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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Hampstead, Quebec

Hampstead Park...late 1940s -early 1950s?...courtesy of Bill Conrod author of Memories of Snowden in the 1950S.

There was a time in Canada’s history that Montreal was the center of commerce in the country. Most immigrants who came to Canada from Europe came through the port of Montreal. Like New York City in the US, many of those immigrants decided to become citizens of the biggest cities in each respective country. There were opportunities in big thriving cities and the long boat ride across the Atlantic may have dissuaded some from venturing further.

The most successful immigrants that came to Montreal were of Scottish and British heritage. The Scottish in particular brought their Christian beliefs with them and what is sometimes called “The Presbyterian (Protestant) Work Ethic”. The list of major businesses that people who were born in England or Scotland created is a long one. Some of those businesses were Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ogilvie’s Department Store, Molson’s Brewery, Henry Morgan’s Department Store, Dominion Textiles, Redpath Sugar, and The Hudson’ Bay Company.
They established The Bank of Montreal and financed The Lachine Canal making Montreal one of the major ports in the world. A lot of British money went into building the CPR railway and for many years that railway’s head office was at Windsor Station in Montreal. Among the legacies left are The Royal Victoria Hospital (soon to be closed) and McGill University.
Montreal took part in the Gilded Age from 1870 to 1900 where a few dozen wealthy families controlled most of the commerce in the city. These wealthy people started building grandiose mansions along the Sherbrooke Street West corridor and north of that street in the city of Westmount on the south side of Mount Royal. Eventually all the land in Westmount was spoken for and around sometime between 1900 and 1910 plans were made to find other areas on the island of Montreal where upper middle class houses could be built.
A number of wealthy French Canadian businessmen had already chosen a community on the east side of Mount Royal called Outrement to build their large houses. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau grew up in Outrement.
Two new upper middle class communities were established within a few years of each other. Both communities were in flat lands that made building houses and developing the land easier than on the mountainsides of Mount Royal. The Town of Mount Royal north of Mount Royal was incorporated in 1912 under the direction of the Canadian Northern Railway who had built a tunnel through Mount Royal. 2 years later the town of Hampstead was incorporated.
Hampstead-The Beginnings
Further to the west on the Island of Montreal and nearby to the district of Notre Dame de Grace there was some flat land that had been farms. Sometime around 1910 a consortium of wealthy English speaking Montreal gentlemen got together with a plan to build a new community that was to be called Hampstead. They got the name from a wealthy suburb of London, England that was known for its parks.

In around 1911 a company called Cote St. Luc Realities was set up by them to consolidate the land. They most likely bought a number of the farms. Cote St. Luc Road would be one of the boundaries of the new community of Hampstead. In the early 1950s Cote St. Luc Road was only paved up to a bit past Hampstead and there were several riding stables and small farms that existed off of the dirt road up until the mid 1950s.

The concept of how Hampstead would be laid out was quite different from what other Montreal communities looked like. No stores were to be built within the boundaries of the new community. Lot sizes were to be fairly large with plenty of room for a 2 story house. Many of the streets were to have bends in them unlike the usual square city blocks found in most other districts.
Sir Herbert Holt
Sir Herbert Holt (1856-1941) was the first president of the Hampstead Land and Construction Company. He may have been the richest man in Canada at one point and owned or was a director of over 300 businesses in his life. He grew up in a wealthy family in Ireland and studied civil engineering in Dublin. He immigrated to Canada while still in his teens and was involved in some of the surveying of the CPR railway.
He became very successful in business and by the year 1900 he owned the Montreal Gas company which he merged with the Royal Electric Company that was owned by French Canadian businessman Rodolphe Forget. The new company, which was a monopoly, became Montreal Light, Heat, and Power Company. In 1944 the company was nationalized and would later be known as Hydro Quebec.
Holt was considered by both friend and foe in and outside of the business world to be a ruthless character. He was the president of the Royal Bank of Canada from 1908 until 1934 and a director up until his death. He was a co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a director of the Montreal Trust Company and Canada Car and Foundry.
Holt never actually lived in Hampstead and it appears that his sole interest in seeing the area developed was purely financial. Apparently his death in 1944 was announced at a Montreal Royal’s baseball game at Delorimier Stadium and the crowd of mostly French Canadians booed him when they heard the news.
In February of 1914 the Town of Hampstead was officially incorporated. The City of Montreal and a number of French Canadian politicians who represented districts in Montreal were not that thrilled about Hampstead being incorporated. Over the ensuing years they twice tried to annex the town. They also made it very difficult for Hampstead to get access to water going as far as pouring concrete into pipes that could have connected the Montreal water system in Notre Dame de Grace and the Cote St. Luc one to the one in Hampstead. It wasn’t until 1921 that Hampstead had running water.
By the early 1920s only several houses had been built. One of them was a mansion that was owned by the mayor at the time that was erected on the site of the future town hall. Sometime later in the 1920s the 18 hole, 112 acre Hampstead Golf Course was built with the idea of enticing more wealthy home builders to the area.

Hampstead Town Hall circa 1943
Hampstead School was built around 1925 and additions were later added including more stories. It would be the only school ever to be built in the community. It was an elementary school with grades 1 to 7 and was part of the Protestant School Board of Montreal. A lot of Hampstead residents sent their kids off to private schools including LCC (Lower Canada College) in the nearby district of NDG. Some of the kids who went to Hampstead School later went to Monkland High, Westward High, and West Hill High also in NDG.

Hampstead Elementary School 1952-courtesy Bill Conrod
Originally Hampstead had planned on being a single dwelling community but in the early 1930s it was decided that 3 story apartment buildings could be built along the Cote St. Luc Road border. Apartment buildings were a good source for taxes.
As there were no stores within the community, the nearby Snowden area was where many Hampstead residents did their shopping. Queen Mary Road ran through the Snowden shopping area and into the heart of Hampstead. Some stores of note over the years along that Snowden corridor were the A & P Market, a Woolworth’s department store, a Morgan’s department store, and a Steinberg’s grocery store near Decarie Boulevard. More upscale shopping could be found in downtown Montreal at places like Holt-Renfrew, Birk’s Jewlellers (light blue boxes), and Dionne’s Grocery Store.
Most of the houses that were built in Hampstead up until the 1950s were not mansions. On average they were probably somewhere between 2500 and 3000 square feet. Many of them incorporated a Tudor style. Some were all brick while others had stone exteriors. Still others had stone exteriors just on the front of the house.
Back then Hampstead was mostly a Waspy area with a few Roman Catholics. In 1931 town officials allowed for the building of the Queen Mary Road United Church. Shortly after St. Malachy’s (Catholic) Church and St. Mathew’s (Anglican) Church were also built.
Back in the day there was a fair amount of anti-semitism in Montreal. It crossed pretty well all classes from the poor, to the middle-class, to the very wealthy. Jews were barred from joining almost all private clubs in Montreal including the Hampstead Golf Course. It might be a bit difficult to say exactly where that anti-semitism came from back then but I have a few guesses. Cultural backgrounds and different religious beliefs were probably part of it. I’m fairly sure that many WASP businessmen looked at Jewish businessmen as brash and potentially a threat to their own market places. WASPs tended to often be low key about their business investments and shied away from any unwanted publicity.
For many years up until the 1960s there was a kind of unwritten rule in Hampstead and that was that people almost never sold their houses to Jews. It seems that there was a fear that if a few Jews owned homes in Hampstead many more would follow. Eventually that fear would become a reality and some of the former residents would be rolling over in their graves today if they knew that Hampstead is now 84% Jewish.
The following is conjecture on my part but this is what I believe changed the demographics of Hampstead. In the late 1950s and early 1960s a number of new houses were built on the western side of Hampstead near Heath Road. These new houses were far more modern looking than the traditional red brick and stone ones. Jewish people bought a number of these houses. In the mid 1960s the Hampstead Golf Course was sold and 112 acres became available for development. (I’m not sure if the golf course was reduced to 9 holes at first). A lot of the new houses were purchased by Jewish families.
Newer style Hampstead house.

Older style Hamspstead house.

Quebec politics also changed the fabric of Hampstead, the PQ Party and the language laws. In some ways it was like the writing was on the wall for English speaking Montrealers in general. Either adapt or move to another province or country. By the latter part of the 1960s many Hampstead WASPs clearly realized that they would soon be a minority. In some ways Expo 67 was like the last goodbye to Montreal for many English speaking people.
A lot of Jewish families encouraged their kids to get a university education and many became doctors, dentists, lawyers, and businessmen. After university many Jewish kids took off for Toronto, New York, and other places but many also made the decision to remain in Quebec. They learned how to be bilingual and how to succeed in a different political environment.
It is kind of interesting how some Jewish people migrated from one community to another in Montreal many decades ago. Before and during WW2 many Jewish immigrants ended up living in the Fletcher’s Field area on the east side of Mount Royal. The writer Mordecai Richler became famous for his stories about those times. A number of businesses were started by Jewish families and one of their goals was to make sure their children had an education that would teach them a profession.
After the war a number of young Jewish people started to thrive in their chosen professions and they started to look for areas in the city with better schools and a conservative kind of way of life. Many of them chose NDG. A lot of them wanted to own their own houses and NDG was mostly flat and apartment rentals and by the early 1960s the nearby district of Cote St. Luc was developing rapidly. Cote St. Luc became predominantly Jewish. At the same time there was also a migration of English speaking people from districts like NDG to Lakeshore communities like Pointe Claire and Beaconsfield on the far western side of the island of Montreal.
Cote St. Luc might have been middle class but it wasn’t Hampstead. Up until the 1960s many Hampstead residents had owned their homes for over 20 years. They knew their neighbours, often belonged to the same private clubs, and many went to the same lakes in the summer months.
Many of the English speaking kids of well-to-do Hampstead families saw their futures as being somewhere other than Hampstead. Some moved to the Lakeshore while others ventured off to other cities in Canada and the US. Some of those residents were getting on in years and a number of them chose to move somewhere closer to where their kids had moved.
The rest….as they say…is history.
What I Remember About Hampstead 1953-1965
The house (flat) that I grew up in was on Harvard Avenue in the district of Notre Dame de Grace (NDG). Our home was about 5 houses south of a thoroughfare called Somerled Avenue, On the other side of Somerled there was a short block with about 6 houses on each side and at the corner an apartment building on one side and a gas station (Esso?) on the other. The gas station and the apartment building were also on Cote St. Luc Road. On the other side of the road was The Town of Hampstead. It was about a 5 minute walk away from where I lived.
I think I was about 6 years old (1953?) when I first went to Hampstead Park with my parents. The park had a large concrete pond that was kind of “S’ shaped. It was about 18” deep. I remember seeing some kids floating their wooden boats on the pond. The pond seemed like a great place for a kid to wade in but back then Polio was a big concern to many parents and some thought that it might be a water borne disease. I never went in the water even though it was very tempting.
For many winters there was ice skating on the pond at Hampstead Park. Some of us would go at night. The street lights provided enough light. There was a little hut with bench seating where we could put our skates on and a wood stove where we could warm up our feet. Some kids carved their initials and other things into the benches and the walls. For some reason I remember a kid who was a few years older and a bit off the wall. His name was Craig Cottle. I would have been around 9 or 10 at the time. I can still remember the long walk back home and the snow falling and my skates over my shoulder.

I was probably around 7 years old when another kid and I and sometimes others started roaming away from the streets nearby to where we lived. The kid I hung out with the most liked to call it “looking for adventure”. Across the street from Harvard Avenue on the Hampstead side of Cote St. Luc Road there was a fairly large estate with a long driveway that led up to the house. There were remnants on the property of a once small orchard. For some reason or other we were intrigued about climbing a large tree on the property because it had limbs. We were chased off a few times by an older gentleman who may have been the grandfather or the caretaker.
One day a kid who lived in the big house spotted us up the tree and we thought we were going to be chased off again for sure. It turned out that he was more than happy to find someone to play with. The friend I was with was the manipulative type and tried to convince the other kid to get us some candy. I guess it was assumed that big house must have lots of candy. We were disappointed when he came back with a handful of sugar cubes. In the early 60s the house was torn down and the lot was bulldozed. I’m pretty sure that lot was the biggest private property in Hampstead before it met its demise.
I think I was about 8 years old when we first discovered the Hampstead Golf Course. Just west of the golf course there was some undeveloped land with a small creek running through it. We knew the creek by two different names, Piss River or Sheik River. “Sheik” was a brand of condoms at the time. Not that any 8 or 10 year old had any firsthand knowledge about them. Some kids (not us) built a tree fort in the area that had a pretty decent view. Mostly the land was muddy and full of ruts. The creek dried up in the summer months.
When I was about 10 we would go down to the golf course with the hope of being asked by one of the golfers to be their caddy. There were a couple of wooden benches in a grove of trees just beside the clubhouse where we would sit for hours hoping for our chance. There were a number of days when we wasted most of the day sitting there to no avail. A few times some older boys turned up and told us that they were ahead of us in the cue. The going rate back then for caddying 18 holes was about 50 cents. I saved that money to pay for a college education. (Just kidding.) Any money I made there probably went to buying chocolate bars and pop.
We really didn’t have the caddying thing figured out very well. Other than some old geezers and a few housewives most golfers had jobs so the golf course wasn’t that busy in the daytime during the week. The best time to caddy was after the work day or on the weekends.
I did some “shagging” a number of times later in the day. Back then “shagging” meant picking up golf balls that a golfer was hitting on the nearby driving range. It was actually a dangerous thing to do in that getting hit in the head by a golf ball could kill a kid. One late afternoon I was shagging for some guy who looked like he was pretty good to me and I asked him what his name was. My father laughed at dinner that night when I told him I had been picking up golf balls for Ben Hogan.

PGA golf pro Ben Hogan
One other event I remember at the golf course was watching some guy with a bow and arrow who was practicing his aim. One of his arrows glanced off of one of my shoulder blades. I guess I came within a few inches of not writing this story?
One of the many things I remember about being a kid in Montreal was the anticipation of the coming summer. First we had to wait for the snow to melt and then it seemed to rain every day in April. Everywhere the grass was like mush. I remember being down at the golf course one spring when a lot of it was covered by icy puddles. We discovered some frogs and the guy I was with insisted we come back the next day. Unbeknownst to me, this time he brought some elastics and paper clips with him. He attached a paper clip to the elastic bands and fired the paper clips into the frog’s heads. Then he dangled them from the elastic. Kids can do some nasty things. The kicker is that this guy later became a doctor.
I think the last time I saw Hampstead Golf Course was around 1964. I got drunk there with a few other guys and swiped the flags off of 2 golf greens. I still have them. I think the statute of limitations gives me a pass on that.
I also remember when I was about 13 being stopped by a Hampstead police constable for being in possession of fireworks. I had to empty out my pockets and place them in his hat. Hampstead had a very small police force but pretty well every time we went there a patrol car had a good look at us as it passed by.
When I was 14 I was sent away to The Boy’s Home of Montreal (also known as Weredale House) in lower Westmount. (It’s a long story.) There was one guy from the high school I went to that I stayed in touch with during the close to 2 years I spent at Weredale. His name was Andy Elliott. Andy was involved with a couple of youth groups (Hi-C and YPU) at Queen Mary Road United Church in Hampstead even though he didn’t live in Hampstead.
Several times the youth group rented buses for a day trip somewhere. When I was in Weredale I went on one of those trips to the beach in Plattsburgh, New York. I knew most of the others on the bus from either grade school or high school. I also recall a couple of later trips to the Laurentian Mountains after I got out of Weredale. One place we went to was by a lake and I remember some of us rowing a boat and singing “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”. Folk music was a big deal at the time.
Andy had a wide circle of friends and was an excellent recruiter of teenagers who would turn up at the church on Sunday nights for a casual discussion that was led by a married couple. Both my parents were life-long atheists so the chances of me finding Jesus were pretty close to zero. Once in a while at those meetings I would bring up the fact that I was a non-believer but I was never asked to leave. To be honest that church left a favourable impression on me. There wasn’t any fire and brimstone being preached at the few services I attended. If I was a believer the United Church would be the church I would join. Oddly enough many years later I had the United Church offices in Vancouver as clients for a number of years.
When I was 16 I started going to the Friday night Hampstead Hops at Hampstead Elementary School. (I’ve written about this elsewhere…Those High School Dances 1962-1964 January 2014.) One night at one of those dances a guy named Don Armitage and I were standing by the door and somehow we ended up dancing with 2 girls from the high school we went to. Don was with a gal named Debbie and I was with a gal named Lee. Don and Debbie later went on a few dates I think. Lee was my first girlfriend ever although it didn’t last very long, just a few months.
Lee lived in Hampstead on Queen Mary Road. She had two older brothers that were twins that I remembered from years before at Willingdon Elementary School in NDG. I believe her mother was a widow. He mom was quite pleasant and I recall having nice chats with her as she sipped her sherry or whatever after bringing Lee home from a dance.
One day Lee invited me to a dance at a private club downtown called The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. (MAAA). It was a fun night. We did the conga and the bunny hop from one room to another during the evening. Years later I thought that that evening was kind of surreal. Less than 4 months before that dance I was at Weredale House trying to survive and all of a sudden I was hobnobbing with Montreal’s wealthy.

Montreal Amateur Athletic Association building.
At Christmas that year I bought Lee a music album as a present. I had thought it was The Best of the Kingston Trio but it was actually an instrumental album of Kingston Trio songs. Bummer!. I was invited for New Year’s Eve at Lees’s cousin’s house. They lived across the street from her. Two of her cousins, Marvin and Blackie, were competitive swimmers. At one point during the evening Marvin shoved a piece of cake in my face. I took it as a statement that I didn’t fit in with Lee’s crowd and her and I never talked again.
As I wrote earlier Andy Elliott had a lot of friends. Between high school and the Queen Mary Road United Church meetings a loose kind of group started to form. Some of the girls were from Hampstead and went to private schools in Westmount like The Study and Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s. I went to several parties at their houses. For a while Andy had a girlfriend named Gerry Peate who lived in Hampstead. Her dad owned Peate Musical Supplies on Mansfield Street in downtown Montreal, a company that was established in 1899. They are still in business today.
I hung out with a guy named Bob Renaud who lived on Dufferin Road in Hampstead for several months. He and his brother shared the attic in their house. Bob was a big talker with a lot of ideas. I still have a business card he had printed for an international dog walking business that never happened. Another concept Bob had was self-serve gas stations in the desert. A decade or so later there were self-serve gas stations. My old friend Andy was involved with Bob’s sister for a while.


Bob liked to talk a lot about fast cars and suped up older models. At the time he didn’t have a driver’s license but he did have a friend who also lived in Hampstead who had painted his Corvette something like 17 times. Bob got a job pumping gas at a Fina gas station on Somerled Avenue in NDG on the weekday evenings and I dropped by and gave him a hand a few times. I almost put motor oil in a car radiator once. One night I was over at the gas station and I was sitting in a gull winged sports car in one of the bays. I turned on the ignition and the car kind of slid into the pit. I’m not sure how that was rectified.
Bob and I parted ways after we had a brief scrap about a bottle of vodka he had swiped from me.
In the summer of 1964 a group of us hung around in the Snowden area on some nights. I was involved with a Snowden girl for a while. One night a gal from Hampstead named Brenda invited some of us over to her house for a party. Brenda’s parents weren’t home at the time. Brenda had the hots for a guy I knew named Craig. It wasn’t much of a party. There was about 5 guys and 2 girls. By about 10 p.m. there was just Brenda, Craig and I left.
Brenda phoned her grandmother to let her know where she was and to tell her that she would be sleeping at her own house that night. Granny wasn’t having any of it and told her she was going to come by and pick her up. Granny turned up quicker than we thought and Craig and I scurried for a place to hide. I chose to slide under the bed in the master bedroom and Craig chose to hide behind the shower curtain in the bathroom. Granny marched into the house and up the stairs to the bathroom to have a pee. I heard some shrieking and the sound of Craig’s feet flying down the stairs and out into the street.
I spent the night at the house alone on a big bed and was hungry the next morning. All I could find to eat was some maple syrup. I checked to see if there were any police cars around and slid out of the front door. It was my last Hampstead experience.
Looking back there was one house in particular that I remember in Hampstead. It was owned by orchestra leader Denny Vaughan and was near the town hall. Vaughan was the band leader at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal for a number of years. He was later involved in The Smothers Brothers Show and The Glenn Campbell Hour in Hollywood.
Hampstead may be a nice place to live today but it isn’t what it once was. What is?

_______________ I had a tough time finding any old photos of Hampstead. If you have any and would like them added to this story, please e-mail them to me.

Thank you Bill for the photos! Bill Conrod has written 2 books about Snowden. For more info on his books contact him at

1950s Hampstead Pee Wee hockey team...Harold White "C"....Bruce Barnes goalie...courtesy Bill Conrod







  1. A minor correction, Colin -- the railroad that developed the Town of Mount Royal was the Canadian Northern Railway and not the Great Northern. The great Northern used to run between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Seattle, Portland before eventually becoming part of today's Warren Buffet-owned Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Canora Road in TMR is named for the Canadian Northern: CAnadian-NOrthern-RAilway. When the Canadian Northern went bankrupt, it became part of the Canadian Government Railways later renamed the Canadian National Railways. Enjoyed the memories having lived in Snowdon.

  2. Man you know your railroads! I corrected the error. Any idea what the railway was called that ran along the north side of the Hampstead Golf Course?

  3. That was and still is the Canadian Pacific, Colin.

    Incidentally you may be interested to know Hampstead residents were responsible for the first bus route in the Snowdon area.

    As you wrote, Hampstead was founded by the "blue bloods" of Montreal. By the late 1920s, Snowdon Junction at Queen Mary and Decarie was growing in importance as a streetcar terminal. Many businesses were locating there to serve the growing little community of Snowdon. With no stores allowed in Hampstead, residents went next door to shop in Snowdon.

    To get to the streetcars to go downtown or even to go shopping in Snowdon, Hampstead residents petitioned the Montreal Tramways Company for transit service. As Herbert Holt, instrumental in founding Hampstead, was also involved with the Montreal Tramways Company, the petition was quickly answered.

    In 1935, a bus route was established to serve Hampstead. Numbered the "19 Hampstead," it ran a short loop line through the town connecting at Queen Mary and Decarie with the streetcars. While the route changed several times over the years, it remained a loop and covered what today we would consider very quiet tree-lined residential streets like Merton, Granville, Northcote and others. This was the first bus route in Snowdon. By this time, the bus had become an accepted part of the transit system.

    The first primitive city bus had made its appearance in 1919 but the early routes were very short and considered feeders to the streetcar routes. By 1925 however, the tramways company had set up a bus division at the now demolished St. Henri carbarn (De Courcelle/Glen Rd. and St. Antoine) as more routes were created and buses became larger and more comfortable.

    The "19 Hampstead" bus served the comunity until 1966 when construction of the Decarie Expressway changed many things in Snowdon. Today, the "51 Edouard-Montpetit" bus route goes through a very short segment of Hampstead on Queen Mary and the "161 Van Horne" bus uses busy Fleet Road. I imagine there would be howls of outrage if the STM were to even consider (not that they would) a bus route through the same quiet streets once covered by the single bus of the "19 Hampstead" route.