Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Past I Didn't Know About

She grew up in the Montreal suburb of Verdun, on Rue Joseph, near to where it met Avenue Atwater. As the eldest of six, she would help her mother look after the others, would often take one of the bridges across the Lachine Canal to pick up groceries at the market.



Once, before she was a teenager, she ventured to the neighbourhood of Saint-Henri, in search of her dad, who worked at the fire station. She didn't exactly know where the station was but she eventually found it, along with her father.

Travelling far-afield at an early age wasn't uncommon at the time. One time, she and some friends had ventured as far as Hudson, on their bicycles, to swim the day away at the end of the Ottawa River. Her mother had no idea she had done this, though she must have been gone all day. By today's standard, it's more than three hours to cycle, each way.

It wasn't an easy life for her. The family didn't have very much money but they did have a roof over their head and food in their bellies. Her father wasn't always at home and eventually, her parents divorced. Over time, things grew more difficult for her mother to manage the six children, and they were split up, placed in care in different homes around the metropolis.

She ended up in a quiet, cottage-like neighbourhood, away from the city streets of Verdun, in the community of Beaurepaire. There, she attended school where, if she ever missed the bus, would face a long walk along Boulevard Beaconsfield.


Across the street from where she lived, a husband and wife resided on a corner lot. They were friendly neighbours who grew to know this young girl.

Luck would turn for the worse for this young couple, as the wife would later die in childbirth. The husband, now a widower with a new-born son, turned to his brothers and sisters for help. One of his sisters and his second-youngest brother came to live with him and help him manage with their nephew.

Over time, a friendship between the young brother and the girl across the street formed, which turned to dating, and finally, to courtship and marriage. The wedding took place in the local church, between Boulevard Beaconsfield and Lakeshore Drive, not far from the shores of the St.Lawrence.



The new couple moved from Beaurepaire, further west, to the small village of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, on the southwest tip of Ile-de-Montréal. To the south, the village looked out to the smaller island of Perrot. It was a small apartment in the residential street of Rue Perrault but large enough for the two and their first-born daughter.


It was a long commute to the city, and after more than a year, in order to make that commute more bearable, and to make room for the second child that was on the way, they moved back to the neighbourhood where the mother had grown up, in Verdun, on 5e Avenue.

The son was born in a hospital, in Westmount, just up the street from the Atwater Market, where Avenue Atwater and Rue Tupper meet, up the hill from where his mother, as a young girl, would pay health visits to the Red Feather Building. Kitty-corner, the Children's Hospital towered over this modest hospital, which was incorporated in 1870.



Today, the Herbert Reddy Memorial Hospital exists only as a residence for the YMCA, having closed as a hospital in February, 1997. Its emergency ward closed earlier, in December, 1996. According to a library record from McGill University, 

The hospital was established in 1870 as the Women's Hospital. Under a new charter in 1946, it became the Herbert Reddy Memorial Hospital, admitting both male and female patients. In the 1970s it was renamed the Reddy Memorial.
"Herbert Reddy was unlikely to forget his first official visit to the hospital. He found the patients on straw mattresses that had not been changed for about year. Medical science of the time decreed that straw mattresses should be changed every month. Dr. Reddy ordered they be changed immediately. After three successive visits, when he found no action had been taken, he acted himself. He threw the mattresses out the windows. Passers-by were astonished to see them flying through the air."~(Gazette [Montreal] 27 May 1995)
This is a very brief story of my mother and where I came to be, as part of my search for my own past. The following photos were captured on that beautiful autumn day as we drove along the shores of the St.Lawrence River from Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue to the Atwater Market, driving along what started out as Rue Sainte-Anne and became Lakeshore Drive, Boulevard Beaconsfield, back to Lakeshore Drive (Chemin Bord-du-Lac), Boulevard Saint-Joseph (Lachine), and Boulevard LaSalle. We made it to Atwater and Joseph Street, but at the time my mother was recounting her years as a child and we passed the intersection, unnoticed.

The following photos are also from that unforgettable day, which ended in Old Montreal, where we met with my aunt (my mother's youngest sibling), uncle, a cousin, and her family.

Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
Cégep John Abbott College
Lakeshore Drive
Moulin-a-vent Fleming, along Boulevard LaSalle
Red Feather Building, Avenue Atwater
Old Children's Hospital, slated for demolition
Avenue Atwater, under Rte.  720
Old Montreal
Busker, Place Jacques-Cartier
 
Montreal is firmly in my blood. I would like to know more about my dad's side of my family. He was the second-youngest of a 14-children family. His father, Sydney Brown, died when my dad was only two. His family lived in two adjoining apartments, in Westmount, as one apartment couldn't hold everyone. By the time my dad was born, many of his older siblings were old enough to care for his as one of their own.

The challenge is to find a relative who can show me where he grew up, someone who knows this part of my ancestral history. But time is running out: I fear that there are few Browns left who could recount that side of the story.

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