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Visiting Pointe Saint-Charles, Montreal, Quebec: Le Pont Victoria / Victoria Bridge — 19th Century Triumphs & Tragedies

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Handbill showing Victoria Bridge and names of contractors. Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1850s

Handbill showing Victoria Bridge and names of contractors. Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1850s

Tragedy and triumphalism in macabre, symbiotic embrace

The Montreal, Quebec neighbourhood of Pointe-Saint-Charles underwent in the mid 19th century a period of rapid expansion, and may be said to have been the scene of a significant triumph and a tragedy.

The triumph was in engineering. Le Pont Victoria / Victoria Bridge across the Saint-Laurent / Saint-Lawrence, first completed in 1859, was in part the work of engineer Robert Stephenson from the distinguished Stephenson family (1). Other engineers who worked on the Victoria Bridge were Thomas C. Keefer — the lead engineer — James Hodges and Alexander McKenzie Ross. Executed in iron, with 24 piers, the structure is 3 kilometres long. By the end of the 19th century, it had become both a road and light rail (tram) and pedestrian bridge.

The tragedy related to thousands of Irish people whose remains were found by workers on the Victoria Bridge, having died of typhus contracted in 'coffin ships'. For those who died — and indeed for those who survived — this catastrophic event served, for those who had left Famine-stricken Ireland seeking a new and better life, as a rude and tragic awakening. A proportion of the dead had not actually been buried in Montreal: the shark population of the Atlantic had been stimulated by the sheer amount of human remains ejected from the 'coffin ships'; sharks were known to follow the ships with this expectation. Some of the dead included nuns caring for the sick and the Mayor of Montreal John Easton Mills providing bedding and sustenance for the sick in the fever sheds, the amount of which reached 22.

Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts created a monument to the dead in 1859 in adjoining Village-aux-Oies / Goose Village, where many Irish immigrants settled. The official name of the suburb was Victoriatown (demolished to make way for Expo 67). Its streets were named for the British engineering triumphs of Robert Stephenson.

Within two years of Mayor Mills having died of typhoid while attempting to assist Irish immigrants stricken with typhoid, Orangist rioters burned down the Parliament in Montreal in 1849.

Tragedy and triumphalism in macabre, symbiotic embrace....

January 26, 2022


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(1) Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) was the son of George Stephenson (1781-1848), the steam engine pioneer.

(2) Mayor Mills had been in office for less than a year when he died of typhus.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

 Montreal St. Patrick's Day Parade 2017

Montreal St. Patrick's Day Parade 2017

Also worth seeing

In Pointe Saint-Charles itself, other noted landmarks include: the Eglise Saint-Charles; the Lieu historique national du Canada de la Maison-Saint-Gabriel / Maison Saint-Gabriel National Historic Site of Canada;

The architectural and cultural attractions of Montreal are too numerous to mention here, but of special note, among many others, are the domed Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours), dating from 1847, which was a venue used to house the Parliament of United Canada, prior to Confederation. The Notre-Dame Basilica (Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal) was built mainly between 1824 and 1829; many Montrealers attend annual performances of Handel's 'Messiah' there. The Olympic Stadium (Stade Olympique) in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district, used for the 1976 Olympics, has the the world's tallest inclined tower, at 175 metres.

Mont-Tremblant (distance: 133 kilometres), in the Laurentian Mountains (Laurentides) is ideal for scenic excursions, golf and skiing; its boutiques attract many shoppers.


MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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