Chronicles

L'île aux Soeurs to l'Île-des-Soeurs

Since April 2004, Le Magazine de L’Île-des-Soeurs has been publishing a series of columns written by Jacques Lacoursière. Everyone who is interested in the origins of Île-des-Soeurs (Also called Nun’s Island in English) will be fascinated by the topics covered by these articles, which serve as a prelude to the publication of a book by the brillant writer. Jacques Lacoursière’s book promises to the captivating. With the painstaking care for which he is promises to be captivatin. Withthe painstaking care for which he is known and his skill at bringing texts to life and making them so interesting. Jacques Lacoursière will take his readers on a trip through time. From the dawn of history to our days, we will have an opportunity to learn unknown details about the history of this island and its occupants.

We recommend that you read the series of articles published by Jacques Lacoursière in Le Magazine de L’Île-des-Soeurs. They provide a thrilling history of the nuns’ island!

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First episode
An island without a name

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

The island, known today officially as L’Île-des-Soeurs, has had many different names. The first name it was known by historically was the island of Saint-Paul, in honour of Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, considered as the founder of Montreal. In 1664, during the concession of the island to three “seigneurs”, the name of the area was clearly stated: île Saint-Paul. But its history begins way before this official act.

Archeological excavations have revealed that approximately 6,000 years before the era of Christianity, American Indians had inhabited the island in a sporadic fashion. Archeological digs, taking place in 1969, revealed artifacts dating 2,400 and 1,500 B.C. We shouldn’t forget that the Saint-Lawrence valley was populated by various native nations way before Europeans ever set foot here.

The first to signal the existence of the island was explorer Samuel de Champlain. In 1603, at la baie Sainte-Catherine, not too far from the mouth of the Saguenay River, he established first contact with the Montagnais. He then went up the Saint-Lawrence River and specifically on July 3, he visited the Montreal region. He wrote: “We came across an infinite number of small rocks that were in the water and which we touched often. There are two large islands, one on the northern side (the island of Montreal), which is about fifteen leagues in length and about the same in width and which begins about twelve leagues in the Canada River (Saint-Lawrence River), continues towards the Iroquois River (Richelieu River) and falls into the rapids (Lachine Rapids). The island that is on the southern side is about four leagues in length and half a league in width (ïle Perrot). There is also another island which is near the one on the northern side, which seems to be about half a league in length and a quarter of a league in width”. This last one was the island of Saint-Paul.

Jean de Lauzon, who was the quartermaster for the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France, would be the island’s first owner, as part of a larger territory named “seigneurie de la Citière”. This “property” went from the Richelieu River all the way to the current city of Chateauguay. The sale took place on January 15, 1636.

Saint-Paul island came into existence on April 19, 1660. For at least two years, fur traders, the main source of revenue for the colony, would no longer go to Ville-Marie, what was then known as Montreal. The Canadian economy was suffering. At the same time, the Iroquois nations were continuing their warfare, killing local residents and burning their villages. It was at this time that a Ville-Marie resident convinced other young people to unite and seize the furs that their enemies had in their canoes on the Outaouais River.

So while the group of 16 French under the orders of Adam Dollard des Ormeaux leave Ville-Marie for Long-Sault, located at the Outaouais River, an area that has a very strong current and often forces canoers to hug one of the two rivers, they hear the war cry of the Iroquois hidden in the bushes near the river of île Saint-Paul. A confrontation seems inevitable. Why go looking for their enemies further along, when they are right here?

During the battle that follows, three Frenchmen meet with death. History has retained their names: Nicolas Duval, killed by the Iroquois Indians, a single man who came to Ville-Marie in 1653, at the same time that one hundred new colonists, known as “la Grande Recrue”, arrived; Mathurin Soulard, a fort carpenter, and Blaise Juillet dit Avignon, simply because he was from the city of Avignon. The latter was married and left behind a widow and four children, the youngest only one and a half years old. His wife, Anne-Antoinette de Liercourt, remarried the following June 30 with Hugues Picard, with whom she had five other children. Soulard and Juillet drowned, when their canoe capsized during the attack.

Following the accident, Dollard and his companions returned to Ville-Marie to attend the funeral of Duval, the other two bodies had not yet been found. Île Saint-Paul had come into existence!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 with One island: three owners.


Second episode
One island: three owners

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

Until 1664, Saint-Paul Island continued to belong to Jean de Lauson. Following modifications brought upon by King Louis XIV to the government in New France, Lauson decided to cede his island to three people residing in the colony. These three presented themselves in Paris in order to sign the contract. They were Jacques Le Ber aka Larose, an important merchant who had made his fortune in fur trading, Claude de Robutel de Saint-André and Jean-Baptiste de la Vigne. These three became owners not only of the Island, but of the little islands and the adjacent shores. What’s more, their ownership was undivided.

Since it appears the three owners had differing views on how to best exploit their property, they decided, on March 14, 1664 to separate it into three lots, which were of equal size. They went to notary and clerk of the court of Sénéchaussée of Montreal, Mr. Nicolas de Mouchy, where they took part in a draw to decide who would get what part of the Island. At the time, an eight-year-old boy was passing by the notary’s office and he was asked to pull out the papers that specified which lot they would get. An interesting note: Gabriel had a sister named Marie. She would be the first Montrealer to become a nun at the Notre-Dame Congregation.

Robutel ended up with the middle part of the Island, described as: “bordered by a tree that has three-foot roots, an oak marked by three crosses, all the way to a small island on the right of rivière Saint-Pierre; the marker for the middle is at the foot of an oak tree that is marked by two crosses.” La Vigne obtained the western part of the Island and Le Ber received the northern part.

A first change occurs in the fall of 1667, when La Vigne decides to return to France to become a monk in the Ordre des Frères de la Charité. Before leaving, he leaves his property to Marie Le Ber, the sister of Jacques. Barely a year later, Marie, who joined the Ursulines convent in Quebec, signs an act to donate her portion of the island, which she received from La Vigne.

Robutel and Le Ber begin constructing buildings on the island, but it appears that in the beginning, it was only the former who built his residence there. In 1673, three residents obtain land concessions on the island’s northern section. They are Pierre Tessier, Jacques Morin and his brother-in-law, Jean Mardor, who was a domestic for Le Ber.

Mardor, who was a cooper by profession (a person specializing in making and repairing barrels and casks), married Louise Picard on August 18, 1672; a young girl of thirteen years and two months. Their life together was not a happy one. Moldor mistreated his wife so much that, at one point, on May 28, 1673, she brought a complaint against him to the Montreal bailiff. The documents states: “She was always badly treated by him with. He would inflict blows with his fists and sticks or other instruments and in his fury, she would fear that he would kill her. He has attempted this many times, just recently this past Sunday, the celebration of Pentecost.”

Unable to handle his fits of rage, Mardor swears at the religious images and takes the Lord’s name in vain; he takes an axe and tells his wife who is imploring him to stop: “I’ll probably chop your neck off or hang or kill another person, because I will never die from natural causes.” Taking advantage of a brief moment when her husband is distracted, Louise manages to seek shelter at Pierre Tessier’s place, where Mador finally corners her with his gun. She demands separation. She’s not the only one to renounce his violence. Her mother, who was married to Jacques Morin, had also received death threats. Judge Charles d’Ailleboust condemns Mador to pay the costs of the procedure, pay a fine and finally, to... ask for his mother-in-law’s pardon!

Thankfully, the island’s history does not contain too many such stories!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, April 5, 2005 with The island belongs to the nuns.


Third episode
The island belongs to the nuns

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

The year 1769 is a very important year in the history of “L’Île-des-Soeurs”. It is when the sisters of the Notre-Dame de Montreal Congregation become the owners of Saint-Paul island.Over the course of the past decades, they had acquired, piece by piece, various parts of the island. At the end of 1760, there were only two pieces of Saint-Paul that did not belong to them and still belonged to the Le Ber family.

On August 11, 1758, when war was ravaging the colony and the French and the Canadians won one of their biggest victories, in Carillon (today Ticonderoga, in New York State), Jean Le Ber de Senneville, in his name and in the name of his family, sold the last two parcels of his Saint-Paul property to Charles-Elemy-Joseph-Alexandre-Ferdinand Feltz, for the sum of 75,000 sterling pounds. Feltz was a surgeon, born in Germany, who arrived in the colony in 1738. His annual salary, at the moment, was 1,308 sterling pounds per year! He quickly made a fortune and historian Gilles Janson wrote on the subject: “Ferdinand Feltz is living according to his fortune. He has one domestic and even owns slaves; he has ten of them while his neighbours are content with two and even one.”

Following the colony’s capitulation, on September 8, 1760, Feltz plans to return to France, but English authorities force him to remain in Montreal and treat English soldiers who were injured and sick. It’s under these circumstances that he sells his property on Saint-Paul island to Antoine Lapierre dit Baron, for the sum of 89,000 sterling pounds. In March 1763, Lapierre dit Baron retrocedes his Saint-Paul property to Feltz. A new sale takes place on October 11: the captain of the Thomas Lynch vessel becomes the owner.

In 1769, Lynch is forced to leave his property, which was seized. The sale by auction was set for August 3. The Sisters of the Congregation made the decision to purchase the rest of the island and become the sole owners. The problem was, a fire, which took place on April 11 of the previous year, ravaged a good part of their properties in the oldest part of Montreal and had compromised their finances. “They made the unanimous decision, as is written in the Histoire de la Congregation de Notre-Dame de Montreal, that they would sell many other properties: l’ile a l’Aigle, a donation from the Soeurs de la Angloiserie, their land in Verdun, a donation from Mr. Zacharie Dupuy, so they would have the means to purchase Saint-Paul island.” It should be noted that only a small part of the Saint-Lawrence Rover separated the island from the Saint-Gabriel farm, which the nuns owned in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

For the purchase to be legal, the authorization of governor Guy Carleton was needed. Before the fixed date for the sale, Sister Marie-Josèphe Maugue-Gareau said the Assumption before obtaining the verbal permission of the representative of the King of England. The sale was set for the 16th of the same month. The sale contract was signed nine days later. The property was described as: “The land in Saint-Paul island, located by the Saint-Lawrence River near the city of Montreal, with a home, a barn and buildings which were already built and everything else related to them.”

It was not all over. Lynch felt that the amount of the sale, 832 louis (16,640 francs) was not sufficient enough and certain Montrealers were looking for a way to annul the sale and make a better offer. Thankfully, on October 20, Superior Maugue goes to Quebec to meet the colony’s governor, who ratifies the agreement that took place on August 25.

In the months that follow, the nuns begin to live on the island. The first ones to move here are Sister Prud’homme dite Sainte-Agathe and Sister Gaulin dite Sainte-Brigitte. Zacharie Boyer, who is the foreman at the Saint-Gabriel farm, begins to occupy the same position on the island. A new life begins on L’Île-des-Soeurs!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, April 19, 2005 with The island is occupied by the Americans.


Fourth episode
The island is occupied by the Americans

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

When the nuns of the Notre-Dame de Montréal Congregation became the sole owners of Saint-Paul Island, they proceeded with a series of repairs on the buildings and also constructed a new cowshed. During the summer of 1774, according to the deliberations of the community’s management, “we decided to raise the two gables of the home, cover the home and create a chimney.” Zacharie Boyer, the foreman, then decides that he can’t handle the assignment and wants to leave the Island. “The community discharges him from the obligation to work and requests only that manage all the work.”

While tranquility reigns on L’Île-des-Soeurs, trouble starts to brew in Montreal. One part of the population is favourable to the independence of the Thirteen Colonies who have started to revolt. On May 1, 1775, the date when the Acte de Québec is supposed to be in effect; an act that recognizes the existence of French civilian laws and the right of the catholic clergy to impose a “dime” (a duty on the harvest collected), some people were protesting the bust of King George III installed at Place d’Armes.

A bit later, two rebel American troops ready themselves to invade the Saint-Laurent valley. The first one, commanded by Benedict Arnold, is supposed to attack Quebec City. The second, under the orders of General Richard Montgomery, has as a mission to seize Montreal and then march into Quebec. At the beginning of November, Montgomery’s men camp in Laprairie. On November 9, the American General addresses a letter to Montreal residents, urging them to surrender.

Two days later, on Saturday, November 11, the Americans land on Saint-Paul Island. Notary Simon Sanguinet, an eyewitness, describes what took place: “Around 10 a.m. the Bastonnais (sic) begin to cross Saint-Paul Island, and on the same day, around 5 p.m. General Carleton (the Governor of the Quebec province) lands with approximately 130 men and numerous officers and they take off for Quebec City. (...) The City remains with its citizens, who have no resources and to add to the uneasiness, the Bastonnais who were in the City were openly showing their guns. Suburban residents did not want to come into the City; the doors were shut and everyone remained close their weapons. That very same evening, Haywood, an associate of James Price, with another man named Minson, leave the City to go find the Bastonnais at Saint-Paul Island and inform them of the City’s position.

The following day, on Sunday, the American rebels leave the Island for Pointe-Sainte-Charles. Aware that Montreal will be the object of an attack within the following hours or days, “worried residents gathered and send four representatives to Mr. Montgomery, who was commanding approximately three to four hundred men, to demand what his intention was arriving armed like this. He stated that he was here as a friend and gave the city four hours to surrender. The representatives told him not to approach the city; he replied that his people were very cold and he instantly send 50 men to the Récollets suburb.” At midnight, on November 12, Montreal surrenders and the Montreal region is under American control for six months.

The Sisters of Saint-Philippe and de la Presentation, who were the farmers on Saint-Paul Island, were without a doubt apprehensive about the consequences of the presence of these enemies. But both people and properties were respected. The nuns that lived at Maison Saint-Gabriel, when the soldiers of General Jeffrey Amherst were arriving at Pointe-Saint-Charles, en route to Montreal, were originally alarmed. One of the Sisters cried out: “we are lost”, but her companion quickly replied: “No, no, come on; I am convinced that they won’t harm us.. the English are all right”. While the soldiers received refreshments, Amherst was welcomed at Maison Saint-Gabriel...

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, May 3, 2005 with At the sign of the foghorn...


Fifth episode
At the sign of the foghorn...

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

Even before the religious order of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal purchased the François Le Ber house at Pointe-Saint-Charles, links were already established between the Maison Saint-Gabriel and L'Ile-des-Soeurs. In fact, Jacques Le Ber, brother of François, became the owner of a section of l'île Saint-Paul. In the decades and centuries that followed, the île and the Maison Saint-Gabriel remained in constant contact.

Crop-sharing between Pointe-Saint-Charles and the island required providing a good portion of the food production to feed not only the religious members of the community, but also their employees and the boarders who were given teaching assignments.

Sous le signe de la corne de brumeA ferry, canoes and rowboats served as the connections between the mainland and the island. From each side, a foghorn was used – an instrument that acts as a warning signal – as the dictionary defines it – to issue orders to a boat or to transmit different messages.

In 1712, a decision was taken to construct a new cow-house at Pointe-Saint-Charles. To do this, those who made provisions to the island were called upon: “For this masonry work,” Sister Emilia Chicoine wrote in her history of La métairie de Marguerite Bourgeoys, “we needed 24 square feet of stone, 60 hot hogsheads that Jacques Jousset put out and placed in mortar with the 180 hogsheads of sand taken from île Saint-Paul.”

For a long time, the religious order did not live permanently on the island. “During seeding and harvesting season, the custodian (a member of the religious order who oversaw administration matters) would send workers there. They were supervised by the Sisters of Pointe-Saint-Charles. They had no other buildings on the island but just a barn that contained parts, covered in straw,” as the history of the community described it.

Shortly after they became owners of the entire island in 1769, the religious order undertook repairs of a few buildings belonging to the Le Ber family. Zacharie Boyer acted as the foreman. He was at the same time also the foreman of the crop-sharing system of Pointe-Saint-Charles.

Over the years, the island produced more and more vegetables and fruits, as well as eggs, meat and hay to feed livestock. For only one year – 1771 – they provided the mother house with: “528 bushels of wheat, 373 bushels of peas, 271 bushels of oats. Beef, pork, lamb, duck, pigeons, eggs.” A few years later, there was also turkey. The farm produce of Pointe-Saint-Charles must also be taken into account: cabbage, onions, beets, Swiss chard, beans, peas, etc.
At the end of the 18th century, the island’s production got even better. In 1798, the island provided the mother house with: “711 bushels of wheat, 518 bushels of peas, 34 bushels of barley, a bushel of corn, 2 bushels of beans, 13 fat beefs, 7 calves, 30 sheep, 9 pigs, 24 sucking pigs, 7,800 chickens, 5,100 capons, 1,000 turkeys, 2,000 geese, 3,000 pigeons, 600 hens, 484 pounds of butter, 347 dozen eggs, 45 bushels of cheese, 12 bushels of potatoes, 12 braids of onions, 28 pounds of sugar, maple, etc.”

The île Saint-Paul was not only a farm, it was also a rest house for the religious order, as well as a recreational centre. In 1788, therefore, the people started walking around the island four times a year. Moreover, men and women who worked on the island would go to the Maison Saint-Gabriel to attend religious ceremonies. Finally, the religious authorities in Montreal enjoyed spending as much time in Pointe-Saint-Charles as on the island. On January 18, 1843, therefore, a few days before the feast of St. Paul, regularly celebrated on the island, Ignace Bourget, the bishop of the diocese of Montreal, celebrated mass at Pointe-Saint-Charles, followed by breakfast, and then a crossing to the island.

As we can see, the foghorn served as a point of contact between the Maison Saint-Gabriel and Île-des-Soeurs during numerous occasions...

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 with From the ice bridge to the break-up...


Sixth episode
From the ice bridge to the break-up...

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

In the farming world, work varies according to the seasons. In the spring, when the earth is ready, it’s the time to sow the seeds. Summer goes by, tending and watering the crops and fall is the time to harvest and to sometimes plow. When winter comes along, it’s time for both the earth and the farmers to rest. This is also the time of year when the fireplace logs are prepared, while feeding the animals is an ongoing affair.

On L’Île-des-Soeurs, over the decades, when the Notre-Dame Congregation nuns only owned part of the island, only a few employees remained on the island during the winter months, to keep an eye on the cattle and the surroundings.

Starting in 1840, Saint-Paul, the island’s patron saint, was celebrated with much fanfare on January 25. Monseigneur Ignace Bourget, the bishop of the Montreal diocese, would arrive to celebrate mass.

Du pont de glace à la débâcle

Often, beginning at the end of December or the first weeks of January, ice would cover the Saint-Lawrence River. “In the winter, a bridge of ice would form between Saint-Paul Island and the island of Montreal,” writes Camille Poisson, the chaplain of Saint-Paul Island, “but no one would worry because it was a banal event, which occurred each year and would make communications much easier between the two places; for two and three months, each winter, one could easily cross directly to Verdun, by wheels.”

During the first decades of the 20th century, many trucks filled to the brim with merchandise would take the bridge of ice. This time of year they would transport construction materials and it would have been much more difficult if one needed to do it on top of a barge or a rowboat.

The most dangerous time of the year would be when the ice would begin to thaw. At the end of 1850, with the construction of Victoria Bridge, the situation became even more complicated, as the bridge pillars stopped the descent of the ice down the river. According to chaplain Poisson, the collapse would “often be very capricious”. The ice would melt slowly or quickly, depending on the year, sometimes extremely slow-moving and sometimes quick and catching us by surprise”. Often, a large part of the island, particularly the eastern part, would be flooded and many buildings would be damaged.”

In 1885 and 1886 major flooding occurred. Certain Montreal neighborhoods saw the water levels rising and many residents were travelling by rowboat in Montreal streets. Basements were flooded. On April 23, 1885, on Saint-Paul Island, “a large stone house was half submerged in water, up until the first floor”. In April 1931, the island, once again, escaped disaster. Daily newspaper La Presse describes what occurred. “Following an early flood on lac Saint-Louis, L’Île-des-Soeurs is suddenly isolated from civilization for a few days. Without sufficient food for its residents and without any means of communication with the metropolis, the island would quickly become hell on earth. Thankfully, modern scientific developments, such as planes, were at the disposal of the temporary exiles. Two airplanes transport bread and necessary food for L’Île-des-Soeurs residents.” Thankfully, such stories cannot occur today.

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, May 31, 2005 with Working for the Nuns.


Seventh episode
Working for the Nuns

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

The very first vocation for L’Île-des-Soeurs was to supply the Religious Order of the Notre-Dame de Montreal Congregation and their personnel and students, the necessary food. This is where the importance of the workers on L’Île-des-Soeurs was derived, as they were not only occupied with the farms, but as well with the construction and maintenance of numerous buildings, as well as the transportation of people and supplies to and from the Island.

Over a number of decades, while the number of males was reduced considerably during the winter season, it would increase in the spring and fall. The workers’ compensation was partly money and partly the harvest. In 1744, a man by the name of Saint-Omer dit Lanctot, who had been hired to “to do what was required”, was entitled to receive, in addition to his salary, “a pair of clogs, a pair of working shoes, a pair of French shoes, a length of yarn, four pounds of tobacco, a small glass of eau-de-vie and another small glass of rum.

Between 1770 and 1880, according to someone in the community who recorded this, the workers “were bathed, sheltered and were given what was owed to them, such as shoes, socks, flannel work shirts, silk pants, as well as a piece of untanned lambskin, a certain quantity of tobacco that they smoked and even rum according to their needs.”

Ils travaillaient pour les Soeurs

Over the course of the first part of the 20th century, the attitude that permeated the workers was largely influenced by an increase in demands, especially with the development of unions. The employees of the Nuns did not form a union, but they did demonstrate, on certain occasions, their discontent. On July 6, 1908, they went on strike. “The Nuns, wrote the religious annalist of the time, were forced to endure, what is known as a strike, by their employees, with their foreman at the head, formally stating certain justifiable remarks and was even complaining about the food, etc. They arrived at the house of the Mother Superior to solve this situation and leave the Island. It was a childish whim; after discussions which continued for eight days, everyone, except for the foreman who they felt was too incompetent to continue, returned back to the Island. The next day, adds the witness, he returned to his duties, which he had only started a few days ago. Without a leader, the work had been progressing extremely slowly. When he realized that it wasn’t so difficult for them to hire new workers, things returned to normal, under the leadership of a new foreman. When a few new good workers arrived, they took advantage of that to fire the ones who no longer suited them.”

In the beginning of July 1933, a new worker’s strike, it was recorded “resulted in the departure of some of the best men on the Island”. A final strike took place, at the end of July 1942, in the middle of war, when the Canadian government had practically forbidden work strikes. In the middle of the season, half of the male workers left the Island creating a huge problem, considering that it was the middle of the harvest season and manual labour was becoming extremely rare.

We can conclude that, overall, throughout the period when the Nuns were the owners of the Island, their relationship with their workers was cordial. The proof is that, beginning in the 1930s, many not only came from the same parishes, but also from the same families, like the Lacoursière family!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 with The Island, a nourishing land.


Eighth episode
The Island, a nourishing land

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

For the Nuns of the Notre-Dame de Montréal Congregation, their island located just across the farm of Pointe-Saint-Charles was first and foremost a land that could provide the necessary food products for members of their community, as well as for retirees who resided there.

Over the years, new crops and new farms appeared. But since the nuns had become the sole owners of the Island, the main crops were corn, peas, wheat, as well as beef, duck and pigeon meat. Milk and eggs were added to that.

According to community records, for the year of 1798, the Island supplied: “711 minots(measurement of grain) of wheat, 518 minots of peas, 34 minots of barley, one minot of corn, two minots of beans, 13 beef, 7 veal, 30 lambs, 9 pigs, 24 milk-fed pigs, 78 hundred chickadees, 51 hundred capons, 10 hundred turkeys, 30 hundred pigeons, 6 hundred chickens, 484 pounds of butter, 347 dozens of eggs, 45 minots of cheese, 12 minots of potatoes, 12 tresses of onions, 112 pounds of vegetable textile material, 28 pounds of maple sugar.” During that same year, they also began to grow flax.

When production increases, it is inevitable that new buildings must be built for the cattle and for crop storage. A century after the previous inventory was taken, we can find on the Island, a sheepfold, a stable, a chicken coop and a pigsty. There were also four barns, a hangar made of wood, an ice box and two small buildings for the raising of chickens, five small sheds for chickadees, an oven and a dog house. The cattle inventory for the year of 1897, was the following: “10 work horses, two young horses, one stallion, 60 milk cows, 20 young horned animals (ie. goats), two bulls, 28 sheep, 15 pigs and 180 chickens and roosters.

At the end of the XIX century, a larger variety of products became available. Residents fish around the Island and more fruit is grown. In 1899, 23 gallons of currants are gathered, as well as eight gallons of syrup. The fatty byproducts are used for soap.

In 1916, the nuns and the Island employees produced “4,412 pounds of pork; 5,340 pounds of beef; 1,402 pounds of veal; 17,152 gallons of milk; 3,758 pounds of butter; 298 chickens and 132 dozens of eggs”. What was necessary to feed the people residing on the Island, as well as those who would arrive during the winter months and the nuns who were on vacation or away attending courses, was produced.

Today, L’Île-des-Soeurs has long stopped being an agricultural centre, but it is still interesting for us to know the quantity of products consumed by the total of Islanders!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, June 28, 2005, with The Island had its share of drownings.


Ninth episode
The Island had its share of drownings

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

L’Île-des-Soeurs has always been in close and constant connection with the large neighbouring island of Montreal. It was therefore normal that over the years, a number of deaths have been mourned, which were caused by drownings. The most important accident took place in July of 1841. What was even worse, was that the accident had nothing to do with bad weather conditions.

The Congregation de Notre-Dame sister, entrusted with recording the main events of the time, described what took place: “Nine men who worked for the Ile Saint-Paul services drowned when the canoe they were in travelling in capsized in the small rapids, which can be seen from the island’s south-west point. Two men who were holding on to the canoe were waving frantically when passing by Marguerite Poirier, also known as “la Grande Marguerite”, who risked her life by running to their rescue, entering the water in a trough and using an oven shovel as a paddle. The bodies of the nine victims were immediately retrieved from the water and exposed in front of the sister’s home so officers of the peace could examine them and later the parents could claim them and have last rites given to them.

It was the carelessness of one of the employees that caused the tragedy. “He capsized the canoe while trying to scare the others.” The victims, adds the annalist, dropped into the water and none of them resurfaced again. This probably had to do with the hearty breakfast of large crepes that the men had consumed earlier.”

If an employee was at the origin of one of the worst tragedies on L’Île-des-Soeurs, the carelessness of some other people, who should have been more aware of the danger, was the cause of another drowning. This took place in August of 1875. A few Jesuit priests came to the Island to relax. At the end of the day, despite the very strong winds and the repeated warnings of Sister Saint-Eloi, they decided to return to Montreal. None of them seemed to have any experience navigating the river. The current pushed them towards the pillars of the Victoria Bridge, where their boat crashed. One of the passengers, “sensing he had no more strength, asked for absolution and said goodbye to his friends as he disappeared into the water.”

Luckily, not all incidents had such a bad ending. On December 27, 1938, when the river was partly frozen and a strong wind was creating two-metre waves, employees decided to cross the river to bring a priest back to Montreal. The boat was stuck in the ice and a rescue team was send. Despite the darkness, their extraordinary efforts bore fruit.

Now that L’Île-des-Soeurs and Montreal have an actual bridge connecting them, such misadventures are a thing of the past!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, July 12, 2005, with An Island steeped in prayers.


Tenth episode
An Island steeped in prayers

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

One cannot think of a place where the Sisters lived without thinking of an area where religious services took place and where they prayed and meditated. But it was a while before members of the Notre-Dame de Montréal Congregation became permanent fixtures on L’Île-des-Soeurs.

In 1769, the year that the nuns became the owners of the entire island, some of the Sisters only came to the area when there was work that needed to be taken care in the fields. In the “Cahier historique”, devoted to the island by Sister Sainte-Marthe, we read: “From 1770 to 1880, there were (...) three strong Sisters and four laywomen. When the circumstances called for it, when it was time to sheer the sheep, gather the flax, turn the earth, peel the seeds, gather the corn from the husks, pick the fruit; during the busy periods, three times per year, a large number of novices and Sisters from the community would come and help; for that to take place, there were two large horse-driven carts from Pointe-Saint-Charles, called barouches, with six places each, which would transport the nuns.”

It was also important that people fulfilled their religious obligations. In the beginning, there was no priest residing on the Island. In 1825, Jean-Jacques Lartigue, an assistant for the bishop in Quebec (the Montreal dioceses did not exist yet and the Montreal region was under the Quebec bishop), granted permission to residents to celebrate mass in a home, since there was no church yet. This authorization did not concern Sundays, since all available priests would conduct religious services on the island of Montreal. The Sisters who lived on “their” island, would attend mass at the Notre-Dame Church.

Starting in 1840, either the bishop of Montreal or the priests of Saint-Sulpice would celebrate mass on the Island. Almost every year, on January 25, the day of Saint Paul’s celebration, the patron of the Island, there was a ceremonial mass. On November 4, 1841, the nuns assisted in the erection of path to the cross. The following year, the Holy Sacrament was exposed for “more than a day”. In 1843, a cross was raised in front of the main house.

Une île imprégnée de prières...

Since 1850, after permission was granted, the nuns kept the Holy Sacrament permanently in their little chapel. Bishop Ignace Bourget wrote: “I allow the Holy Sacrament to remain in the chapel on Saint-Paul Island throughout the summer, for the consolation of our disabled sisters and also for the sisters who need to remain on the Island for the good of the congregation.”

Over the next decades, the number of nuns on the Island increased and the land became steeped in prayers. They, unfortunately, still didn’t prevent the tragedies that managed to take place here!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, July 26, 2005, with L’Île-des-Soeurs was not a quarantine island.


Eleventh episode
L’Île-des-Soeurs was not a quarantine island

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

During the 1840’s, in Ireland, the potato crop was attacked by a bug and famine ensued. One of the only chances to survive consisted of emigrating to the New World. While there was a tax imposed for immigrants entering the port of New York, there was no such tax being imposed to those entering Quebec. Just in 1847 alone, approximately 100,000 new arrivals were recorded in the Saint-Lawrence valley. Many of the new immigrants decided to settle in Upper Canada, what is currently known as Ontario, or in the United States. But many of them did not know their final destination, because they had contracted typhoid fever.

The boats transporting these immigrants had less than sanitary conditions and it was normal that sickness would thrive. There was already a quarantine station at Grosse-Ile, but that still didn’t prevent typhoid fever from spreading to Quebec City and even Montreal, where sick Irish immigrants were housed in sheds, located near the Lachine Canal. Since many of the sick were Catholic, the priests were entrusted with giving them last rites. “Five of these priests,” states the Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal, “fall victims of this illness and die a bit later, one after the other; five other priests also contract the illness and in a few days, they come to death’s door”.

In Montreal, panic reigns. The dead can be counted by the hundreds and even by the thousands. The Sisters of Charity, better known as the Grey Nuns, care for the ill. Many of them become ill. Those who become infected with typhoid are sent to Saint-Paul Island to rest. The leaders of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal are in agreement, but many who are already on Saint-Paul Island are worried that they will also contract the disease. A solution is finally found. Not too far from the Pointe-Saint-Charles sharecropping farm, where the Maison Saint-Gabriel can now be found, a house belonging to Mr. Grégory takes in the sick nuns. Therefore, no one suffering from typhoid fever comes to the Island.

On the island of Montreal, the number of deaths caused by typhoid fever reaches 5,000. Most of the dead are buried at the entrance to Victoria Bridge. A rock commemorates the event.

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, August 9, 2005, with L’Île-des-Soeurs for sale?


Twelvth episode
L’Île-des-Soeurs for sale?

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

During the early 1850s, the Island begins to progress rapidly. Not only from an agricultural, but also from a religious point of view. On June 8, 1850, Ignace Bourget, bishop for the Montreal dioceses, wrote to Mother Superior: “I allow the Holy Sacrament to be kept in the Saint-Paul Chapel throughout the summer season, for the consolation of the sick Sisters and also for the Sisters who are obliged for the sake of your sharecropping farms, to remain on the Island.” This decision is of great importance to the nuns, because they feel better protected and they can, at any time during the day, go to the Chapel and pray.

Was it the abolition of the seigneurial system in 1854 that started to incite, in certain Montrealers, the desire to become owners of the Island? The city is experiencing rapid development and construction of the Victoria Bridge establishes a train connection with other cities. The Island is no longer isolated!

In 1862, people visit the Island and start inquiring as to whether there is potential to reside here. But the Notre-Dame de Montréal Congregation is not yet ready to depart, even if the Pointe-Saint-Charles farms (what is currently Maison Saint-Gabriel) is experiencing significant development. In 1869, there is talk, in certain circles, of the Island eventually being sold. The following year, the newspapers make reference to a contract which is semi ready.

The rumour has a basis, because the Congregation demands an evaluation be made of the Island. On July 22, 1870, land surveyor and architect Henri-Maurice Perrault, the nephew of land surveyor and architect John Ostell, signed a letter evaluating Saint-Paul Island at 90,000 sterling pounds. Many people signed the document: monseigneur Bourget, the Mother Superior of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice, the mayor of Montreal, the federal minister of finances, etc. There was no immediate follow-up on the project, but the question of selling the Island came up, four years later.

On December 23, of 1874, a proclamation created the village of Rivière-Saint-Pierre, which included the Island. On December 28, 1876, the village became the Municipality of Verdun. Even if the municipality didn’t supply any services to the Island of Saint-Paul, the administration demanded that the community pay taxes to them nonetheless! The nuns protested this demand and the matter was brought to court. A first decision was rendered in the nuns’ favour, but the municipality decided to appeal to the Superior Court. The nuns lost their case and were forced to pay the court fees. This chapter wasn’t finished, as the municipality attempted again to collect taxes.

But the Island was still not for sale, even if the question was to come up again in 1888.

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, August 23, 2005 with L’Île-des-Soeurs becomes modern.


Thirteenth episode
L’Île-des-Soeurs becomes modern

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

At the end of the 19th century, the Island is accepting its dependency on the city of Verdun, quite badly. Taxation is a constant problem. The nuns inform provincial authorities that Verdun offers them no protection against thieves. In January 1899, an act is signed by Quebec’s lieutenant governor, stipulating that, in the future, Ile Saint-Paul “will be managed by the county council, as if it were a separate municipality”.

Electricity and telephone service make their appearance on the Island. In 1929, we can presume that the nuns stopped using the foghorn to establish contact with the Maison Saint-Gabriel farmhouse, in Pointe-Saint-Charles. Daily life changes. Electric lighting makes its appearance in many homes. There are now electric milking machines and a fire pump. An incubator enables the number of chicks to multiply and a steel tower must be built for electricity to be transferred.

On September 14, 1930, the nuns and their employees were surprised to find an airplane transporting mail, on ile aux Chevaux (a small island which is part of Ile Saint-Paul). In order to come to its rescue, two other planes landed on the Island.

A few months later, on March 23, 1931, another airplane flew over the Island. “In the past few days,” writes one of the nuns in her journal, “the crossing was impossible and we were lacking bread. We tried to bake bread, but the yeast remaining was of very poor quality. Sister Sainte-Marie-Edith (Turner), addressed a letter to an aviation company, since she knew someone in the company’s management very well; Mr. H. M. Passmore, manager of the Fairchild Company, of Longueuil. In about an hour, an airplane arrived, descended very low and dropped a packet of a dozen loaves of bread. The next day, Frank Sydney, of Standard’s Brand Company, hearing that we no longer had good quality yeast, also send us a dozen loaves of bread, along with a note inviting us to notify him of any other necessities”.

The Island would have to wait until 1933 for the very first vehicle to appear “permanently”. It would be a 1915 Wright truck! But, for the past two years, it was retired. “In 1935,” wrote Camille Poisson, “we tried to use it and one of the employees, Mr. Blouin, helped by Pierre Lacoursière, succeeded in starting it.” The latter drove it for four years, from 1937 to 1941, until gas and tire shortages, rendered it useless. In 1941, Canada was in the midst of a war and gas and tires were rationed and the purchase of new tires was impossible. What’s more, the federal government did not allow someone using their neighbour’s tires!

A few years earlier, in September 29, 1938, a certain commotion overtook Island residents. Over the past few days, many airplanes were seen flying over the nuns’ headquarters. They quickly learned, while reading in “The Montreal Daily Star”, that “certain officials considered the Island as a marvelous place to construct an airport”. L’Île-des-Soeurs therefore was becoming more and more coveted each day!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, September 6, 200, with The Island does not escape misfortune.


Fourteenth episode
The Island does not escape misfortune

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

Throughout its history, the Montreal region has seen its share of fires. Whether it was in 1734 or in 1852, dozens of homes, sometimes even more than a thousand in the latter case, were reduced to ashes. L’Île-des-Soeurs also had its share of tragedies, but luckily they were less important. With regards to catastrophes, after spring floods, fires were the second most frequent disaster.

Sister Marie-Anne Gauthier-Landreville describes how, in 1878, the nuns were able to control, on their own, a fire that broke out and could have had serious consequences:
“One night during a terrible winter storm, the stove chimney of the dormitory caught fire and, after a few minutes, flames were licking the rooftop. The danger was immediate. Sister Saint-Eloi (Bourbonnais) called the men to help them, but the foreman, who was no longer very young, did not want to risk climbing on to the rooftop. The rest of them weren’t any braver. In a moment of bravery, Sister Saint-Eloi attempted, with the help of other nuns and servants, to save the house at all costs. Some of them carried water and the rest would take turns throwing it on the roof, through the skylight and the small church tower. finally, after much turmoil, effort and prayers, they succeeded in containing the destructive element.” The nuns had therefore managed all alone to save their home from complete disaster and this in the middle of winter, when the consequences could have been even more catastrophic.

In 1891, another fire broke out, but thanks to the quick intervention of employees, the laundry room was not completely destroyed. Two years later, another fire broke out, but without any serious consequences. In 1911, a fire didn’t threaten a building! While a nun was busy burning weeds, the wind picked up and threatened neighbouring fields. Thankfully, a quick intervention limited the damages...

L'île n'échappe pas aux incendies

That wasn’t the case on September 11, 1918. This time, it was a complete catastrophe. Workers were attempting to repair the roofs of various farm buildings. They had left a small fire going in the forge, which eventually grew into an uncontrollable fire. With the help of the wind, most of the buildings were up in flames in no time. They quickly called Verdun firefighters to the rescue, who would have to cross over to come to the Island, since there was still no bridge connecting the Island to other towns.

The losses were enormous. The hen house, with more than 500 birds, was completely destroyed. So were the stable, the pigsty, the sheep fold, the forge, the laundry room, the silo, without counting the many farm tools that were lost. Only the old manor was saved by the destructive force.

“After the fire,” wrote Father Camille Poisson, “when the time came, in 1919, to construct outbuildings, we decided to no longer build them near the old manor, across from Verdun, but on the other side of the Island, facing the river between Saint-Lambert and Laprairie, on a piece of land that was much more elevated, where, almost for a century and a half, the ancestral home of the Le Ber family was erected.” Since this was from where, from now on, they would manage the farm, it was a new residence for the sisters and their employees, a residence which, for all practical purposes, was to replace the Notre-Dame-de-Protection home.

Did L’Île-des-Soeurs suffer any other serious disasters? You’ll find out soon!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, September 20, 2005, with Were the Island’s cows really sick?


Fifteenth episode
Were the Island’s cows really sick?

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

In the beginning of the 1920s, tuberculosis was one of the main causes of death. The government of the province of Quebec changes the vocation of the Conseil supérieur d’hygiène into the “Service provincial d’hygiène”. The latter had as a mission “to supervise and to improve public health in the province by preventing the transmission of contagious diseases and by implementing the necessary measures for the protection of health and the life of individuals”. In 1923, sixteen anti-tuberculosis dispensaries were created and added to the three already in existence in Montreal and Quebec City. The main goal is to prevent tuberculosis in children 5 to 12 years of age.

A real psychosis and fear of the disease spreads among the population. Even though the nuns living on l’Ile Saint-Paul were taking all precautions, to ensure that the milk, they were sending off to the convents in the metropolitan region, was as sanitary as possible, it appears that many had their doubts. The Island farms counted a total of 54 cows, which would daily give 148 gallons of milk, which was then transported to the community’s parent company.

Les vaches de l’île étaient-elles malades?

“But suddenly one day,” writes the sister annalist, “two doctors who said they were sent by the general hygiene agent demanded to visit the cow herd. They enter the stable and the inspection, which carries on for two days, brings the following results: the young service ox and 26 of the best milk cows are confiscated; their milk is only suitable for animals, and even then, it must be boiled.”

“The cows,” she adds, “would be send to the butcher for canned food. They (the two doctors) even offer to purchase the animals, at a quarter of a price. The cows cannot be slaughtered until they are examined by one of them. They ask for the name and the age of each animal, so they can file a report to the government in Ottawa. They also have to isolate the animals, so another cow pen is created.”

Ensured that the two specialists have the necessary authority to execute their diagnosis, the sisters demand that the workers prepare the fences to enclose the area where the cows, which have been declared as healthy, are to remain. As far as the confiscated animals, they are to remain in the stable until they are disposed of.

Because of the speed with which everything takes place, very few questions are posed about the authenticity of the two doctors. “But,” concludes the sister, “in the future, we will do well to listen to the wise and conscientious advice of our veterinarian who knows our animals, before succumbing to government inquisitions.” If those two inspectors were fake, they certainly made a small fortune by re-selling those animals!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, October 4, 2005, with L’Île-des-Soeurs: an attraction for undesirable visitor.


Sixteenth episode
L’Île-des-Soeurs: an attraction for undesirable visitor

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

Due to its proximity with the island of Montreal, L’Île-des-Soeurs remained an ideal spot for hunting or simply for a picnic. In 1731, quartermaster Gilles Hocquart had issued an ordinance stating “that it was forbidden to all people to hunt or fish on the land that belonged to Senneville” and that to do so would merit them a fine. Senneville was owner of part of l’ile Saint-Paul.

Thieves were even more dangerous. During the night of February 10 to 11, 1928, two young boys took advantage of the fact that the Notre-Dame-de-la-Protection home was unoccupied during the winter season and burglarized it. “They grabbed whatever was within their reach: mattresses, beds, lingerie, carpets, dishes.” They went to sell it all in Verdun. The area’s police chief quickly figured out who the culprits were and arrested them. The thieves knew the Island well, because one of them worked as the person who crossed people over to the Island and had been dismissed from his job a while earlier.

Two years later, starting June 16, 1930, you needed a special permit to camp on the Island. During this time, the Island still didn’t have any constables, so employees were entrusted with keeping an eye on things and intervening if needed. Their task was a difficult one, because they didn’t have any real police authority. All they could do was convince intruders to leave the Island.

In 1934, the Island finally has its proper constables. “It was only when they came across persistent bad faith that they were finally forced to bring in the police,” wrote Father Poisson. In certain cases, luckily extremely rare, he added, they had to resort to this extreme, but also efficient, resource: forcing intruders to leave and damaging their tents with their horses. Faced with such a presence, intruders had no choice but to pick up and leave.”

It appears that such measures were efficient because, two or three years later, intruders were less of a problem. In 1938 however, seeing as strangers came to cut down Island trees, surveillance was increased. Since more and more people were living on the Island now, both in the winter and the summer, such as nuns and students during the summer, and official visitors, it was more and more difficult for intruders to escape detection. L’Île-des-Soeurs therefore became a place of peace and tranquility, where prayer occupied the primary place.

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, October 18, 2005, with A new vocation for L’Île-des-Soeurs?


Seventeenth episode
A new vocation for L’Île-des-Soeurs?

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

During the end of the 1930s, civil aviation was gaining more and more in importance. On April 10, 1937 a federal law created Trans-Canada Airlines, the predecessor for Air Canada and an affiliate of Chemins de fer Nationaux. During this era, the new company had “two passenger planes and a small biplane used to study new itineraries”. In the Montreal region, there was only one important airport: the one in Saint-Hubert. They were therefore searching for a new location in Montreal to build another one. In an article published, towards the end of August 1938, in the English daily The Montreal Daily Star, better known as The Star, we learn why, for a number of days, airplanes were circling L’Île-des-Soeurs: they were scouting the area as a possible location to build an airport because it appeared to be ideal.

On April 1, 1939, Trans-Canada Airlines inaugurated a regular service between Vancouver and Montreal. The Island continues to remain a coveted spot, especially when Canada enters the war. On October 22, 1940, under the title “L’Île-des-Soeurs aux Aviateurs?”, French daily La Presse publishes an article which catches many by surprise. It appears that the Minister of National Defense is planning on requisitioning the Island. “We know, “states the article, “that the federal government had originally looked at the Universitè de Montréal building, located on Mont-Royal, and then later the Botanical Gardens. These representatives came to examine the farm that the Notre-Dame Congregation nuns owned, across from Verdun, and they estimated that the location was excellent. A part of the Island could serve for military exercises and another as aviation land. finally, the river between the Island and Laprairie offers a remarkable natural airport. L’Île-des-Soeurs, adds the journalist, measures approximately two miles in length and a mile in width. The agricultural establishment is considerable. There are approximately 200 pigs, 50 cows, hundreds of chickens, vast vegetable gardens, numerous bee hives, etc. A part of the Island still has a forest.”

We don’t know why, but the journalist did not seem overly concerned by the number of nuns who lived on the Island! He concludes his article: “At the moment, we do not know if the federal government will acquire or lease the Island locale. At the home of the mother superior of the Notre-Dame Congregation, they do not appear to have any news on this.”

It was finally the Dorval site which was chosen and where the British will apprentice in flying airplanes. The federal government however, had its eye on the Island nonetheless, because in 1942, it was contemplating building a Museum to Man here!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, November 1, 2005, with L'Île-des-Soeurs during the Second World War.


Eighteenth episode
L'Île-des-Soeurs during the Second World War

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

When World War II broke out, in September of 1939, it was harvest time on L’Île-des-Soeurs. The nuns were still the sole owners and the workers were busy with the maintenance of the various buildings.

The winter of 1939-1940 was marked by some important storms. During the night of March 13-14 “a strong wind was blowing and there was a lot of snow on the telephone cables,” wrote one of the nuns, “the cable between the foreman’s house and the cow barn was broken. Approximately nine hours later, an electrical wire hit the telephone cables and an explosion occurred, which burnt the telephone cables near the telephone boxes and in other places. We attribute the fact that we are all safe to the fact that Mother Bourgeoy’s image is under the telephone and Saint-Amable’s statue is at the pharmacy. In the afternoon, Pierre Lacoursière and Albert Caya, two of our employees, repaired the cables despite the cold and the snow.”

That very same winter saw the disappearance of the ice bridge which, in certain years, would form between the Island and Laprairie. One of the reasons that explain this disappearance is that the Laprairie municipal council refused to vote for the necessary money for the maintenance of the bridge, which amounted to less than $300. Another reason resided in the development of Taschereau boulevard, “which ran parallel the river across from the bridge and which was necessary to take in order to arrive at the ice bridge”. The boulevard “became less accessible to winter cars and trucks on this busy circulation lane that is maintained all winter and eaten up by the snow”.

From December 9 to 12, 1941 Island employees were busy searching for the “horned animals” to lock them in back the stables. Since the springtime, they are free to roam as they please, especially in the forest. Four men on horses attempt to force them to take the road to the stables, but in vain. After two days, there is only a young calf remaining. On the 12th, “armed with a rifle, one of the employees sets off for the forest,” writes the sister annalist. “Dead or alive, the calf would return.” Hiding behind a tree, the employee simulates the sounds of cows and the calf hears that and approaches. A large dog takes care of the situation and it’s quickly over.”

A few months later, Father Charles Poisson predicts a brilliant future for L’Île-des-Soeurs. “Sometime, more or less, in the near future,” he writes,” l’Ile Saint-Paul will be called upon to become an integral part of the Montreal or Verdun cities, where it will be able to offer an immense public park with maintained beaches for swimmers (...) it will be an important part of either of these two cities or a neighbourhood, such as Pointe-Saint-Charles or Côte Saint-Paul, where preferred homes will be established for the
“chic” people, similar to Outremont and Westmount.” Who could have known how close he would be!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, November 15, 2005, with From île St-Paul to L’Île-des-Soeurs...


Nineteenth episode
From île St-Paul to L’Île-des-Soeurs...

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

The year 1956 marks a turning point in the history of the Island: the sisters finally depart from the their property. Before beginning the second part of the Island’s history, it would be interesting to recap the first part. Let’s begin with 1769, the moment when the sisters of the Notre-Dame Congregation became the sole owners of the Island.

De l’île Saint-Paul à L'Île-des-Soeurs

Even before 1636, when the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France conceded to Jean de Lauzon the lordship of la Citière, it included the Island. It would later be known as île Saint-Paul, as a reminder of Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve. For the past few centuries, American Indians had frequented the area, as clearly indicated from the artifacts found in archeological digs.

On January 28, 1664, Lauzon ceded ile Saint-Paul to Claude de Robutel de Saint-André, Jacques Le Ber dit Larose and Jean-Baptiste Lavigne. Each was the owner of one third of the property. Robutel and Le Ber quickly started to cultivate the land. A bit later however, Lavigne decided to embrace the religious life and ceded his land to Marie Le Ber. The following year, Marie entered the Ursulines convent and gave her brother the share of the Island that had been given to her by Lavigne.

In 1695, Jeanne Le Ber, Jacques daughter, pronounced her vows and gave to the Notre-Dame Congregation of Montreal her share of the land that she had inherited on ile Saint-Paul. On July 16, 1706, Zacharie Robutel, the son of Claude de Robutel, proceeded with a land exchange, involving the sisters. The latter expanded their Island property and now had more than two thirds of the entire île Saint-Paul. They would not yet establish a home there, preferring to cultivate the land by their employees at the Saint-Gabriel farm.

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, November 29, 2005, with 1769-1956: an Island reserved for the nuns.


Twentieth episode
1769-1956: an Island reserved for the nuns

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

On August 25, 1769, the Sisters of the Notre-Dame Congregation of Montreal became the sole owners of ile Saint-Paul, which was still not known as its later name L’Île-des-Soeurs. They mandated Mr. Auger to act on their behalf during the sale auction. In order to have the necessary amount of money for the acquisition of the Island, the sisters had to let go of a piece of land located in Verdun and ile-a-l’Aigle, across from Boucherville. What’s more, a Sulpician had supplied them with the additional money they were missing to complete the transaction.

As soon as the purchase of the Island was complete, the Sisters moved to the Island. Some men who were working for the former owners or for the sisters continued to work for the latter. In 1770, according to Sister Gauthier-Landreville, “we have buildings to house the animals: horses, horned animals, lambs, pigs and chickens, ducks and pigeons. The Island will produce a part of the necessary food for the Island community and for some Montreal residents. The rest will be supplied by the Saint-Gabriel farm.

Life isn’t always easy. The new Island residents arrived just as Americans, who were planning to attack Montreal on November 11, 1775, spent the night on the Island. Two days later, these invaders enter the city and the Americans occupy Montreal until June of the following year.

As the needs increase, the sisters need to construct new buildings, increase the quantity of the land that can be cultivated and multiply the animals. In 1788, a new stone building is constructed, because the home built by Jacques Le Ber was in a state of delapitation. Three years later, the construction of a new stable takes place. Turkeys are raised, a sugar shack is built and flax seed is cultivated. The number of fruit trees is increased and self sufficiency becomes more and more important. Mechanical tools make their appearance, in 1835, with the acquisition of a thresher, “which means that we no longer need 15 men to gather the grain during the winter season”.

1769-1956: une île réservée aux religieuses...

On the religious front, there was no resident chaplain yet, but slowly, services were becoming more frequent and more regular. On June 4, 1841, the Island welcomed Charles de Forbin-Janson, the bishop of the Nancy dioceses, who travelled to lower Canada to, among other things, preach to the new residents. He blessed the fields and asked God to protect the Island from the floods which, every year, cause serious damage. On November 4 of the same year, a Sulpician nun proceeds with the inauguration of the chapel cross. In 1850, to the great joy of the nuns, the latter obtain from Ignace Bourget, the bishop of Montreal, the authorization to guard the Sacrament in their chapel.

The ownership of ile Saint-Paul was certainly not without problems. In 1869, for the first time, the question of selling the property came up. Since it became a definite possibility, a surveyor is mandated to arrive at the Island and establish a preliminary evaluation of its merchandise. During the second half of 1870, the town of Verdun, which had now become a municipality, comes to the conclusion that it can tax the Island. The issue is brought before the courts and luckily for the nuns, they win the case. Not everything was settled however, because in 1887, the community receives a bill for municipal and school taxes. Is it for this reason that the following year the question of selling the Island resurfaces? Following an appeal to the Quebec provincial government, the Island is detached from the municipality of Verdun and becomes independent in 1899. In 1907, it becomes incorporated to the county municipality.

The years and the harvests go by, but not always with the same success. Too often, spring floods cause all sorts of damages. But the Island is still capable of supplying the community with more and more products. In 1916, it produces 4,412 pounds of pork, 5,340 pounds of beef, 1,402 pounds of veal, 17,152 gallons of milk, 3,758 pounds of butter, 298 chickens and 132 dozens of eggs.

It’s not just the water that poses a threat, but fire as well. On September 11, 1918, some of the buildings go up in flames. Luckily, progress is ever present. In the 1920’s, the Island is connected to the rest of the world by telephone. The sisters acquire a yacht. Later on, a barge is added.. and the very first permanent chaplain becomes a reality! Electricity, electric milking machine, a water pump for the fire department, etc. A first truck makes its appearance in 1933.

Visitors are more and more numerous. During the summer, the Island not only serves as a place of rest for the sisters recovering from an illness, but also as a centre of studies and training.

Rumours of an imminent sale increase. All sorts of projects see the light of day on the Island. In the early 1950’s, the decision is made to sell the Island. Everything is changing for metropolitan region as well. On August 11, 1954 construction work on the Saint-Laurent seaway begins. The time has come for the Notre-Dame Congregation to leave “its” Island. That event officially takes place in January 1956.

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, December 13, 2005, with The island has a new owner.


Twenty-first episode
The island has a new owner

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

On many occasions, since the 1880’s, the Notre-Dame de Montreal Congregation management had attempted to leave ile Saint-Paul, which many were already calling, for decades now, l’Île-des-Soeurs. In the mid-1950’s, the time arrived for the nuns to find a buyer for the island that, until now, had served as a farm for the convent.

The start of construction on the Saint-Lawrence seaway brought significant changes to the neighbouring areas. In mid-March 1955, a surveyor addressed a new plan for the latter. A few days earlier, in the weekly newspaper, Le Messager de Verdun, Pointe-Saint-Charles, Ville de La Salle and Côte Saint-Paul, there was a reference made to a comment by a lawyer from a very important Montreal law firm, who stated that an agreement had been reached with a company, whose name he did not want to divulge yet. Among the conditions imposed by the nuns, it was “forbidden to use the island as a park or a race track or other similar usage”.

Rumour has it that a construction project worth 75 million dollars will be realized. It is expected that the population of the Island will reach 30,000 quite quickly. What’s more, there is talk of the Island’s annexation to the City of Verdun, but a majority of Verdun owners rejected the idea of an eventual annexation! There is also talk of building a temporary bridge connecting the Island and the neighbouring city. In mid-July of 1955, Paul Chevrier, president of the Saint-Lawrence Seaway announces the construction of a new bridge connecting the South Shore and the island of Montreal.

The Quebec Home and Mortgage Corporation Ltd. company, whose president is Judah Leib Gewurz, is the Island’s new owner. According to the latest news, if the agreement is finalized, the nuns can remain for a bit longer in the buildings they currently own. In an interview, accorded to a Petit Journal journalist, Judah Leib Gewurz, clarifies: “I believe it is our responsibility to create something magnificent and beautiful on the Island. We are determined to build something out of the ordinary on the North-American continent, something that the Congregation nuns will be proud to see develop in a corner of the world that is indeed precious to them.” What they envision eventually becomes reality; one of the most spectacular residential developments in North America!

We invite you to come back on Tuesday, December 27, 2005, with Who will annex L’Île-des-Soeurs?


Twenty-second episode
Who will annex L’Île-des-Soeurs?

by Jacques Lacoursière, writer and historian

The eventual sale of L’Île-des-Soeurs poses the problem of its annexation, considering that up until then it was independent. The cities of Montreal and Verdun are interested on claiming the Island. On April 6, 1955, following an agreement between the Quebec Home and Mortgage Corporation Ltd, the future owner and the Verdun City council, the latter holds a special assembly where the following resolution is adopted:

“Considering that the City of Verdun was advised from a reliable source that the eventual owners of ile Saint-Paul, Mr. Colin A. Gravenor and all, have the intention of demanding the annexation of this territory to the City of Verdun, and since it’s expected that the eventual owners will act through the intermediary of a legal counsel, they asked the City of Verdun to stipulate the conditions and the arrangements under which such an annexation would take place and the responsibilities and obligations that the City of Verdun would assume with regards to such an annexation, it is resolved that the City of Verdun respond to the following agreements: (...)

3- It is understood that, as one of the conditions of an annexation, the owner will have the right to prepare urban planning bylaws to his liking, as long as those bylaws are equivalent to the best standards and dispositions presently in effect and incorporated in the existing bylaws of the City of Verdun, with the intent of developing the territory as an ultra modern residential district with connected commercial developments, as long as they receive the city council’s approbation.

4- It is understood that local improvements will be implemented and installed on the basis that these services, water, sewers, sidewalks and other capital expenses for local improvements will be payable by the riverfront owners subdivided over a period of years, following the law with regards to each particular service. (...)

10- It is agreed that the City of Verdun will supply the water, the sewers, the sidewalks and other facilities to future taxpayers on the Island, as soon as it is practically possible to do. All major expenses and improvements will be at the Island owners’ expense. (...)

13- The island owners agree to cede to the city all necessary land to finish the roads, alleys, parks, playgrounds and other public places.”

At the same time there is talk of a bridge being constructed connecting the Island and the City of Verdun! The City of Montreal is also interested in annexing the Island. But, at the same time, the future Island owners see certain advantages to L’Île-des-Soeurs remaining independent, because annexation to Verdun presents at least one important inconvenience: the City of Verdun is under prohibition and is a dry town, which means that the Island would not be able to have bars or taverns.

On January 11, 1956 in the presence of Judah Leib Gewurz, the Comité des bills privés of the Quebec Legislature, gives its agreement to the annexation of L’Île-des-Soeurs to the City of Verdun. During the deliberations, a representative for the City of Montreal objected to the fact, but Premier Maurice Duplessis intervened himself to make sure it went through. However, the following demand was rejected at Duplessis’s demand. “After the sale or the subdivision of L’Île-des-Soeurs land, all major municipal work to be executed by the city will be paid exclusively the owners or the taxpayers of L’Île-des-Soeurs. The Premier states that “Verdun makes an acquisition of great value and should not allow for all the financial burden to be suffered solely by future Island residents”.

This is the last chronicle on the origins of Île-des-Soeurs.


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