The history of Westmount presented below was written in 1920 by William Douw Lighthall, a lawyer, historian, and former Mayor of Westmount.

William Douw Lighthall
William Douw Lighthall
c. 1905

The City of Westmount occupies a territory of about 976 acres comprising the top and southern slopes of the Western Mountain of Mount Royal, bounded on the north at the top of the Mountain by that part of Montreal formerly Cote des Neiges, on the south by St. Henri Ward, on the west at Claremont Avenue by Notre Dame de Grace, and the east by St. Antoine ward.

Westmount is now entirely surrounded by the City of Montreal, of which it is the chief residential suburb. In language and ideas it is predominantly English. It has a wide reputation for the high character of its municipal improvements and for the beauty of its site and of its residences along the slopes of its Mountain. Its present population is about 20,000.

Indian Period

In one respect Westmount has the longest history of any locality in America, north of Mexico. An ancient Indian burying ground discovered in 1898 on and adjoining the grounds of St. George Club on the Upper Level (not the Summit), near the corner of Aberdeen Avenue and The Boulevard, apparently belonged to a period previous to the fifteenth century. The type of burial, (each body being covered in its grave by large flat stones placed in the shape of an A), appears to be related to the Stone-lined graves of the Illinois and other ancient Algonguin tribes of the Mississippi Valley, and was different from that of the Hochelagans who occupied the Island of Montreal from about the year 1400. The Westmount Indian graves also do not contain any pottery or other objects resembling those of the Hochelagans. They, therefore, evidently belong to a time earlier than the fifteenth century. The Hochelagans following the People of the Stone-lined graves were the second known possessors of the site of Westmount.

French Period

The first occupation on the site during this period, was the establishment by the Seminary of St. Sulpice in 1684, of the Fort Des Messieurs, the extensive establishment of which the two early towers and some walls at the College de Montreal are the remnant. It was built so as to remove the mission Indians of Montreal from the influence of dissolute traders of the town. And while the buildings are not within the actual limits of Westmount, the lands of the establishment occupy a considerable part of this city, and these Indians are known to have made habitual use of a number of neighborhoods within it, such as the elm tree, and the 'Indian Wells' of the Raynes and Murray property. During the earlier years of the eighteenth century, concessions of farm land running in strips up to and across the top of Westmount Mountain were made to various French settlers by the Seminary, as Seigneurs of the Island. Such was the origin of the old farms now divided into lots and covered with houses. The first house was the quaint stone cottage of the St. Germain family, overlooking Lansdowne Avenue from above the Cote St. Antoine Road, and having its great wooden cross before it. The Murray farm on the east, between Belmont and Murray Avenues, contained a similar cottage belonging to the Leducs, who owned the farm up to 1847. Traces of their dwelling can still be seen. In those days two roads partly traversed the locality from east to west - the earliest of which was 'the Road through the Woods' to Lachine, or Upper Lachine Road, the other the Cote St. Antoine Road. A number of interesting local traditions exist concerning the French period - burying of silver and valuables by the Hurtubises and Leducs when part of General Amherst's Army, arriving to capture Montreal in 1760, occupied the heights along the Cote Des Neiges Road; the killing of the first St. Germain by an ambushed Iroquois in the Ravine of the present Westmount Park; the ceremony of exorcism of an insane daughter of the St. Germains by being 'passed through fire' in front of the house; Indian photographs on trees in the Ravine; and so forth. The little Ville of Montreal at this period seemed far away.

British Period

For two generations after the Conquest there was very little change in the rural countryside of old Cote St. Antoine. Several of the old North West Fur Merchants established country seats here - such as William Hallowell and John Clarke. In later times others such as William Bowman, William Murray, Hon. John Young and Dr. Selby, bought old farms and built country seats, some of which their descendants still enjoy. In time 'the Cote' became part of the Parish of St. Henri, a subdivision of the original Parish of Montreal, and under the Municipal Act of 1849 was in due course governed by parish municipal law. In 1874, it and Notre Dame de Grace were detached from St. Henri and Cote St. Antoine became an incorporated Village. The late Honorable James Kewley Ward was Mayor for 9 years. In 1890 the Village having made some progress as a residential suburb and attained the vast population of 1850 was incorporated as a Town under the name of The Town of Cote St. Antoine. In 1893 Sherbrooke Street was opened across the place and became at once the principal thoroughfare. In 1894 the Town was reached by electric railway which brought about striking changes in its outlook and general spirit.

An interesting area of town planning was now inaugurated, the general result being the transformation of a rural village into a beautiful modern city. By 1902 the population had reached 10,000, all the principal streets were opened and controlled by building restriction lines and provided with the best of obtainable pavements and sidewalks, a successful lighting plant was erected, a large public meeting hall, attractive parks, a filtered water system and the first civic public library in the Province of Quebec.

In 1895 the name 'Cote St. Antoine' was changed to 'Westmount' the former name being considered less adapted to an urban locality. The derivation of the name from the Westmount Mountain was obvious. It had previously been adapted by the Murray family for their residence 'Westmount House'.

Since 1902 the work achieved by the planners of Westmount has been faithfully carried out by competent councils, the population has doubled, new districts have become opened and built up, splendid churches and schools erected. In 1908 it took on the name and rank of a City. The People take great pride in its progress and good government.


return to top

homepage | about us | archives | newsletter | lecture series | links

© Westmount Historical Association 1999-2003. All rights reserved.
Last update: 22 January 2003