Montreal Geography Trivia No. 65

What is this the shape of?

And, for you smarty pants who already know, a tougher follow-up: why is it shaped like this?

UPDATE: This is, of course, a map of the town of Côte Saint-Luc. Those things on the right are exclaves, little pockets of Côte Saint-Luc land sandwiched between Hampstead and Montreal. They’re tiny, but their history is one of controversy, bad blood, political power struggles and, of course, money.

As the 19th Century turned to the 20th, Montreal didn’t extend nearly as far as it does now. Most of the island (especially its centre areas far from the shorelines) was uninhabited and undeveloped. A good chunk of that to the northwest of the city formed the town of Côte Saint-Luc in 1903.

A decade later, some urban planners fashioned their idea of an idyllic suburban community, a “garden city” called Hampstead. That town was carved out of Côte Saint-Luc, comprising most of the town east of Randall Ave. with the exception of a few parts: two small undeveloped areas near what is now the Hippodrome, and a strip that comprised Dufferin St. and one side of MacDonald Ave., between Dupuis and Aumont. The former, according to an article in the Montreal Daily Mail of 1914, belonged to the Montreal Jockey Club. The latter had already been developed and had owners who apparently weren’t keen on joining the new town. Still, all these exclaves were to “eventually” form part of Hampstead.

The strip on the southeast side of Hampstead was eventually cut to just the west side of MacDonald Ave.

A map of Hampstead and Côte Saint-Luc's exclaves in 1945. Note the planned Hampstead neighbourhood on the other side of the railroad tracks, which never materialized - the land is now part of Montreal

Over the following decades, there were various attempts to solve this apparent geographical problem. In the early 1950s, Montreal proposed annexing the MacDonald Ave. portion. They brought it up again in the 60s. Each time there was fierce opposition both by Côte Saint-Luc (which wanted to keep the land and its tax revenue) and Hampstead (which wanted to annex the land for itself).

The issue isn’t just aesthetics – there are practical problems with having tiny exclaves bordering two other cities. Whose responsibility is it to provide water to these areas? Who handles snow clearing?

The political quirk was even blamed for delaying response to a fire on MacDonald Ave. in 1961. Fire trucks were sent from Côte Saint-Luc, but a law prevented neighbouring municipalities from responding to fires unless asked. Côte Saint-Luc did ask for Montreal’s help, according to the article in the Gazette, but residents still raised the issue. (It’s a moot point today, as fire protection is coordinated on an island-wide basis.)

It also provided an interesting benefit for Côte Saint-Luc: the areas could be zoned for high-density residential construction – high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums – without affecting the views or traffic of the rest of the city. Nick Auf der Maur was among the ones to notice this.

High-density residential zoning on MacDonald Ave.

It was in the early 1980s that a three-way battle for land created a serious rift between Côte Saint-Luc, Hampstead and Montreal. Development had begun on a condominium project on the land north of Hampstead (at Côte Saint-Luc city hall, this area is literally referred to as “north of Hampstead”), comprising what is now David Lewis and Tommy Douglas Sts., as well as Decarie Square. Hampstead complained that the development would increase traffic in their “garden city.” Montreal, meanwhile, complained that the development would tax the city’s water system (a high-density development attached to a water network designed for a low-density area). It even went so far as to refuse to supply water.

In November 1981, Hampstead Mayor Irving Adessky proposed that his city annex the land. The proposal came at the demand of the developers, who apparently thought it would be easier to join neighbouring Hampstead (and get access to its water supply) than remain part of far-away Côte Saint-Luc. But Montreal had already proposed annexing this area of land, as well as the strip of MacDonald Ave. They took their respective cases to the Quebec government.

High-rise condos in Côte Saint-Luc near Tommy Douglas and Clanranald.

What followed was a harsh war of words, particularly between Côte Saint-Luc and Hampstead, that many in both towns still remember.

Eventually, an agreement was reached between Côte Saint-Luc and Montreal concerning the Blue Bonnets part: Montreal would build a road connecting Jean-Talon St. (at Decarie Blvd.) and Kildare Rd. through that area. In return, Montreal would give Côte Saint-Luc $10 million. The deal was approved by the National Assembly in 1982, with construction to begin in 1986.

But the construction never happened, because it would have been too expensive ($25 million, by Montreal’s estimate). In 1992, Côte Saint-Luc mayor Bernard Lang went to a Montreal city council meeting and demanded mayor Jean Doré respect the contract. Côte Saint-Luc took Montreal to court to force the issue.

In 1994, another deal: Montreal would hand the land back to Côte Saint-Luc (though it would keep a small part east of Decarie Blvd., as well as the part above the tracks). The deal went through and marked the borders as they are now (not counting that whole merger thing).

New homes on Tommy Douglas St.

Development on the northern exclave, which began in the late 1980s, continued, with homes being built on David Lewis St. and Bernard Mergler Crescent starting in 1998. That part is now fully developed, with high-rise condos on the eastern tip and expensive-looking single-family homes filling most of the rest. Roads connecting it to Hampstead are limited – one is only one-way, the other goes by the town dump.

Battles with Montreal and Quebec have since made friends of Hampstead and Côte Saint-Luc. And, until some politician comes up with a new crazy scheme to mix it all up again, Côte Saint-Luc’s exclaves are here to stay.

Note: This particular quiz has been in the can for months now – the pictures were taken when I visited the town to pick up a sign in October. While I was there I asked staff at city hall about the exclaves, and while they were aware of the ’80s battle with Hampstead, they couldn’t say why they existed in the first place. It’s only with the recent opening of the Gazette’s newspaper archive on Google that I’ve been able to piece together a clearer picture of the history of these two bits of land.

25 thoughts on “Montreal Geography Trivia No. 65

  1. Jean Naimard

    Well, it’s the überghetto of Côte-St-Luc, and I will venture that the exclaves are the result of notarial errors and/or oversights following the spinning-off of the super-überghetto of Hampstead.

    Reply
  2. Jim J.

    It’s definitely the municipal boundaries of Cote-St-Luc. The little exclaves correspond to two out of the three parts of muncipal electoral district #1.

    As to why? Still working on that.

    Reply
    1. Jim J.

      Unsure if your comment was in response to my earlier one.

      There are two exclaves, as the map indicates. Municipal electoral district #1 is comprised of three parts: Exclave #1, Exclave #2, and a third part that is comprised of a small strip that runs along Cote-St-Luc Road and, is also rather small, geographically speaking.

      Reply
      1. Jim J.

        I should also point out that that third part of electoral district #1 is not an exclave, but is contiguous to the rest of Cote-St-Luc proper. I should have made that explicit point in my previous post.

        Reply
  3. mare

    It’s Cote St. Luc, but it’s rotated slightly clockwise. Maps should have their North on top. I know this is hard for the Island of Montréal, but it teaches people a completely false world view.

    Reply
  4. Steve Hatton

    Cote St Luc

    I know the extra part at the top was annexed to Cote St Luc as a result of some fiasco regarding condos that were built in area known as Hamstead North. (The area between Hampstead and Blue Bonnets) I don’t know all the details regarding this but I think had something with Hampstead refusing to open up their street to a piece of land that was part of Montreal at the time.

    As for the extra rectangle in the East, I have no idea.

    Reply
  5. Maria Gatti

    The stuff on MacDonald avenue actually looks rather nice – almost looks like a city, until you scrutinise the photo closely and realise that there are no “commerce de proximité” on the ground floors of any of those buildings.

    See suburban cul-de-sac planning is alive and well.

    Reply
  6. Franc

    Wow! Thanks for the history lesson, Steve! I had business in that area, a couple of months ago, and was driving on Isabella/Ellerdale/Fielding, but I had no idea of the history there!

    Reply
  7. emdx

    Darn, I missed a great quizz!!! (I should come here more often – Is there a way of being e-mailed automatically whenever you post some new stuff? :) ).

    You make a great point to justify re-merging everything, the various suburbs are nothing but a huge mess.

    Reply
  8. kate M.

    “Most of the island (especially its centre) was uninhabited, unclaimed and unexplored”? Especially its centre? That’s a bit oddly put. I think a lot of the unpaved stuff was farms – at least, I’ve heard tell of orchards in western NDG and farms all the way up the upper Main to Ahuntsic.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      By the “centre” I mean areas away from the shorelines. There were villages in Ste. Geneviève, Pointe-Claire and Ste. Anne de Bellevue, for example, but little in between. Closer to downtown, there was development in NDG, Côte des Neiges and as far north as Ahuntsic, but nothing in what we would consider today’s Côte Saint-Luc.

      When it was founded, Hampstead was mostly untouched forest.

      Reply
    2. emdx

      There were farms all over the place, so the Montréal Island was far from being “unexplored”. Those farms were quite renowned for their produce; heck, the Montréal melon, grown in NDG, was an eagerly sought delicacy, all the way to New-York.

      I remember farms on Bois-Franc in St-Laurent… If you look closely, there are still some farmhouses snuck between the warehouses…

      I even remember when Bois-Franc crossed the airport runway and had crossing gates that went down when an aircraft took-off…

      Reply
  9. Norm Spatz

    This was really interesting. I’ve done a lot of research onto just how MacDonald Avenue came to be part of Cote Saint Luc – or should I say remained part of Cote Saint Luc.

    The person who was probably the most responsible for the current situation was Sir Herbert Holt who spearheaded the development of Hampstead. Modeled along the Garden City concept, the original city charter only allowed single family houses and was created from farms originally in Cote Saint Luc. It didn’t even allow a fire station!

    Unfortunately apartments had been built by a Mr Sabbatino Damiani of Sabbatino Realties with offices for years at 5548A Queen Mary. The plot of land, actually a farm, extending along MacDonald Avenue and Dufferin Road was therefore not included in Mr Holt’s real estate venture. The Dufferin Road section wound up in the hands of A. Hamilton Gault who formed the Princess Pats. Gault’s heirs forced the farmers on the village council in the main section of Cote Saint Luc to cede the land to any municipality that would build roads in 1924. Holt had deep pockets and Dufferin Road became part of Hampstead leaving only the strip on MacDonald Avenue within Cote Saint Luc.

    It seems that the city of Cote Saint Luc found a way to make this little area work economically. At some point about sixty years ago, zoning in this little island of CSL permitted residential high rises where nothing similar had been close. This little slice of land could suddenly accommodate a population of taxpayers that made maintaining an isolated slice of land viable. Former Mayor Adessky of Hampstead spoke to me about the outrage that residents of his city near the border with CSL expressed as high rises were built to the rear of their gardens.

    I hope this has shed light on at least one of CSL’s mysterious exclaves!

    Reply

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