Westmount Park

Finally a break in today’s rain!  There wasn’t much activity in the park this evening aside from a few dogs being walked.  The lone terrier, in the picture, was waiting for an owner to return from the public library.



Westmount Park’s Trees

A version of this article appeared in Westmount Magazine:


One of the unexpected pleasures associated with looking for trees to include in this series is meeting the nicest people with a similar interest!

Recently, while walking through Westmount Park, I noticed a couple carrying a (large) field guide to the trees of North America trying to identify a beautiful tree, covered with small fragrant white flowers, next to the park’s lagoon.

In an unabashed fashion I walked over and suggested it might be a Japanese Lilac; looking at me rather suspiciously, I continued to talk about the Fossil Tree (Dawn Redwood) near the children’s playground and the spectacular Catalpa, in full bloom, directly behind us. Luckily for me, the latter was the tree that instigated their interest to know the names and stories of the other trees that grace our park and others throughout the island.

Once they warmed up to me, we looked through their tree guide’s index under “Japanese” – Japanese Larch – Japanese Lime – Japanese Magnolia – no Japanese Lilac was listed. For some reason, the authors (and book editors) decided not to include it within the constraints that comprise the numerous parameters that constitute today’s book publishing industry.

What follows is another sample of trees, growing in Westmount Park (including the Japanese Lilac). They are analogous to another dimension, planted in the past, and genetically programmed to live well beyond our lifetimes – until we intervene. Until that point, they reach out to us, as if from our past, to display their timeless beauty.


Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata)

One can’t help but notice the Japanese tree lilacs in Westmount Park. With their beautiful fragrance and small creamy coloured flowers. Look closely, one can see that the flowers grow separately along the stem’s axis (termed a “raceme”) then begin to branch forming “panicles” (a compound raceme).

The genus name syringa is from the Greek “syrinx”, meaning “pipe” and describes the tree’s hollow stems. The species name reticulata is from Latin meaning “net-like” describing the vein pattern in the leaves.


In fact, the leaves are the defining characteristic of this tree: they are egg-shaped (ovate) and tapered at the tip – they also contain minute hairs (cilia) on their undersides.

This species, introduced to North America in 1876, is native to eastern Asia, northern Japan, northern China, Korea, and far southeastern Russia and is the only lilac that develops into a tree at maturity. This can be quite a surprise for those presuming they are planting a bush in their garden.

Finally, lilac aficionados, by the thousands, attend a celebration held annually on the second Sunday in May (Lilac Sunday) at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The university’s arboretum contains one of the most extensive lilac collections in North America.

Thornless Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis)


Walking through the park from the Melville Avenue entrance, there is a row of trees, on the east side of the path that are a similar species. (I have often thought there must have been a sale when these trees were planted). They are; however, beautiful to behold. Their small yellow green leaves grow from a single stem (termed “compound”) and can contain up to 30 horizontal leaflets with none at the stem’s tip (if one is present, then it is a Black Locust). Their canopy has been described as “almost fractal, with its layers of intersecting, ascending, and spiraling symmetrical leaves and twisted twigs”. (Honeylocust Media Systems)

Their genus Gleditsia is named after Johann Gleditsch (1714-1778) the director of Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum. The species triacanthos translates to “three-horned” – from the Greek treis (three) and akantha (spine) and describes the tree’s thorns.


Their native range is the east central United States – from central Pennsylvania to South Dakota extending to central Texas, Alabama and Maryland. They have been widely planted in urban environments replacing elms that succumbed to the fungal Dutch elm disease.

The variety in Westmount Park is a cultivar – selectively bred for the urban environment. Interestingly, their true native counterparts contain massive thorns, in groups of three, that can be over a foot long – coloured like polished mahogany pointing downwards towards from the tree’s trunk. Hardly a species one would want to plant in a city park! In the past, these thorns were used as nails and as pins for tattered uniforms during the American Civil War.

A member of the Legume family (common members include beans and peas), the tree develops dark-brown pods, over a foot long, containing hard seeds. Biblical references include John the Baptist who sustained himself in the desert with the pods of the carob or “locust tree”.

Early colonists, in encountering this pod-bearing tree, used the biblical word “locust” and the word “honey” to describe the sweet pulp of the immature seeds. In fact, the seeds contain maltose – which is rarely found in plant tissue.

Finally, folklore tells the story of why the honey locust developed formidable spines. The Devil climbed one to enter the Garden of Eden in an attempt to destroy Adam’s favourite tree – a dogwood. “Ashamed that she had helped the Devil, the locust grew a bristling necklace of strong spikes to wear so no one would be ever able to climb her again”. (Legends and Lore of Texas Wildflowers, Elizabeth Silverthorne)




Town of Westmount council minutes – 1882-1910

This article appeared in Westmount Magazine:



Did you know that the City of Westmount has its council minutes digitized and made available through its web site? It must have been a Herculean effort!

I was made aware of this, a few years ago, while researching an article with the assistance of Morgannis Graham, the former archivist for the City’s Archives and Records Management Department; however, I never spent the time to read their contents.

Finally, on a drizzly cold weekend, after walking our dog and doing the countless errands that constitute a weekend, I sat down in a comfortable chair and starting reading the council minutes starting with the year 1882.

The first thing that strikes you is that, prior to 1908, council minutes were transcribed in beautiful longhand (today, almost a lost art) using a fountain pen – evidenced by the occasional ink spots created as the instrument was shaken to push more ink into the nib.

It also appears that council meetings, at that time, were “closed door” affairs – specifically, citizens’ questions were received in writing. (Much different from today’s two separate question periods held during each session).

Issues debated and discussed included: macadamizing of roads, the replacement of wooden sidewalks with concrete, the laying of sewers and the installation of a water filtration unit to prevent typhoid outbreaks. (At the time the Town had its own Health Department that was tasked to control contagious diseases.)

Other issues were the opening of streets, the extension of existing streets, naming or renaming them at the request of their proprietors, the drainage of Western Avenue and the sharing of Bell Telephone lines.

Then there were the financial reports – their level of detail gives an entire new meaning to the word “transparency”! Every penny was accounted for (of course by long hand arithmetic) and shown how each expenditure added value to the Town. In fact, some minutes include the tape, from the adding machine, that confirms the expenditures.

Interestingly, the Park’s Department financial figures showed a Head Gardener on salary (in fact, the Town built the current greenhouse “suitable for the park’s Head Gardener”), as well as a Park Superintendent, a park watchman, labourers, and a horse with equipment to roll (seriously!) the park’s grass!

On another note, a touching story tells of a Town employee that had recently died – council remembered that, during his employment, he always sent a portion of his salary to the “old country”. As such, the council agreed that all monies owed to his estate should be sent directly to his family in Ireland.

During World War One, casualty lists were read and letters of condolence sent to the families.

In short, these minutes reflect how the Town of Westmount, step by careful step, built what is now known as the City of Westmount. I would encourage everyone to read (or at least browse) these council minutes – and appreciate the tremendous work involved to create today’s City of Westmount.

What follows is a sampling of the Town’s council minutes – although some early entries, in today’s context, might appear amusing – perhaps the proper word is “decorous” – either way, it properly reflects the Town’s early rural nature.

14 August 1882
A letter dated  7 August from Isaac Newton Tufkes was sent to the Council complaining of the nuisance arising from a bull being frequently placed for serving cows in close proximity to his dwelling and stigmatizing the same as offensive and immoral in its tendency as well as dangerous to little children. After some discussion it was moved by Mr. Duff, seconded by Mr. Jellyman…

Resolved that the Sec. Treasurer be requested to submit to next meeting of the Council the draught of a by-law preventing bulls from being in a public shed or in any enclosed part the municipality and requesting the owner of any bull kept for serving cows other than his own to a use covered building for the purpose.

3 July 1883
The Secretary Treasurer then read a communication from the City of Montreal enquiring if this Corporation was prepared to consider the question of annexation to the City. After discussion the Secretary Treasurer was ordered to inform the said City of Montreal that this Council was not prepared to take any action in the matter at present.

5 May 1884
It was thereupon unanimously resolved that the name of Sissons Lane be changed to that of St. Catherine Street West, that the avenue to the road leading from St. Antoine St. to the Cote St. Antoine Toll Bar at the corner of Cote St. Antoine Road be called for the future Greene Avenue.

7 July 1884
At the suggestion of Councilor… it was ordered that the by-law forbidding the grazing of cattle on the highways of the municipality be strictly enforced.

18 August 1884

A petition signed by… and others was read stating that the petitioners believed a piggery was about to be established in the municipality and praying the Council to enact a by-law comprehensive enough to prevent all permissions.

7 January 1889
…served a protest on Cote St Antoine Road Company calling upon the said Company to the immediate repair of the bridge on Western Avenue between Metcalfe and Landsdowne Avenues.

2 September 1889
…Mr. Wright has placed in his hands for sale 2000 dollars of Western Avenue bands and which he would like to dispose of to this Corporation.

No action was taken in this particular, but it brought up the question as to the probable terms upon which the Corporation could acquire a title to Western Avenue and the Secretary was instructed to send a written enquiry to the President of the Cote St Antoine Road Company asking upon which terms the Company would be willing to cede to the Corporation Western Avenue.

7 July 1890
The Town’s list of water supply, tested by the Heath Department, included:
Spring on east side of Landsdowne
Spring in cellar Bulmer’s house
Spring in gully south of Western Avenue, well on west side Victoria Avenue, well on Mountain Ave (Mrs. Barr)
Well on property of James MacFarlane.

3 February 1902
…that the Council authorize the purchase of gold pendants for presentation to four Westmount soldiers returned from South Africa..

A quick search found one for sale at eMedals that belonged to Burnett K. Snider. The reverse side reads: “Presented by the town of Westmount to Burnett K. Snider as a recognition of his services to Queen and Empire in South Africa”. (In case you are wondering, the price was listed at $1,950 USD).


Photo courtesy of eMedals

From the Council minutes (7 November 1902):
There having been submitted letters from Reginald Matley and Burnett K. Snider, who served with the 10th Canadian Field Hospital in South Africa, applying for gold pendants granted by the Corporation to Westmount men who say service during the South African Campaign.

From the Council minutes (16 February 1903):
Councilor Borland reported that in accordance with instruction of Council by resolution of 7th November 1902, he had arranged for the presentation of gold pendants granted by the Corporation to those of the citizens who had served with His Majesty’s military forces in South Africa 1897-1902.

Fourteen citizens had been found to be entitled to receive such pendants.

It was further reported that Lord Dundonald, General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia had consented to make the presentation on the occasion of a concert to be given by the Westmount Cadets in Victoria Hall on the date mentioned.

23 June 1902
It was resolved to proclaim a public holiday on the occasion of His Majesty King Edward VII on Thursday, 26th June instant and to otherwise mark the event by the planting of a tree in Westmount Park.

16 February 1903
Submitted and read letter dated 14th February from John James Browne and Son, real estate agents, enclosing a petition from seven proprietors of land on High Street asking that the name of said street be changed to Holten Avenue.

18 May 1903
There was submitted and read a letter from Mayor Cross date 24th April reporting that he had instructed the Town Solicitor to proceed to Quebec for the purpose of opposing a Bill which would authorize the establishment of an abattoir in Westmount….

18 May 1903
The Supt. Of Works having reported that necessity of partly re-building the bath in the Park was request to prepare an estimate of the work required and report to the Finance Committee.

3 July 1905
A protest dated 17th May 1905 signed by… and other residents on Mt. Pleasant Avenue again the conversion of a building No. 416 Mt. Pleasant Ave. into a stable was read and referred to the Engineer with instructions to ascertain that the Town by-laws are not infringed by the proposed alteration.

2 December 1907
The annexation of a part of Notre Dame de Grace to Westmount as provided in By-Law No 178 was considered and it was resolved…

3 February 1908
Consideration of the annexation of part of Notre Dame de Grace as provided by By-Law 178 was received and there was presented to Council by Mr. W.D. Lighthall K.C. a petition signed by a number of proprietors requesting in view of the prevalent opinion being that the sentiment of the Town is favourable to the principle of such annexation – that the Council review proceedings to that end keeping the question free from confusion with other issues.

That By-law No. 178 having for its object the annexation of a part of the territory of Notre Dame de Grace be and is thereby declared effective with regard to the properties therein described, the owners of which have signified their consent to such annexation, namely of all the shaded lots and parcels of land indicated upon a certain plan herewith deposited to from part of the archives of the Town, prepared by J. P. B. Casgrain on the 10th December 1907 and bearing the title “Plan of part of Notre Dame de Grace to be annexed to the Town of Westmount” and all the streets and lanes shown on said plan with the exception of Cote St. Luc Road and Notre Dame de Grace Road, the upper Lachine Roads and Western Ave. which belong to the Turnpike Trust and are not covered by the consent given by the Council of Notre Dame de Graces.

14 March 1908
Submitted and read letter dated 19 February 1908 from the Sec. Treasurer of Notre Dame de Graces communicating a resolution adopted that day the Council refusing its sanction of By-law 178 re annexation and repealing its previous resolution approving thereof.

2 August 1909
That the Council decline the offer of Mr. C. A. Workman of a young jaguar for the reason that is considered undesirable to add to the number of animals in the Park without more suitable accommodation than is presently available.

14 November 1910
Whereas the Council of the City of Montreal, at its recent meeting adopted a resolution directing its Annexation Committee to take such steps as might be necessary to annex to the City of Montreal, amongst other places, the City of Westmount… it was the intention of Montreal to ask the Legislature of Quebec to enforce annexation upon Westmount the same as was done with Notre Dame de Grace.

Therefore, be it unanimously resolved that the City Council of Westmount protests against the adoption of the resolution of the City Council of Montreal, as being an attack upon the autonomy of Westmount…

And so this issue still goes…