The history of the neighbourhood now known as Griffintown goes back more than 360 years, almost as far back as the founding of Montreal.
1650 to 1799
1654 – Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve granted Jeanne Mance, founder of Hôtel-Dieu, 112 arpents of land, known then as Nazareth Fief. It was also called Le Grange des Pauvres, and its proceeds were to be used to benefit the poor of Hôtel-Dieu hospital. The original borders extended from rue Soeurs Grises in the east, to rue de la Montagne on the west; and from rue William in the north, and south to the St. Lawrence River. Until the British arrived in 1760, it was primarily used as farmland.
1698 – Pierre Leber built a chapel dedicated to St. Ann near the south end of Murray Street. The area then became known also as Le Quartier Ste-Anne. The area became such a popular place for drunkenness and revelry that the clergy were forced to restrict the sale of liquor around the chapel.
1760 – The British under General Amherst marched from Lachine through Nazareth Fief, through the Recollet Gate, and into the walled city of Montreal.
1791 – Thomas McCord leased Nazareth Fief from the nuns of Hôtel-Dieu for 99 years.
1796 – While McCord was attending to business interests in England and Ireland, his lease was illegally sold, by his associate Patrick Langan, to Mrs. Mary Griffin, the wife of an area soap factory owner.
1800 to 1899
1804 – Griffintown was a coveted area, due to its strategic location beside the long-planned Lachine Canal. Mary Griffin commissioned the drawing of a plan that divided the area into streets and building lots and then constructed low cost housing. Proceeds from the rents were to be divided between her and the nuns.
1805 – Thomas McCord returned to Montreal and took legal action to try to get his land back from Mary Griffin. The courts eventually ruled in McCord’s favour (1814) and assigned the land back to him, but the Griffintown label stuck.
1820 – By 1820, Montreal’s fortifications were removed and Griffintown became connected to the rest of the city.
1821 – Construction of the Lachine Canal was begun to bypass the Lachine Rapids in the St. Lawrence River. It ushered in a new era of heavy industrialization.
1824 – First St. Patrick’s Parade on March 17th and the Recollet Convent opened as a school for Irish children.
1825 – Recollet Church opened for services for Irish Catholics.
1840s – The potato famine stuck Ireland causing tens of thousands of Irish to immigrate to Montreal, the vast majority of whom settled in Griffintown.
1840-1848 and 1873 to 1884 – The Lachine Canal was enlarged twice, the large part done by Irish immigrants. Many factories were built along its shores.
1843 – Canal workers staged one of the first labour strikes in Canada.
1843 – St. Ann’s Boys’ School was built; corner of St. Paul & St. Henry Streets.
1847-1848 – Tragic deaths of up to 6,000 Irish immigrants from typhus in the fever sheds at Windmill Point across the canal from Griffintown (Goose Village). Most contracted typhus due to the overcrowded/unsanitary conditions on the ships they boarded to escape the potato famine in Ireland. Those who arrived ill, were quarantined in the fever sheds.
1849 – On April 25th, rioters burned down the Parliament of Canada (Upper and Lower Canada) which was located in the St. Ann’s Market building on the eastern boundary of Griffintown. The rioters vehemently opposed a government Bill that would have compensated some citizens for damage incurred during a previous rebellion.
1852 – Land rents were higher in Griffintown than elsewhere in Montreal, mainly because of huge seigneurial charges. This resulted in many bankruptcies. When greedy builders rented land, there was little incentive to build good housing and they tended to build slums, with fires a frequent occurrence. In addition, the land was low-lying so the streets flooded quite often.
1852 – A fire that started in a carpentry shop destroyed half of the structures in Griffintown.
1853 – Ten (10) people died of pistol wounds as the result of a riot at Haymarket Square at the corner of Inspector and William streets. The shootings occurred when Irish Catholics and Protestants clashed after a speech by an Italian lecturer who made controversial claims about the Roman Catholic Church.
1854 – On December 8, St. Ann’s Church (Catholic) was consecrated. Located at the corner of rue de la Montagne (then McCord St.) and rue Wellington, it became the centre of Griffintown life for the following 100 years.
1857 – Thomas D’Arcy McGee was elected to represent in St. Ann’s Ward of Griffintown in the Parliament of Canada. It was a very close election and there were riots and battles in Griffintown on election-day.
1859 – A large black rock was erected by workers to honour the victims of typhus, whose remains were uncovered during the construction of the Victoria Bridge.
1861 – By the 1860s more than 50 factories were operating in Griffintown. They included iron foundries, machine shops, textile mills, breweries, sawmills, and a chocolate factory, among many others.
1864 – St. Ann’s Girls’ School was built and St. Ann’s Boys’ School moved to Young and Ottawa Streets.
1868 – Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a Father of Confederation elected by Griffintown voters, was assassinated in Ottawa.
1879 – Mary Gallagher was beheaded in on June 27 by rival Susan Kennedy. Legend has it that Gallagher returns every seven (7) years in search of her head.
1885 – St. Ann’s Young Men’s Society was founded leading to the founding of the Shamrock Lacrosse Club and various other sporting clubs.
1886 – The worst springtime flooding ever recorded occurred; stopping rail traffic, submerging homes, and further impoverishing the residents of Griffintown. There were also two major fires that year.
1887 – A genuine Irish jaunting car was built by James Kenehan at Young & William Streets. It is still used yearly in the Montreal St. Patrick’s Day parade, representing the parish of St. Ann’s.
1880–1915 – The Grand Trunk Railway was built, making Griffintown and the surrounding area Canada’s major industrial centre.
1895 – By the turn of the century the Griffintown population was a mix of Irish, French Canadian, Anglo-Protestant, Jewish, Italian, Syrian, Ukranian, and East Asian. The neighbourhood’s population reached an estimated 30,000 by the turn of the century. The housing situation continued to deteriorate as rapid immigration continued.
1900 to 1999
1914 – To respond to social needs of the area, the Sisters of Charity of Providence were asked to run the newly established St. Ann’s Kindergarten and Day Nursery.
1911 – The first building for the Griffintown Boys Club was opened on Shannon St. The Girls Club and the janitor’s living quarters were on the second floor.
1930 – The Griffintown Boys and Girls Club opened its new four-storey building at the corner of Ottawa and Shannon.
1935 – The elevated north-south CNR Viaduct was built, slicing the neighbourhood in two at rue Nazareth.
1944 – On April 26, an RAF Liberator Bomber airplane (with a Polish crew) crashed at Shannon and Ottawa Streets, killing 15 people; including aircraft crew and Griffintown residents. Still the worst aviation disaster in Montreal history.
1946 – After WWII ended, Griffintown began a rapid decline during the post-war economic boom as many businesses and residents moved to newer and more desirable areas of Montreal.
1952 – The Griffintown Boys and Girls Club closed down due to the general exodus of the population to other neighbourhoods.
1959 – The St. Lawrence Seaway was opened making the Lachine Canal redundant for large ship traffic; beginning the gradual decline of the businesses along the canal as well as those that serviced them in Griffintown.
1963 – Griffintown was re-zoned for industrial use and the construction of the Bonaventure Expressway eliminated more of the remaining housing. Many landlords demolished their buildings, and the exodus of residents continued.
1964 – Goose Village (Victoriatown) was completely demolished to accommodate Expo 67. Occupying the area formerly called Windmill Point, it originally came into existence because of the Victoria Bridge construction.
1970 – The Lachine canal was finally closed to shipping in 1970, furthering the decline of Griffintown and the other neighbourhoods that lined the canal in Montreal’s Le Sud-Ouest borough.
1970 – Once the heart of the Griffintown community, St. Ann’s Church was deconsecrated and demolished due to the rapidly dwindling congregation.
1971 – Griffintown’s population was recorded as 800 residents and continued to diminish during the following two decades.
1971-1999 – Griffintown is reduced to a couple of hundred residents and most of the remaining factory and commercial buildings become occupied by low-rent transient business tenants. For thirty years Griffintown is forgotten and neglected by the City and effectively fades away in the memory of most Montrealers.
2000 to 2020
2002 – The Lachine Canal is refurbished as a pleasure craft waterway and re-opened with a bike path along its entire length, from Old Montreal to Lachine.
2004 – Montreal’s Master Plan sets three goals for the ongoing development of Griffintown: 1.) to preserve the character and scale of the area’s industrial past; 2.) to foster and develop economic and residential activities; and 3.) to reinforce recreational and touristic activities in the Peel Basin area.
2005 – The real estate developer, Prevel, restores the historic Lowney Chocolate Company buildings (1 and 2) and converts them into loft-style condominiums. The project introduced the “urban chalet rooftop” concept to Griffintown which includes amenities such as swimming pools, BBQ areas, terraces, and other rooftop recreational facilities.
2008 – Prevel opens the new build 10-storey Lowney Phase 3-4 project with loft style condos and an expanded version of the urban chalet rooftop concept. The building sells out almost immediately and becomes the blueprint for other developers who clamour to acquire property in Griffintown and start their own projects.
2009 – The Sud-Ouest borough held public consultations into proposed Griffintown development and a condo and parks development plan was approved for the 10 hectare property that was previously a Canada Post sorting facility east of rue Guy and west of de la Montagne, between rue Ottawa and the Lachine Canal.
2010 – Various developers, including Devimco and Prevel commit to developing the Canada Post lands in accordance with the City’s plan.
2012 – The office de consultation publique de Montreal holds additional public hearings into the future development of Griffintown.
2013 – The Sud-Ouest borough adopts the “Programme particulier d’urbanisme Griffintown” to govern the development of all of Griffintown.
2020 – By 2020 more than 20 new condo projects had been built, and thousands of new residents had already moved in to the newly completed buildings. Numerous additional projects were still under development and the population was approaching 10,000 residents. Restaurants, cafes, banks, hotels, furniture stores, and other businesses spring up to service the new population.
- Barlow, Matthew. Griffintown – Identity and Memory In An Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood. UBC Press, 2017.
- Burman, Richard. 20th Century Griffintown in Pictures – 3rd Edition, 2010.
- Dreidger Doyle, Sharon. An Irish Heart – How A Small Immigrant Community Shaped Canada. Harper-Collins, 2010.
- MacLeod, G. Scott. Griffintown Tour – A Self-Guided Urban History Walk. MacLeod Nine Productions, 2015.
- Griffintown historical maps (compiled by Jeff Dungen): http://dungen.ca/jeff/griffintown/history/history01.htm
(Note: The above timeline was researched, compiled, revised and edited by Shaun Fawcett – www.griffinworks.ca/our-story