by Dick Nieuwendyk – Montreal Times
In 1899, the year the Mount Royal Club was founded, Montreal was at the apex of its power and
influence resulting from the city’s privileged geographical location and the spread of industry, railroads and emerging steamship transportation. By 1905 the city was referred to as the ”financial, social and commercial capital of the Dominion of Canada.”
Several of the founding and charter members of the Mount Royal Club were executives with the CPR, the Bank of Montreal or both. For example, Lord Strathcona (Donald Smith), one of the CPR’s founders and first president of the Mount Royal Club and Richard B. Angus, General Manager of the Bank in 1869 and Vice-President of the CPR in 1887. Other Mount Royal Club members were Senator George Drummond, Sir Edward Clouston, Mortimer B. Davis, James Ross, and Sir Vincent Meredith. This tight-knit group of bankers and industrialists had extensive connections throughout the business, social and cultural communities of Montreal. It was this group within the Mount Royal Club, that commissioned the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White as architects of their new clubhouse, which would be erected between 1904 and 1906 on the site of the Club’s first premises, the former home of Sir John Abbott, Canada’s third Prime Minister, which had burned down in 1904.
Men’s clubs played an important role in the cultural and social life of Montreal’s elite during the late
Victorian and Edwardian periods. They functioned as gathering places for the nation’s elite, and were established for the pleasure and entertainment of its membership. It was in these clubs, however, that unwritten, gentlemanly contacts were made and advice given and received by those who held the reins of political and economic power. Clubs chose their members through an elaborate process of sponsorship and election, and membership in a good club served as an index of high social standing.
In Montreal, as its wealth and power grew, and continued to be concentrated amongst an elite,
connected through family, business and social relationships, the establishment of a private club in Montreal’s Square Mile seemed most appropriate.
Many of the members of the Mount Royal Club were related by marriage and these family alliances
consolidated the social structure by limiting contact with groups outside the Square Mile’s power and influence. Amongst the friends and business associates who also joined the Club within the first year were: David Morrice, head of Dominion Textile, Alfred Baumgarten owner of the St. Lawrence Sugar Refining Company, Sir William MacDonald, the tobacco millionaire and one of McGill’s great benefactors, and Thomas George Shaughnessy and Herbert Samuel Holt, both associated with the CPR.
It was this cultural hegemony and social cohesion, combined with economic power and political influence that characterized the founding of the Mount Royal Club in its early years. Founded as an exclusive men’s society in the 19th century, it’s essentially a businesspeople’s club today, where both men and women are welcome.
In 1975 the Quebec Government classified the Mount Royal Club as a historic monument.
(Source: Marianopolis College, McCord Museum Archives)