Q & A with Graeme Decarie regarding the history of Cartierville and Ville St. Laurent

Below is a Q & A regarding whether we’re talking about the mid-eighteenth century or the mid-nineteenth century, with regard to the early years of Cartierville (where Malcolm Campbell High School was in operation from the early 1960s to the late 1980s) and adjacent communities.

A question regarding history, regarding which there have been many comments at a previous post

Jaan Pill: We’ve had some discussion in comments at a recent post about a particular question.

Here’s the post with a long list of comments at the end of it:

The story on the CBC is a gentle one, Graeme Decarie comments

The comments have to do with whether or not a historian, writing about the villages on the West Island of Montreal, was correct in saying that places like Cartierville, Dorval, Saint-Laurent, among others, were established little communities by the middle of the eighteenth century? Or was the historian in error, and should the reference have been to the middle of the nineteenth century?

“It’s hard to be precise,” Graeme Decarie notes

Graeme Decarie: It’s hard to be precise. At what point does a scattering of farms develop a core to be a village? In New France, the sort of equivalent to that stage could be the building of a church. Later, by the mid-1800s, it would mean a legal status with elected officials. But in either case, St. Laurent wins.

In the very early years of Montreal, the founder of the city, de Maisonneuve, gave Jean Descaries (There were, and still are, many, many spellings to the family name) a large land grant where the old, Glen railways yards are – and where the new superhospital stands. When Jean died (about 1685) he gave his three sons his farm, plus more land not yet developed. So they began clearing what is now St. Laurent about 1690. The eldest of the three sons was Paul Descaries, my direct ancestor. Newcomers began arriving to buy the land about 1700, but the numbers were very small. The Descaries also kept some of the land for themselves, and operated it, intermarrying with the locals. Indeed, many of the street names in today’s St. Laurent are in my family tree.

About 1740, St. Laurent became officially a parish. (The stone for the church came from St. Laurent’s first industry – the quarry.) The street in front of it became rue principale – later changed to St. Croix. From the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Descaries had also been developing Lachine and Dorval, too. They also cut a private road joining Jean’s original farm in NDG to St. Laurent. It became Blvd. Decarie, and was owned by the family (and only leased to the city) until the building of the expressway.

When village and town councils were officially established with elected governments in the 1840s, Decaries commonly ran for mayor – which gave them a huge advantage in controlling (and making piles of money out of) what became Westmount, NDG, Lachine, Dorval. St. Laurent, Town of Mount Royal. All the land for what became TMR – and Blue Bonnets was bought by an avocat named Decarie in one or two days. He was chosen because so many of the farmers were Decaries or were related. He bought the land so the railway could build a tunnel to reach downtown Montreal. It also expected to make money by developing a town of people who could afford to take the train to work every day. That’s why TMR is focussed on the railway station.

I remember reading somewhere that the first mail airplane landing in Canada was in a field at the North East corner of what became the factory airfield where the Noorduyn Norseman was built. But the real boost was Canadair in WW2. That’s when Decarie became the real, main st., and where, in 1950, Norgate Shopping became the first shopping centre in Canada for a world built around the automobile.

So far as I know, Cartierville didn’t really begin to develop until the very late nineteenth century when the 17 streetcar line was built. That made it possible to live in the country, but to reach work quickly and cheaply. But Cartierville remained very much the boonies until the 1950s.


More details about St-Laurent

From the Montreal Memories Facebook Page, I’ve found this great link, from http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca :

History of Saint-Laurent

Click here to access a Canadian Encyclopedia reference to Norgate Shopping Centre >

17 replies
  1. Eric Karbin
    Eric Karbin says:

    The archives at the Ville de Montreal say that it wasn’t until 1860 that St. Laurent’s first industry (quarrying) began operations.

    Cartierville remains very much the boonies to this day. It is mainly residential. Zoned commercial along streets like Gouin. Very unindustrial compared to Saint. Laurent, whch has had industry since 1860 (not 1740). One thing Cartierville had for 6 decades which Saint Laurent never had: an amusement park featuring a roller coaster that until the mid ’40s was Canda’s biggest.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Cartierville and Saraguay and adjacent communities in the 1950s and 1960s had some of that rural flavour.

    Quite a few people I know from Malcolm Campbell High School, that I’ve been in touch with since we began the planning work for the MCHS 60s Reunion & Celebration of the 60s, have made a point of finding a place to live in a rural or semi-rural setting.

    As I think about it, that’s among the key things that I’ve learned in recent months – quite a few MCHs grads have ended up living away from, or at the outskirts of, the big cities.

    The place where I live – the community of Long Branch in south Etobicoke (Toronto), near the Mississauga border close to Lake Ontario – had a very rural feel 20 years ago when we moved to this location. That rural feeling, which to some extent still remains, is one of the features of the community that appeals to me. It’s close to downtown Toronto by car or GO train, yet in some ways far removed from it.

  3. Eric Karbin
    Eric Karbin says:

    I have a confession to make. Although I have heard of the word “boonies” since the ’50s, I never really knew what it referred to, if used properly. It doesn’t refer to the residential suburbs of a big city (except facetiously). I have just learned stuff I never knew about this word. The word “boonies” (short for “boondocks”) comes from the Filipino word “bundok”, originally meaning mountain and then rural areas inland (in the Philippines) which are usually mountainous and difficult to access. It has become an English word with expanded meanings which include “rural areas”. So I was in error when I said Cartierville remains very much in the boonies to this day, I didn’t mean it because I didn’t know what “boonies” means when used seriously by a well-informed person.

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Good to have the update, Eric. I was wondering what the term meant. For a while, I thought it had something to do with log booms. But I was wrong.

    Anyway, the thought of log booms brings to mind a Canadian folk song.

    With regard to such songs, The Log Driver’s Waltz was a favourite among the songs that I used to play to my class, from a audio cassette recording, during my years as a Grade 4 teacher. In my experience, songs are a great way to access history, and for people to access memories of the past.

  5. Eric Karbin
    Eric Karbin says:

    The thought of log booms brings to my mind the log booms that a hundred years ago + floated down the Back River past Cartierville. There may be photos of this somewhere on the internet.
    I’d like to hear a folk song about the Village of Saint Laurent.

  6. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I imagine there were many forests around that would have provided plenty of logs. It would be interesting to know if any folk songs have been archived from the communities along both sides of the Back River, from the past few hundred years.

  7. Eric Karbin
    Eric Karbin says:

    There’s a short (5 min.) video on youtube by Stephane Tessier called “Flottage du bois sur la rivière des Prairies : Les Cageux “. It mentions the loggers (cageux) stopping at L’Abord à Plouffe, across from Cartierville. I never heard any folk songs emanating from either side of the Back River, unless you consider the theme song of the Cartierville Boating Club a folk song: “We don’t give a darn for all the rest of Canada, we’re from Cartierville!”

  8. Bob Carswell
    Bob Carswell says:

    Saraguay was the rural area of Cartierville. Bob Pare grew up in an old farmhouse that sat at the end of Alliance Avenue overlooking the creek and St. Lawrence “Back River” facing Cats’ Island. Before the estates came to Saraguay, the land was all agricultural and the farms were regularly attended to by local farmers.

    In the 1950s there were not a lot of farm fields left in Saraguay and those that were only existed to satisfy the needs of horses, also a dying art of an earlier time. The land in Saraguay went from being covered in trees to open fields to young estates of the rich back to trees and old estates then to a park where trees could no longer be cut down.

    Le Bois de Saraguay. Alliance Avenue was the farmer’s driveway from his home down to the Pare’s house and one by one, a cottage industry sprung up there as small lots were sold off in the early 1900s. The tennis court, a fixture in the village opposite the local general store still exists to this day and is there for anyone to use.

    I am guessing it was originally constructed by one of the richer estate families for use by their offsprings and located opposite the general store so that after the game ended they could get something to drink and a snack to eat across the street.

    The Gas Station, now gone, was built by the Bleau family who operated the general store, the restaurant and had a monopoly in the village. That general store building and tennis court have to be close to a hundred years old because they were old when I first found them in 1950 at the age of about 6.

    The sons Gilles and his brother that I once knew grew up and moved to a new gas station operation in Val David in the Laurentians. As time went on the early summer cottages on the streets that led down to the river were either torn down or bought up and replaced by more modern buildings. Even today, a number of them have gone from the ones I remember of a bygone era.

    What most historians will remember that the general public will not is that very little remains over time other than memories that are written down by those who remember them. Someone looking at the Bois de Saraguay today, would not remember the days of Gouin as a wagon way or earlier as a trail used by the loggers to return to the head of the lake for the next boom that they would take down the river.

    The many old Oak trees along the Gouin Blvd of my youth were planted by the estate owners to create a majestic roadway for their guests who like them were well heeled financially. Seventeen of those trees came down in the 1950s in the storm that hit the north shore, a sign that they too were growing old, perhaps 60 or 70 years old by then.

    Once considered Cartierville’s agricultural district, the creation of the Village of Saraguay in 1914 was a change to the area and redefined the village that was for the most part overgrown again and more like a young forest than the cleared lands of an earlier time.

    Saraguay only existed for 50 years and became part of Montreal officially in 1964. Very few of the old estates survived, most torn down rather than be left empty. Houses we know were there in the 1950s as new residences have also gone, others having been modernized or changed to suit a changing landscape.

    I have often wandered through the village on Google Maps at street level to see the changes and the houses I remember are almost impossible to find as they have all evolved into more modern structures or have been completely replaced.

    Life is an interesting journey. I wish mine had been a bit different but we get what we get and just have to deal with it, regardless of the way it turns out. Have a great day.

  9. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A book called Opening the Gates of Eighteenth-Century Montréal (1992) describes how, when Montreal grew beyond its original boundaries (the boundaries being a walled fortification), one of the suburbs that developed on a road leading north of the walls was the Saint-Laurent suburb.

    A passage (pp. 97-77) in The History of Montréal: The Story of a Great North America City (2007) has enabled me to learn of the distinction between Saint-Laurent (the suburb) and Saint-Laurent (the ward). The passage reads:

    In 1792, the government redefined the boundaries of Montreal, setting them at a distance from the walls of 100 chains, based on the old British measurement, or approximately two kilo­metres. The new territory, an enormous rectangle, contained the old town, the suburbs, and a sizable rural area around them.This ensured Montreal had plenty of room to grow for decades to come.

    The trend continued: the suburbs especially grew and in 1825 contained a little over three quarters of the population. The biggest were the suburbs of Saint-Laurent, Quebec, and Saint-Joseph. In 1831, the government divided the area into wards for the first time, and then redivided it in 1840 and, in particular, in 1845. As of 1845, Montreal had nine wards:three in the old town (West, Centre, and East) and six elsewhere (Sainte-Anne , Saint-Antoine, Saint-Laurent, Saint-Louis, Saint-Jacques, and Sainte-Marie). The town would remain divided in this way, with only minor modifications, until the end of the century.

    [End of excerpt]

  10. Jim Harris
    Jim Harris says:


    Would anyone here know anything about the history of what is now known as the Technoparc Montreal? In particular I am interested in the wetland areas there and how they have been used over the past three centuries but especially during the 20th century. I have been told that Chemin St. François dates back to colonial times but I am not a historian and so far haven’t been able to find anything on any of this.

  11. Bob Carswell
    Bob Carswell says:

    Hey Jim,

    Jaan sent me your email inquiry this afternoon after I bought him lunch at the new Halibut House that just opened last week at the top of my street in west Toronto. The place was booming and certainly a vast improvement from other restaurants in the area. It is one of 5 now operating in Ontario and I suspect has the potential of covering the entire continent in due time. What I do not understand is why I now have to do all of the research for him after buying him lunch. Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

    You asked about the Technoparc Montreal and the wetlands there. This is where the confusion comes in because what I think you are asking about is the old wetlands in Montreal formally known as Adacport in Point St. Charles. It was formally marshland which became an active industrial dumping site from 1866 to 1966 when it was finally paved over and used as a parking lot for Expo67 (which I had the pleasure of attending during a summer vacation home from Calgary that year).

    I now live on the shores of Lake Ontario and when I go down and look at how the property and adjacent park were extended, I can see the remains of many tonnes of old Toronto buildings being used as fill to extend the land which the waves of the lake have so nicely pounded on over the years and exposed an entire history of the old city. This would have been the same in Montreal. When land was removed in one location it was somehow relocated and reused in some manner in another location. Now here is where your confusion is probably coming from.

    The Canadian government has also created a place called Technoparc Montreal in more recent years (1987) and it is located near Chemin St. Francois in the West Island as a government controlled non-profit organisation dedicated to leasing government land to companies that are interested in the development of an area on the island of Montreal as an aerospace technological centre. Its Saint-Laurent Campus is home to more than 75 resident companies in the aerospace, life sciences, cleantech and ICT sectors.

    Close to 5,000 highly skilled employees work there. It is located in Saint-Laurent, 10 minutes by highway from the Montreal International Airport which was formally known as Mirabel. Whereas Chemin Bois Franc was on the north side of what we now call Bombardier’s large aeroplane manufacturing operation in the former Canadair buildings, Chemin St. Francois was on the south side of the same operation. Both had originally been farm lands set up in the Quebec tradition of large sections of long and narrow pieces of farmland, generally a single field wide with an access track down one sided going from field to field.

    I once lived on Martin Avenue in Saraguay. The land was part of the original farm operated by old man Martin as we called him and was eventually sold off as demand for new homes in the area began in the 1950s after WWII veterans had all returned home, were getting married and buying a house in a quiet place to raise their young. By the 1960s the extended runway at Canadair changed all that since it was a time when they had a contract to build the CF104 fighter jets which on an hourly or less basis flew over our house with the thunderous roar that only a jet could produce on takeoff, again, and again, and again.

    To this day, I can still hear that roar in my head as if it had happened just yesterday. The entire property of Canadair was once two “Chemins” of field wide farmlands, one side north of each St. Francois and Bois-Franc and one side south of each main access road in its day. I believe the measurement of a farm lot was based on the French Arpon, a smaller version of the English Acre but which determined everything to do with land ownership in French Canada.

    I am also assuming that the original style of the farm goes back to the French European standard of farms, long and wide but don’t quote me on that one. They would have likely backed up against each other in what became the main area of Canadair which was developed beginning in 1944 in conjunction with the former Cartierville Airport to produce the PBY Canso Flying Boats for the RCAF.

    That airport no longer exists and was a vague memory to me even when I was growing up in the area. I hope this answers your inquiry and is of some benefit in the understanding of time and space of a bygone era.

  12. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I must say, when Bob’s treating, there is indeed such a thing as a free lunch.

    We are most fortunate, as well, that Bob shares his knowledge of history so widely.

  13. Jim Harris
    Jim Harris says:

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, I am actually referring to the wetlands off of Chemin St. François just west of the PET airport. I’m trying to zero in on just how long they were left alone after having been farmland (at least there is some evidence of man in the various fields and forests in this area). It turns out that nature has reclaimed some of the area which was almost certainly a natural wetland before it was converted to farmland. In terms of biodiversity this area is the largest and richest wetland still remaining on the island of Montreal but it is currently being developed to house companies that theoretically and ironically develop “green-friendly” technologies.

    As you may have guessed I am a member of a group that is trying to convince the developers to move across the street and build where there would be significantly less damage done to the wetlands and species of birds and animals that live there.

    So, essentially I am on a fact finding mission and anything I can dig up regarding the history of this area will contribute to our efforts and documentation of the events currently unfolding.

    Thank-you very much for taking the time to post the above and if you could recommend any sources of archives that might be worth exploring or any other literature I will follow-up.

  14. graeme decarie
    graeme decarie says:

    Jaan invited me to comment on these letters above. But I ain’t even going to try to compete with the real pros above. I only know about the parts with the Decarie name in them.

    Well, one little thing. A priest from St. Laurent spent most of his career caring for the French Catholics in New England. He established schools, homes for the elderly, etc. He was a Decarie and, last I heard, he was being considered for sainthood. So, obviously, my name should be coming up any time.

  15. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I agree – gotta leave the heavy lifting to the real pros.

    If not a sainthood, a knighthood would work well. Which prompts the thought: Didn’t male teachers used to be called Sir, in the old days?


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