old Belmont Park on Rivière-des-Praries. The victims, Peter Laidlaw and George Ellis, drowned together July 22, 1922. Both were members of the Citadel’s renowned band.
The building in which that historic third citadel was located was erected in 1906 – 1907 and was known for over forty years as the Emmanuel Congregational Church. Built in the Greek Ionic style, its majestic façade counts six slender classical columns. The main hall of the church held over 1200 people. The Congregationalists constructed it to replace an increasingly ageing and inadequate religious temple located at Stanley Street and Ste. Catherine. Caringly, they brought many of their beautiful stain glass windows with them to the new Drummond Street location.
Entirely devoid of pretense, the Citadel has rested like an anchor on Drummond Street for more than a century. More recently, however, the landmark edifice was in dire need of major repairs, necessitating an expenditure of funds that the Salvation Army simply didn’t have. Accordingly, in 2007, the “Army” approached its neighbours, Rio Tinto Alcan Inc., and expressed an interest in selling off the old Drummond Street structure. After some intense negotiations, a deal was struck and the “Sally Ann” walked way with sufficient money to re-focus its mission in a new facility on Richardson Street in Pointe St. Charles.
Leaving the venerable Citadel was not without emotion for most. Some “Salvationists” knew no other spiritual home. Many members were even married in the building, and for them the departure must have been particularly difficult. The last service within its walls took place in June of 2007, after which the Army eventually found its way to its news quarters in Pointe St. Charles.
For most Montrealers, our familiarity with the Salvation Army comes chiefly from the holiday season. This is when the “Army’s” money-raising Christmas Kettles – all manned by bell-ringing volunteers – make their appearance. The custom was first started in December of 1891 in San Francisco and continues throughout the world to this day. A favourite Christmas Kettle is usually the one found in front of Ogilvy’s traditional holiday display window on St. Catherine Street. This year’s ‘Kettle’ campaign will start in Montreal on December 3.
Resisted at first in those early days, the “Salvationists” are now, along with their former Drummond Street Citadel, part and parcel of Montreal’s vibrant and varied religious heritage.