(Published in the Montreal Gazette on November 17, 2012)
The election of Michael Applebaum as interim Mayor of Montreal begs the question: when was the last real anglophone Mayor of Montreal?
While some might argue that the Honourable John Edmund Guerin was the last anglophone mayor of Montreal (“A Glass Ceiling for Anglos at City Hall”, Montreal Gazette, November 15, 2012, op.-ed.), the evidence suggests that the question is somewhat more complicated than that.
Although Guerin was the child of Irish – born parents, much of his education and professional life as a medical doctor was realized in French language institutions in Montreal. For all intents and purposes, he was a francophone in his day-to-day life.
A good part of his schooling took place at the Collège de Montréal. Later, Guerin served as president of the Bureau médical de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal and the l’Association médicale de langue française en Amérique du Nord. In addition, he taught clinical medicine at the l’Université Laval de Montréal. In 1902, Guerin received a honourary degree from the Quebec City campus of that same university – hardly the typical curriculum vitae of an anglophone Montrealer, especially during that particular time period.
No, to find the last truly English-speaking Mayor of Montreal, one must go back a few more years well into Edwardian times when Henry Archer Ekers served in that office from 1906 – 1908.
Both of Ekers’ parents were born in England. Later established in Montreal, the father quickly became an important figure in the city’s brewery industry with a plant located on St. Lawrence Main. That same building is currently undergoing restoration after having served for a long period as Montreal’s Musée Juste pour rire.
The son took over the business with the death of his father in 1889.
Henry Archer Ekers was educated at the English – language Collegiate School, near University Street.
From 1898 to 1906, Ekers represented St. Lawrence Ward on City Council where he was also an extremely influential member of the Finance Committee. In 1906, he was elected Mayor of Montreal with 56% of the popular vote.
During his tenure as Chief Magistrate of the city, Ekers faced many of the same problems of his predecessors as well as his successors – the dismal quality of the city’s streets and water supply, to mention just two. In 1907, he refused a deputation’s request that Montreal host a winter carnival as it had so often done in other years. The mayor cited budgetary considerations.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty Ekers encountered during his two years as Montreal’s Chief Magistrate was the growing political agitation among the city’s socialists. Ekers, after weeks of hedging during the spring of 1907, finally refused permission for the traditional May 1 demonstration to take place in the municipality’s streets. The church and the business community fully supported him in that regard.
When incensed workers and students showed up anyway, police truncheons greeted them in an unusually violent display orchestrated by the forces of order with the full collaboration of the mayor’s office. As a powerful industrialist, Ekers had no sympathy for what he considered to be acts of anarchy in the streets of Montreal.
Of course, corruption was very much part and parcel of civic life under most of the administrations charged with overseeing the town’s fortunes during this time period. Ekers’ mayoralty was no exception. Only a year after he left office, the provincial government appointed the Cannon Royal Commission to investigate the widespread malaise at Montreal’s City Hall. The 500-page report was issued in December of 1909 and revealed a well-established network of shady dealings in various civic administrations.
After his brief stint as the Montreal’s mayor, Ekers ran once again as a Conservative in the federal election of 1908. He was defeated, just as he had been previously in 1900. After this second defeat, Ekers devoted himself fulltime to his business concerns. In 1909, he amalgamated fifteen different breweries into one under the name National Breweries Limited.
Henry Archer Ekers was, for better or for worse, the last veritable English-speaking Mayor of Montreal, now over 104 years ago. Ekers lived most of his life in this city on Bishop Street, near Sherbrooke, where he maintained his own personal stable until the day of his death on February 1, 1927.
Ekers is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery.