Summer Reading: History

The Scots of Montreal: A Pictorial Album

By Margaret Goldik

A review of The Scots Of Montreal: A Pictorial Album by Nancy Marrelli and Simon Dardick, Editors

Published on July 1, 2006

The Scots Of Montreal: A Pictorial Album
Nancy Marrelli and Simon Dardick, Editors

Vehicule Press
$27.95
paper
156pp
1-55065-192-7

This book, based on the exhibit “The Scots: Dyed in the Wool Montrealers,” is a collaborative effort among Véhicule Press, the McCord Museum, and the St. Andrew’s Society of Montreal.

A pictorial treat, it makes a fine introduction to the great and nearly great who provided Montreal with hospitals, industry, and a past well-documented photographically. (This last is thanks to William Notman, some of whose photos are in the album.) Alongside pictures of grim-faced, bewhiskered old gentlemen are succinct outlines of where they came from and what they accomplished. Very few came from wealthy backgrounds, but they amassed fortunes, amply endowing Montreal institutions like the Allen Memorial Pavilion, the Montreal General, the Atwater Library, and countless others.

For example, there is Donald Alexander Smith. Most are familiar with Smith as Lord Strathcona, hammering in the last spike of the new transcontinental railway, but his story was one of adventure, clerking for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the north. It was also a love story: his wife Isabella was the daughter of a Scot and a granddaughter of a Native woman. Isabella had had an unconventional “marriage” with another man and had borne him a son. Although Smith married her on three separate occasions, to make sure all the legal I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed, there was always a whiff of scandal about their relationship. Another fascinating character was Sir Montagu Allen, the son of a shipping magnate. Sir Montagu lost his only son in World War I and two of his three daughters in the sinking of the Lusitania. All in all, The Scots in Montreal is a great introduction to part of Montreal’s history, and is a visual delight. mRb

Margaret Goldik is a former editor of the Montreal Review of Books.

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