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On July 22, in response to Alice Chauvin's post about the hardships of
some of her Protestant immigrant ancestors, I posted a couple of similar
tales about my own ancestors, including a family who were in Montreal from

I wrote, of the conditions in which my apparently motherless great-great
grandfather grew up, to be unstable and an alcoholic and to have progeny
who were unstable and lacked common morality, that "From 1832 through
1847, Montreal was repeatedly visited by epidemics of Asiatic cholera and
typhus (Ship's fever) that repeatedly killed a tenth of the population but
cut the city's population in half through the large numbers of people who
sensibly went elsewhere. (I wanted to know why a blacksmith and a highly
skilled carpenter failed to go elsewhere, and their life patterns show
that is not all that is odd about them.) Quite a number of people have
written to these Canadian lists that their ancestors lost a family member
or two in Montreal during this time and then sensibly went elsewhere, and
people in their families stopped dying. [John Cauther's mother, who is
last heard of in 1830 when she gave birth, and sisters are not buried in
the Protestant cemetary that opened about 1847, and the earlier cemeteries
were built and paved over; I figure they probably are among those who died
during the epidemics.] ... Montreal was an unbelievably rough place. I
think only 19th century London rivalled it, and not for roughness.
Sanitation consisted of open or semi-open ditches down the dirt streets.
People were crowded into rooming houses and such. In the first cholera
epidemic, the nuts who ran the city "openned" the sewers to air them out,
and the stench of the city had most would-be visitors fleeing upon first
whiff - probably while laughing at how people could be so stupid. The
city was almost constantly torn by civil wars taht affected all of Canada
and Quebec and by gang and ethnic violence. What a place for my Cauthers
great-great grandfather and his brother to grow up in probably with no
mother! The father of the cousin who embezzled my grandfather also died
sometime before his eighteenth birthday."

To this, Leonard wrote asking for my sources for these notions, and Esther
wrote, in agreement with Leonard, "Montreal is Canada's most cosmopolitan
city. I have never heard of such rubbish. Dora, I think you need to
re-read whatever books you are reading."

At the time, I left this for what it is worth. But the reactions to my
query about Alexander Muir, not all nor necessarily the worst of them from
this list, have persuaded me that it is time to stand up to these people.
So here it is. You two asked for it, now you've got it.

I am researching this line of
my family because it is one of the lines my family's manic depression came
down, and it is equally important to me to establish whether the genetic
mental illness alone caused the breakdown of this family, which plainly it
didn't. Inner city Los Angeles is a far better place to raise a family
than mid 19th century Montreal was. A trail of family and
moral dysfunction came right through my grandfather to his
daughters, particularly my aunt and her children, whose
behavior would often be incomprehensible without this
background information. It is important to realize that no
matter how they try to be moral or respectable, each generation
pretty much knows what their parents were able to teach them -
and my aunt identified with and was very close
to her father because he had, of course, married a woman whose
mother also had severe manic depression and who had a mild
and quite disruptive case of it herself, and my aunt
literally thought this is why she had morals! My grandfather's
mother, the daughter of John Cauthers, divorced his father, a sometime
journalist and reporter who wrote pornographic light opera
and died in New York City, in about 1900, in Boston,
when my grandfather was about ten! While one cousin was embezzling
my grandfather, another son of a different Cauthers aunt
went to California and dropped out (ca 1920)! For those who insist
we must think positive things about our ancestors; I am not an
only positive kind of person, and I am very much the product of
what my ancestors were, as is the story of my family. I do not
have to like all of my ancestors; I have to know about them.

My sources include:

Atherton, William Henry. Montreal 1535-1914, vol. II. (1914).

Cooper, John. Montreal: A Brief History (1969).

Jenkins, Kathleen. Montreal: Island City of the St. Lawrence (1966).

Leacock, Stephen. Leackock's Montreal (1948).

This may not be all my sources since I used sources from two libraries and
this came from one of them, and my population figures aren't in them.

The visitor who described the state of affairs in Montreal during this
period was neither laughing nor running away, though I find the state of
affairs she described idiotic to the point of being hysterically funny.
She and her sister were social reformers from England.

First of all, she noted the horrible overcrowding and poor
living conditions, impoverished people crammed into wooden buildings.
"Every house of public resort was crowded from top to bottom with
emigrants of all ages, English, Irish and Scotch. The sounds of riotous
merriment that burst from them seemed but ill-assorted with teh
haggard, careworn faces of many of the thoughtless revelers".

Of the cholera, "We were struck by the dirty, narrow, ill-paved or unpaved
streets of the suburbs, and overpowered by the noisome vapor arising from
a deep open fosse that ran along the street behind the wharf. This ditch
seemed the receptable for every abomination, and sufficient in itself
to infect a whole town with malignant fevers."

It is important to realize that not only did all of the
city's sewage ultimately drain into the river, but ALL of
the drinking water for the city of Montreal came from the
St. Lawrence River!

Her sister wrote, "The openning of all sewers, in order to
purify the place, and stop the pestilence, rendered the public
thoroughfares almost impassable, and loaded the air with
intolerable effluvia, more likely to produce, than stay the
course of the plague." In other words, the adminstrators
such as they were of Montreal tried to deal with a large
scale cholera epidemic by running the sewage down the city

Now, these two women had no more knowledge of how
disease is caused and spreads than the people who ran the
city did; they simply had the average person's supply of
common sense.

From the first sister's letter again:
"The cholera had made awful ravages, and its devastating effects were to be
seen in the darkened dwellings and the mourning habiliments of all
classes. An expression of dejection and anxiety appeared int he faces
of the few persons we encountered in our walk to the hotel...

In some situations whole streets had been depopulated; those that were
able fled panic-stricken to the coutnry villages, while others remained to
die in the bosom of their families.

To no class, I am told, has the disease proved so fatal as to the poorer
sort of emigrants. Many of these, debilitated by the privations and
fatigue of a long voyage, on reaching Quebec or MOntreal, indulged in
every sort of excess...

In one house eleven persons died, in another seventeen; a little child of
seven years old was the only creature left to tell the woeful tale. .."

On the plus side, the religious and benevolent orders of the city came to
the aid of the stricken people. On the negative side, they had to as there
was a single clinic with four doctors in teh city of over 10,000 people at
the time, and the best tehy could do was bug infested wooden sheds at the
Island I forget its name below Quebec, furnished with bunks for multiple
people and straw, exactly like in those pictures from Nazi concentration
camps, with sick people lying next to the dead. The sheds were located on
the banks of the river - with equally primitive toilet facilities. People
commented on that, and they commented on teh open sewers draining into the
river, but noone was very alarmed; "the municipal authorities pointed out
that everyone was already drinking the filth produced by fifty thousand
inhabitants. Hence, it seemed unlikely that the ablutions of a few
thousand more, would increase the evil!" Actually, not only the sick were
held at this island tent and shed camp along the river, but people had to
wait a long time for transport further up the river, and in the meantime
in those conditions, they of course got sick and died, too.

The only criticism people can offer to the Strickland sisters' description
is that they could not know that Montreal would rise to become a great
city, and also that those poor dying immigrants died for a noble cause, as
a health system grew out of it. These statements are true specimens, but
I'm not going to take the space to quote it. I'm sure those immigrants are
celebrating their fate in heaven. My interest is obviously what John
Cauthers, who was two years old when the first of fifteen years of cholera
and typhus epidemics hit, had to live through, and in my family that has
never completely recovered from this total and absolute social and family
breakdown in its background. But the same authors note that it was the
horrible conditions and their logical sequelae that shocked and forced the
city to organize and to become modern; the city's social services entirely
grew out of the mobilization to deal with these epidemics.

The city of Montreal was torn by riots and ethnic strife between 1832 and
1854, and the country by civil war in 1837-1838, and the rest of the
trouble did not affect only Montreal though it tended to focus there.
The sources of the trouble were an assortment of efforts to politically
organize Canada in the context of both Englishmen's and French desire for
independence, the fact taht Montreal was made the nation's capitol, the
lack of any sort of effective city government or administration in
Montreal before the city managed to incorporate in the 1840's, and an
assortment of extreme ethnic conflict between English and French, English
and Irish, and Catholic and Protestant, and extremely rapid growth due to
a rapid huge influx of immigrants from Ireland and Britain, most (though
not all) of them impoverished and often not in very good health even
before getting on board the ships that carried them to Canada.

Here are some excerpts:

"Elections in those days were not the well-conducted, strictly supervised
affairs of modern times. Rather were they often invitations to
violence--especially by reason of [they lasted for a month]. Rowdiness made
its appearance at an early stage...As the race moved ahead...the
supporters of Bagg complained loudly of the lawless behavior of their
opponents. Unruly mobs paraded the streets, intimidating the honest
voters. There being no regular civilian police in the employ of the city,
...150 special constables were sworn in and armed with heavy staves. Most
were Scotch or Irish. But as the balloting continued, so did the last the disorder reached such a peak that they decided to
seek protection from the garrison..." To make a long tale short, troops
came into the city, in the evening the crowd got out of hand and attacked
a liquor store and pelted people and windows all along a street with
rocks. The troops fired into the mob and killed and wounded a number of

In 1837 and 1838 the political situaiton broke into civil war, I'm unclear
on the details or who was fighting who, except that again it focused on
Montreal which was "an armed camp"! People in upper Canada perceived
little to fight about, so the war didn't go very far there. It appears to
have pretty much been conducted between teh Niagara peninsula and

Another example; "An aspect of the burning of the Parliament house was
that, with thepolitical rancour there was mixed,... a fanatical religius
frenzy. It was planned to burn the "Grey Nuns", near at hand, as well as
the Jesuits' Residence and St. Patrick's Church. The menaces came to
nothing, owing to the guards of Irish watchers. [Get the picture here; Irish
Catholic gangstas patrolled the streets around their homes and churches,
ready for trouble.] Yet, at the time, according to a letter written from
Montreal in August, 1849, by teh Jesuit Father Havequez...the Grey Nuns
hard by were likely to become a prey to the fire "had not the brave Irish
run to the rescue and succeeded, after extraordinary efforts, in mastering
the flames". There are other accounts of this elsewhere that fail
to mention that the fire was deliberately started by some mob in order to
burn down Catholic churches and helpless nuns; only that this and
other fires like it were connected to the burning of the Parliament
Building, and that because the buildings were mainly of flimsy
wood, it succeeded in spreading over a rather good
sized chunk of the city and thousands were left homeless.
OK? Now, this was in 1849, when John Cauthers was about 19.

"Yet nothing ever dampened the spirits of the crowds permanently, for in
between the fires and the cholera there was more rioting. The immediate
cause of the 1853 outbreak was teh presence of Allessandro Gavazzi, a
former Roman Catholic priest [with a large anti-Catholic following all
over Canada]."

John Cauthers's brother, Samuel, and all his immediate
descendants, always forthrightly said they were Irish
(actually, they were Scotch-Irish, John's father and his
equally Scottish or Scotch-Irish mother even married in a
Presbyterian church), but in the family disorder and
disruptions that must have been forgotten.) My great grandmother,
Maryanne Cauthers Lowe, always maintained that her family were
ENGLISH in such tones that the staff at the state psychiatric hospital
in Massachusetts who treated her, knowing her to be from Montreal, and
Cauthers (from Carruthers) is an extremely rare name they wouldn't
have met before, decided she was FRENCH, recorded hers and her
father's names as Gauthier! I, recognizing from my aunt's
description the tone my mother, who also has mild and very
disruptive manic depression, uses when what she is saying
is anything but true, until I saw the civil records from Montreal
on this family, was looking for a Unitarian Gauthier family
in Montreal!

The medieval conditions are confirmed by other books that take the
carefully bright and positive tone about the city's history favored by my
two critics.

From Cooper:

"The first cholera visitation, in 1832, spurred action: garbage was to be
collected and disposed of; pigs were discouraged from frequenting public
places (so, tehre was no repetition of the homely occasion when a pig
entered the Bank of Montreal to scratch its back). A watch, or police
force of sorts, was recruited, armed with rattles..." (What a place
for the page to end, I think it said they were armed with some
device that made noise.) Picture the scene.
I am laughing. In the completely overcrowded medieval mess that was
Montreal, people are overflowing from every wooden house, effluvia is
flowing down teh gutter in the middle of the street, and pigs are roaming
around in the mess in the streets.

Another author argues with a Boston newspaper's "Dickinsonian"
account similar to that of the Strickland sisters, which happened
to add that the city was dark, that (in addition to none of the
rest of it was true) it was NOT dark, it had lights except
when the gas was out! Uh-uh.

But I must not have zeroxed the passages about the first municipal
meetings to install a system of street lights after the formal
incorporation of the city in the late 1840's and in response to the
troubles. Similar passages about how the newly incorporated city finally
began to develop a modern sewage system and way to bring clean drinking
water into the city!

But Jenkins cites one of English administrators, Lord Durham, who prepared
a report for Parliament in 1839. (Well after 1832.) "Durham had much to
say of the absence of "municipal institutions of self government"...[he
favored self government and his views on municipal government supported
this]..."The want of municipal institutions has been and is most glaringly
remarkable in Quebec and Montreal. These cities were incorporated a few
years ago by a temporary provincial Act, of which the renewal was rejected
in 1836. Since that time, these cities have been without any municipal
governent; and the disgraceful state of the streets, and the utter absence
of lighting, are consequences which arrest the attention of all, and
seriously affect the comfort and the security of the inhabitants".

So the Boston newspaper that said that the streets of Montreal were dark
did not lie. They were DARK. There WAS NO STREET LIGHTING.

This report also identifies another of the underlying
causes of the problems of Montreal; under the French, the
growing town was governed haphazardly by clergy, I guess,
and the spoiled and self centered young aristocrats who were ALL
of the people the British sent to govern Canada and to run
the city of Montreal, never cared enough to see to the
proper organization and government of this city.

Importantly, not all histories of Montreal mention the
dark side of its past at all ... not even by emphasizing a
"bright" side. One, the one of two that was on the library
shelves instead of in closed stacks, cited a different
19th century description of Montreal, written shortly
before 1832, that in its frank advertisement of a bright,
shining, city, said the city NEVER HAD ANY EPIDEMICS,
and left descriptions of social conditions in Montreal
in the 19th century entirely at that. As one would expect,
the upper classes of the city were enjoying life fully,
oblivious to the huge problems, as such people usually are.
There were large celebrations, balls, visits from royalty,
steamship christenings, all of that. And as in any time
of such ferment, the intellectual and religious life of the
city was quite lively and intense. While John Cauthers,
motherless teenaged son of a not stable blacksmith from
Ireland, was presumably roaming the streets and those
public houses the Strickland sisters wrote of, his future
wife's father the "artesian" (the upholsterer, wallpaper
hanger, formerly in England cabinet maker and sometime tea
seller, married to a woman both of whose parents were of
families with manic depression),
was on the committee that founded the Unitarian Church out of
VERY well attended sermons of two competing Presbyterian
ministers and a visiting Unitarian minister. And the mayor
who like many of the city's clergy died in one of these
epidemics from attending to the sick had been acting out
of shame, because like the rest of the authorities of the
city he had ignored the beginning of the epidemic, pretending
that there was no problem.

As to the city's population figures, there are two sides to them, and
different people emphasize different figures. Each cholera epidemic killed
about one tenth of the city's population at that time, or about
1200 people in 1832, typically a quarter to a third of the people
who became ill, and drove another 40% or so away, such that the
population of the city was immediately cut in half. But the
city was experiencing such a heavy influx of immigrants from Ireland and
Britain that despite this, its population went from something like 10,000
or 13,000 in about 1830 to about I believe 60,000 in 1850 or 1860. The
figures speak to the size of the immigration problem and of the problems
of a growing and poorly organized, poorly governed municipality, not to
a diminutiveness of the effect of the epidemics! If people want, of
course, I can find the rest of the figures...

Now, has anyone got anything else they want to ask me to prove?


Dora Smith