Enjoying the Story of Westmount
I began looking for traces of the Huguenots that my grandmother always told me were in the family. First, I looked for anyone born in Blois, Orléans, Paris, Rouen or Tours France sometime after the Affair of the Placards. These are the towns in which people posted signs questioning Catholic dogma overnight on October 17, 1534. The incident set off the reformation and eventually led to hangings and mass migration of Protestants out of France.
Unfortunately, my genealogical records don’t extend far into France during the 1500s, so that research will be for another day.
My journey through the Hurtubise side of my family, however, led me upon a wonderful history of Westmount called A View of Their Own: The Story of Westmount, written by Aline Gubbay in 1998. The little guide introduced me to several early maps of Montreal I hadn’t seen before, Montreal’s Mohawk name “”Kawanote Teiontiakon” and a hint about how some of my distant ancestors lived. Gubbay describes the geology of Montreal in a way that allows you to really imagine how things used to be.
The western part of the island was distinguished by a little mountain Westmount — some 600 feet high, formed by an outcropping of a larger rise, Mount Royal. Iroquoians had discovered that the slope of the little mountain, facing south-east, was sheltered from the strongest northern winds, a factor which, together with abundant water from the mountain springs, made for a richly fertile soil where they could cultivate their traditional crops of beans and corn. (p 11)
My ancestors get a small mention on page 15:
One by one the families arrived, settling along the Indian trail now given the name of Côte St. Antoine. They included names such as Des Carries (sic), Prud’homme, Leduc, Pierre et Jean Hurtubise, and St. Germain.
(Fascinating how Gubbay missed the French word “et” in her paragraph, something I frequently do in my texts. Bilingualism can be quite troubling sometimes.)
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Most of the men were artisans, recruited from towns of northern France for their skills as stonemasons, millers, brewers, but they soon acquired the new skills necessary to clear and cultivate the land. In winter, after the land had been cleared, the trunks of the trees were gathered, carried down to the water and lashed together on the rim of a frozen lake, Lac St. Pierre. When the ice melted in the spring the lumber was floated through a short inlet to the St. Lawrence River and rafted along the shore for sale at Ville Marie, now renamed Montreal.
If you have Clarks, Dawsons, Dionnes, Elgins, Enslies, Hays, Hendersons, Lighthalls, Mackays, Monks, Murrays, Newnhams, Ohmans, Parés, Shearers, Smithers or Timmins in your family, you’ll find gems about their lives in this book. If you appreciate reading about the Town of Westmount, the borough of NDG or Montreal history, this is definitely a story you’ll want to discover.
At only 151 pages, A View of their Own: The Story of Westmount is a quick and easy read. Gubbays smooth writing style and her use of many anecdotes make it entertaining as well. I highly recommend it.
About the Author
Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.