It was with little surprise and yet considerable despondency that I read of the intention of the authorities to demolish the historic nine-unit block that has housed Steve’s Music Store for more than 50 years. (“It’s time to call in the roadies,” Gazette, June 22, 2017, A9)
What has become quite clear over the last little while is that, when it comes to heritage and its safeguard, the various levels of government are significantly more demanding. of the private sector than they are of themselves. The 2011 demolition of the pre-Confederation Trinity Church that had stood since 1864 at the corner of St. Denis and Viger comes to mind as just one example of government complicity in the forgoing of our patrimony. Sadly, there are many other instances.
In the case of the rather large terraced structure currently accommodating Steve’s Music Store, a strong case could be made for its preservation, if for no other reason than its age.
The assorted buildings date from at least 1860, and possibly much earlier. Together, they are one of the most dated assemblages of continuous, erstwhile homes in the city. Standing just outside the periphery of Old Montreal, they have also housed some pretty important Montrealers, and one in particular readily leaps to mind.
Louis Rubenstein, beloved municipal alderman, figure skater and perhaps one of the country’s finest all-round athletes ever, lived in the flat then situated at 537 ½ Craig Street West (today, 71 St. Antoine West), essentially in the very centre of the threatened Steve’s Music Store multi-unit complex.
Rubenstein was born in Montreal on September 23, 1861, the son of Max and Leah Rubenstein. He had many siblings, both male and female. His parents had emigrated from Poland in the early 1850’s and had established themselves in Montreal where all the men worked, in one capacity or another, in the silver and brass plating business at their Craig Street address. In point of fact, the Rubenstein’s were one of the oldest Jewish families in the city.
Below, Louis Rubinstein –
Not content with simply working in the household firm, Louis Rubenstein found time to excel in the great Canadian pastime of ice skating. From 1883-89, he was the Canadian figure-skating champion. Later, he took time off in 1890 to represent this country at the world championship held in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he won the gold medal. It was while in Russia that the young athlete experienced firsthand the czarist regime’s notorious anti-Semitism.
Rubenstein, who was also an accomplished bowler and cyclist, was president of the Canadian Wheelmen’s Association for 18 years and also president of the Canadian Amateur Athletic Association from 1913-1915.
In 1914, the life-long bachelor was elected alderman for the ward of St. Louis, a position he held until his death in 1931. In that position, he dedicated himself totally to the people of his district while all along championing the rights of the working class. It was often said by many that he was a good and decent man, and had not an enemy on Council, nor on the streets of the city.
A little known fact in the life of Louis Rubenstein was that his civic gallantry began at a very early age. In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, April 29, 1877, the young boy was awakened from sleep by an out-of-control fire that was raging behind his family’s home and business, now, as already mentioned, part of Steve’s Record Store. In virtual total darkness, Rubenstein ran from his home west along Craig Street until he came to the Central Fire Station where he alerted the men to what was happening. He was all of 15 years of age.
Below, fighting the Great St. Urban Street Fire of 1877 –
Ultimately, the Great St. Urbain Street Fire, as the tragic event is known in history, cost the lives of 11 Montrealers, including seven firemen. There is little doubt, however, that many more would have died had it not been for young Louis Rubenstein.
All in all, a rather impressive curriculum vitae. Most jurisdictions would consider putting a commemorative plaque on the St. Antoine Street edifice, not tearing it down.
Below, Rubenstein’s 19th century home (circa.1880), where he is perhaps among those in front of the building –
Below, the same building today, now part of the Steve’s Music Store on St. Antoine, formerly Craig Street –