Griffintown – From the early nineteenth century until the early 1960’s it was known as Griffintown, a name given to a southwest part of downtown Montreal by Irish immigrants who first populated the area. The area stretches as far north as Notre-Dame street and is roughly bounded on the east by McGill street and on the west by Guy street. It is still referred to as Griffintown today even though it was re-zoned as an industrial area in 1962. Many buildings were torn down at the time to make way for the construction of the Bonaventure Expressway.
It is now undergoing another major transformation. Several huge development projects were announced in 2007 and buildings are going up again – way up. Condominium towers are reaching for the sky and deep pits are being dug on at least 20 other projects throughout the area. It has some urban planners scratching their heads, speculating about how it could and should be done right. In an area so much a part of Montreal’s development and so rich in history, there are those also asking hard questions and fighting to maintain a part of that cultural heritage.
How many people are aware that Griffintown is still home to one of the oldest functioning stables on the island, ‘The Horse Palace’? The stable originally built about 150 years ago is still in use by the caleche drivers of Old Montreal.
Or the name of the popular restaurant ‘Joe Beef’ located in the Griffintown/Little Burgundy area was inspired by one Charles McKiernan, a 19th-century Irish immigrant who earned the epithet through his knack of finding meat and provisions in times of need, hence given the name ‘Joe Beef’? Or that Rosie O’Donnell, when searching for her family roots in an episode of the TV show ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, found a connection right here in our own backyard? She discovered her ancestors who immigrated from Ireland, first arrived at Montreal’s Griffintown in the 1850’s, before leaving Canada for New Jersey.
Need I mention the St.Patrick’s Day parade, turning us all into happy little Leprechauns every spring since 1824? On that day there are no cultural divides between us, we all go green sporting ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ on everything from t-shirts to painted faces. Erin Go Bragh!
And for the ghost hunters in you, there is the story of Mary Gallagher, a prostitute who was brutally murdered in 1879 and is rumoured to return every seven years to William Street in search of her head…
The name Griffintown originated from a woman named Mary Griffin – and it came to be through a somewhat shady transaction. The area (under British administration at the time – our conquerors of 1760), then known as Nazareth Fief was leased to Thomas McCord by the nuns of Hotel Dieu. While he was away in Great Britain attending to business, a crooked associate of his sold the land illegally to Mrs. Mary Griffin. About 1804, she submitted a detailed plan to subdivide the region into small lots designed for the anticipated arrival of workers. After a series of lengthy court actions, McCord eventually succeeded in getting the land back, but by that time the deed was done and the name of Griffin had become synonymous with the area.
Irish immigrant labourers began arriving in the early and mid-1800s to escape some of the harsh