Published in the Westmount Examiner on November 24, 2006
Westmount Park is not really a locale where one would expect acts of horrific violence to occur. Nothing about that splendid urban sanctuary could possibly suggest destructiveness or melancholy, especially in the late spring. Yet this bucolic and tranquil public garden, established in the late nineteenth century, was the venue chosen by one Philippe Cluzel to end his days in Edwardian Montreal.
Cluzel, a native of St. Bonnet, France, had only been in the Montreal area for a year or so. He was 38 years of age and had worked as a gardener for Mr. Alphonse Decarie of Notre Dame de Grace.
Early in the morning of Monday, May 29, 1905, left 2331 St. James Street, near The Glenn in St. Henri, where he had boarded with a family named Lafrenière. His rent of $3.50 a week was due that day, but he told the family that he would pay it later and that, for the moment, he was heading for early morning Mass.
A short time later, Cluzel was seen by several people rushing along St. Catherine Street in Westmount. The despondent man made his way to the park, stopping at the edge of the artificial lake. Once there, according to newspaper reports of the time, he took out a brand new 32-calibre revolver and placed its muzzle over his right ear, hesitated a moment, and then pulled the trigger. He fell dead onto the park bench behind him. The seat in question faced Western Avenue, today de Maisonneuve Boulevard. It was approximately 5:45 A.M.
The Montreal Star reported that “the act created a panic in the park and a rush was made for the spot from whence came the sound of the shot. Two men, who were on their way to business, were the first to reach the site. They found the neatly dressed man lying on the bench with blood pouring from the wound in his head. The smoking revolver was lying at his feet.”
The two men in question, residents of St. Henri, were identified as William Menard and Robert William Ferguson, both in the cigar-making business and both out for an early stroll in the pleasant Westmount neighbourhood. As they approached the bench, both men thought the person on the park bench was drunk but later realised, when they saw the blood and the revolver, that the situation was much graver than simple intoxication. Finding Cluzel’s body to be still warm, they called the Westmount Police.
Chief of Police James Harrison immediately took charge of the situation, drew up his hand-written report of the drama, and forwarded both it and the body to the Coroner’s Office in Montreal (The undertaking firm of Dumaine and Cie. attended to the transportation of the corpse to the Montreal morgue). His depiction of the event (which, along with the rest of the Coroner’s file in this regard, can still be found today, in a mint condition, at the Quebec Archives at Viger Square) spoke of a man “dressed in a black suit, and a hard bowler hat lying near by, the right hand lying across the centre of the body.” Cluzel’s face was covered with blood, and his body was slumped somewhat to the left. He was indeed dead.
If there is any irony to be found in such a tragic, self-inflicted end, it would be this: Cluzel dressed up for the event. In addition to his previously-mentioned black suit, he was found to be wearing a new white shirt (albeit now all ‘be-daubed’ in blood), an immaculate fresh black tie and, according to The Star, “apparently new underclothing.” His boots were described as being “in perfect order”, although the desperate man wore no socks.
While no property or marks of identification could be found on the body, a driver with the Westmount Health Department recognized Cluzel as a former employee of Mr. Decarie. The latter was contacted and agreed to present himself at the Coroner’s Office in order to see if he could identify the cadaver as that of Philippe Cluzel. At Coroner’s McMahon’s office in Montreal, the shocked Decarie declared that the body was indubitably that of Cluzel. He further stated the unfortunate French citizen had, for a brief period, worked for him on his rather large farm only a short distance from Westmount. He described his former employee as a “bright man, was one of the last men in the world that he would suspect of doing such a thing.” However, further reports indicated that after voluntarily leaving the employ of Decarie only a month earlier, Cluzel fell upon hard times and “had taken to drink.”
A post mortem examination of the body was performed at the Montreal morgue by Dr. C. A. Dugas who declared that death must have been instantaneous and that the bullet had remained lodged in the deceased’s brain. He described Cluzel as being “assez bien constitué”, measuring five feet, five inches and having blue eyes.
An interesting twist to this story is the fact (and surely readers noticed) that people were up and about their business much earlier in those days. This was due to the simple fact that there was no official Daylight Savings Time in the early 1900’s and on that Monday all those years ago, the sun rose at 4:16 A.M., signaling in yet another bright and beautiful day. Clearly, however, people found their own way, despite the clock, to maximize their daylight hours!
Below, Westmount Park, 1910