Published in the Montreal Gazette on August 9, 2014
In order to assist his family during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, my late father was taken out of school at the age of ten and sent off to work. In 1931, he landed a job as a delivery boy for the American Pharmacy, a prestigious drugstore located at 1187 St. Catherine Street between the Stanley and Drummond. Indeed, this one particular block is in itself a celebrated corner of Montreal history.
I don’t know how long my father worked for the American Pharmacy, but I do know that particular drug – dispensing franchise was present on that block for half a century. A team of young boys on bicycles guaranteed rapid delivery in the downtown core, especially for the people living in the impressive chateau-like apartment buildings on Sherbrooke Street, from whom the youngsters could always rightly imagine a generous tip to come their way.
The American Pharmacy first appeared in Montreal in 1910 on the northeast corner of Drummond and St. Catherine. It remained on that site until the construction in 1922 of the imposing Bank of Montreal edifice, which is still there today. That same year, the drugstore moved a few buildings east where it remained until 1960. Today, their former abode is home to a Footlocker store.
Immediately to its east, on the northwest corner of Stanley and St. Catherine is the Castle Building. Constructed in 1926 – 27, the edifice (which is named after the Castle Tea Company) was considered to be one of the taller structures in Montreal at the time. Windowed on all four sides, it has, over the years, been home to doctors, insurance clerks, exporters, and even diplomats.
The Castle Building was erected on the site of the old Emmanuel Congregational Church, which served Montrealers of that particular religious persuasion from 1877 until its final service on May 26, 1907.
After the congregation abandoned the edifice for its new church on Drummond Street (today, the old Citadel of the Salvation Army), the deserted building was initially recycled into the Lyric Concert Hall, which survived until 1913. It was later demolished to make way for the Castle Building.
However, it’s on the south side of the road that the real history is come upon. Let’s start directly across St. Catherine Street from the Castle Building.
Layton Audio, which is now located in the second edifice from Stanley, was in 1910 established sharp on the southwest corner of that same intersection. Launched by two brothers, Philip E. Layton and Herbert A. Layton, their enterprise was originally dedicated to the selling of high quality pianos and organs. Philip, who was visually impaired himself, was the founder of the Montreal Association for the Blind. He was also the great grandfather of the late NDP leader, Jack Layton.
Further along the block, and near Drummond Street, is found one of Montreal’s older St. Catherine Street restaurants – Mr. Steer’s. Formerly located near Bleury along that same street, Mr. Steer’s launched itself at its current location a half a century ago and has been doing very well ever since.
Above Mr. Steer’s in the mid 1960’s was Club Chez Pierre Le Grand that was famous for its various ‘go-go girls’ who danced, one at a time, in the club’s window overlooking St. Catherine Street below. There were almost always male students from nearby Sir George Williams University (today, Concordia) standing across the road in front of the Bank of Montreal building watching intently.
Yet, unknown to most Montrealers is that the property upon which Mr. Steer’s is found was once the home of a Canadian Father of Confederation. Indeed, the residence was that of Thomas D’Arcy McGee who was assassinated in Ottawa in April of 1868. McGee, when in Montreal, lived with his family in house 4 of Montmorency Terrace. After McGee’s murder, his widow, Mary Teresa Caffrey, continued to live there until her own death in January of 1871.
The celebrated building burnt down in 1962. Two massive, shamrock decorated lintels from the historic edifice can be found on display today at Concordia University in the Abe and Harriet Gold Atrium at 1515 St. Catherine Street West, just a few blocks away from where they stood for nearly a century.
Below, St. Catherine Street looking east from Drummond in July of 1976 and yesterday, August 14, 2014. Note the 1922 Bank of Montreal Building on the left.