My quest for further information about my family’s Montreal roots led me to a little known historical association called “La Société d’histoire de Pointe-St-Charles”.
Located in the heart of the working – class borough, the non – profit organization traces the history of a community over 350 years. Created on the 26th of April, 1993, the society took upon itself the daunting task of documenting and promoting the heritage of Pointe St. Charles, today a vibrant Montreal neighbourhood of some 13,000 people.
From its modest office in the old Lorne School building, it is meeting that challenge by putting together an archival resource collection of considerable merit. Once assembled, spreading that knowledge throughout the population is one of the principal objectives of the association. With their kind assistance, I enthusiastically took advantage of that generous approach.
As it turned out, my paternal grandfather arrived in the Point in 1907 and remained there in a simple four room, cold-water flat at the old civic address of 173 Ryde Street. The traditional W.C. with the overhead cistern was found in a corner of the kitchen!
There they stayed for over a decade before moving on to Verdun. At that time, the disadvantaged district was usually just a brief, yet quite often necessary stopover on the way to better living conditions elsewhere. In fact, the area was so rough and tumble that in the very early 1900’s there was even a movement to change the town’s name!
As “La Société d’histoire de Pointe-Saint-Charles” details, the locality was for the longest time completely separated from the rest of the city by the Lachine Canal. One of the first links to the other side of the waterway was the controversial Curran Bridge, completed in 1893. The problem was that the span was constantly opening and closing to allow inland craft to pass up and down the channel. Therefore, getting to work on time in Montreal was always a challenge for people from the Point. One letter to the editor to a local newspaper in October of 1907 also complained about the inadequate tramway service travelling in and out of the community.
The historical society is always on the lookout for individuals willing to provide an oral history of their connection to Pointe St. Charles. In my case, they helped me much more than I helped them. I was, nevertheless, able to provide rudimentary information about my family’s sojourn in the vicinity, for which they were very appreciative. Vintage photographs are also quite welcome to add to their growing collection, as was mine of my three uncles sitting on the stoop of their Ryde Street flat, in 1909, in their very unassuming Edwardian clothing!
The association counts 150 members but they are always looking for more to help out on their many committees – ranging from architecture to communications. Guided tours are also available. Membership is a moderate $10 a year, and includes regular bulletins.
The group’s office is found at 2390 Ryde Street, Suite 206, Montreal H3K 1R6
Their bilingual website is at www.histoire-pointesaintcharles.org