Montreal, Cemeteries, and Donovans


by Roxanne Tellier

My family has a tiny burial plot on Mount Royal, in the Cotes de Neiges cemetery, and that’s where the bones and ashes of my ancestors have been interred for over a hundred years.

It’s been two months since my aunt’s passing. The clan will gather this week to bring her ashes home.

Patricia Donovan, daughter of Freda (James) Donovan and Denis Patrick Donovan, the last of her generation, died March 29, 2019 in Ottawa. Born in Montreal, Patricia lived most of her life there. She enjoyed travel, and worked for a time in Washington, D.C. She moved to Toronto and cared for her mother until her mother’s passing. 

aunts and uncles 1970 001

Patricia was a writer, painter, and sculptor who pondered life’s big questions.
Auntie Pat had fifteen nieces and nephews and enjoyed a unique relationship with each of them. She is survived by the clan, and will be missed by them.”

My family has always had an easy relationship with death; when I was young, my mother would often take my sister and I to the mountain for a picnic in the graveyard. We’d loll on the well tended grass while we ate lunch, and then wander around the tombstones and mausoleums, looking for famous names.

Michael Donovan A shamrock_in_the_snowI believe that my cousin Michael Leo Donovan, a man who loves the city of Montreal with a fervour I’ve never seen excelled, wrote a book about one of the cemetery’s denizens, the statesman Thomas D’Arcy McGee, after repeatedly seeing his tomb on family visits.

darcy mcgeeIn 1867 he became a Father of Confederation. It was said that if Sir John A. MacDonald of Ontario and Sir George Etienne Cartier of Quebec were the architects of Canada. D’Arcy McGee was its prophet. He was murdered on April 6, 1868, in Ottawa, while returning home after a session of the House.” (A Shamrock in the Snow, 1996)

Other well known Canadians resting in peace at this, and the neighbouring cemetery, include the Reverend William Squire, the first person buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, who died of cholera in 1852, after performing a religious sick visit to a local merchant; Thomas Lee Hackett, a young Irishman shot during a fight between the Catholic and Protestant Irish on July 12, 1877, the day that the Orangeman had chosen to parade on the streets of Montreal; and Sir Arthur William Currie, Commander of Canadian Troops during World War I, and Principal of McGill University from 1920-1933, whose death in 1933 drew a funeral procession with a crowd estimated at 20,000 people, consisting of politicians, diplomats, military bands and hundreds of veterans. The Cross of Sacrifice, a military monument, marks his grave.

Here you will also find David Thompson, surveyor and explorer, who died very poor with no grave marker. The grave languished for seventy years, until, in 1926, the Canadian Historical Association erected a monument to him with the epitaph, “To the memory of the greatest of geographers who for 34 years explored and mapped the main travel routes between the St Lawrence and the Pacific.”

joe beef tavernMontreal’s revered Joe Beef has a place of honour. “His real Irish name was Charles McKieman. He owned the famous “Joe Beef’s Canteen,” located near the port. His 3-storey building held a tavern, a restaurant with free food for the homeless, a dorm of 100 beds and a basement full of strange menagerie. He died in 1889 aged 54. His six sons and his wife organized a very impressive funeral for him. Every office in the business district closed for the afternoon, and there were representatives of workers from all classes in the procession.”

Several more souls were added to the site in 1912, when six victims of the Titanic‘s sinking were buried there, including Charles Melville Hays, once the president of the Grand Trunk Railway. (A further five lie in the Notre Dame de Neiges Cemetery, and one in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. Montreal was, sadly, well represented in the tragedy.)

laurier palace fireThere is also a section dedicated to some of the 76 small children who died in the Laurier Palace Theatre fire in 1927, an event so horrific to Montrealers that a law was summarily passed forbidding the entry of children under 16 to any theatre or cinema screenings. That law remained in effect until 1961

Calixa Lavallée, the man who, in 1880 wrote our national anthem, “Oh Canada,” was born in Verchères, Quebec in 1842, but enlisted as a musician with the 4th Rhode Island Infantry at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He died a respected composer and conductor in 1891, from tubercular laryngitis, in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was buried until 1933, when his body was brought to Montreal for reburial.

More recent interments include Celine Dion‘s husband, René Angélil; journalist and politician, Nick Auf der Maur; Gratien Gelinas, actor; hockey players Doug Harvey and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard; Pierre Laporte, politician, who was murdered by the FLQ in 1970; Robert Bourassa, 22nd premier of Quebec; and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, who truly made the city world class, by organizing Expo 67, along with playing host to the 1976 Olympic Games, and giving it an amazing Metro service.

Small wonder the place is considered one of the most haunted spots in Montreal. Often described as a “City of the Dead overlooking a City of the Living“, ghostly spirits are believed to roam the grounds after sundown.

Not to be forgotten, other mortal remains lie outside the cemetery boundaries. Most famously, the tomb of Simon McTavish is located in the dark forest above Peel Street. The angry Scottish fur baron died unexpectedly in 1804 while overseeing the construction of a magnificent castle on the slopes. Stories of his ghost tobogganing down Mount Royal in his own coffin terrified Montrealers during the 1800s. To make people forget, city officials demolished his abandoned castle and used the rubble to literally bury his mausoleum. Archaeological work a few years ago disturbed his tomb and now rumour has it he is haunting Mount Royal again.”

The silhouette of a warrior woman with storm clouds in the background.But the most common ghost spotted on the mountain where First Nation peoples were also known to bury their dead is that of an Algonquin warrior.

I’ll keep an eye open for that lonely fellow when I’m there.

I always look forward to visiting Montreal, the city of my youth. These are the grounds I stomped, my neighbourhoods, my restaurants, my mountain, my Canada Life Weather Beacon, first lit up in 1956, that let the city know what weather was on the way. It is and ever will be the city of my heart, no matter where I roam.

I miss my city, but it is inevitably, my family ties that pull me back when I have been too long gone. You can’t stay away from Donovans for very long.

Oh, ‘céad mile fáilte’ they’ll greet you down at Donovan’s
As cheery as the springtime, as Irish as the conovan
The wish of my heart is if ever I had anyone
That ev’ry luck that lightens life …. may light upon the Donovans”

the uncles 001Growing up, I think I always took my family a little for granted. Maybe I just assumed that all families were graced with so much talent, in so many fields. We grew up with my uncle Dennis , co-creator and writer of The Beachcombers; my uncle Leo, whose majestic land and seascapes graced our homes; my uncle John, who was possessed not only of great writing skill, but also of a deep, radio friendly baritone speaking and singing voice; my aunt Pat, a writer, painter, and woman of enormous intelligence; and my own mother, who was a superb dancer, writer, and editor.

cousins 001With that sort of heritage, it is almost a forgone conclusion that the 15 children they brought into the world also possessed many talents, not only in the arts, but in social and computing skills. We just never thought that we wouldn’t be able to do whatever we wanted to do with our lives.

daisy circusMany of us write. I mentioned Michael, above, but there’s also Kieran, the poet and singer-songwriter; and Rita, who has won multiple awards for her nine books, short stories and essays.

Michael also wrote and produced a fine video series on the origin of Montreal street names, now available on youtube. (And yes, those are his kids getting in on the act as Ms Kayleigh and Complete Stranger. )

 

 

dianne donovan beat divasWe all sing. Dianne toured with a Harry James tribute for years before settling down in Austin, Texas with her husband, where she also hosts Classical Austin on KMFA radio, produces a weekly vocal jazz show, “Voices in Jazz” for CKUA Radio in Edmonton, and has a new CD release, “A Musing,” featuring mostly original compositions. She also teaches a cooking class with her jazz trio, The Beat Divas. (dianne donovan beat divas.jpg)

aileen paintingSome of us draw, sculpt and paint. My cousin Aileen took her dad’s painting skill and crafted it into a long career as a well known animal portraitist during her years living in the North West Territories with the Inuit peoples. She now focuses mainly on past life regressions for both pets and people.

I could literally go on and on, listing the accomplishments of this talented group. I’m extremely proud of my family, with good reason.

cousins 003And I’ll get to see some, though not all of them, this week. While the occasion is solemn, visits to my city and my family are never terribly formal for more than a few minutes. We are a group that cannot be repressed for long – laughter, good humour, and our love for each other guarantees a boisterous reunion.

The passing of the last of our parent’s generation seems so final, and yet there’s a part of me that can’t believe that my cousins and I – even as we develop deeper ‘laugh lines’ and grey hair – will ever really age enough to become the ‘grumps’ of the family.

cousins 002I’ll bring that up with the clan at the wake next week, and see if anyone’s pencilled in a date for when we can get to the ‘growing up‘ part of life. With any luck, we can keep putting it off forever.

So far, so good.

 

 

May Day! May Day!


It’s May the first – a day when most of the northern hemisphere officially decides, “that’s it. Done with winter. Bring on the sun and the fun!”

I’ve always thought that May 1st would be a better start to the year then January 1st.No one feels much like kick-starting anything more than the snow blower in winter. May, on the other hand, is when you can shed the many layers you’ve bundled yourself into over the darkest months, like a snake sloughing off its outgrown skin.

naked gardeningEven the armchairiest of armchair gardeners eyes the sprouts of green peeking out of the earth, and tells themselves lies about the magic they’ll coax from the soil this year. Dreams of successful planting and transplanting, and visions of exotic fruits fresh plucked from your own trees, dance through your head like the sugarplums of Christmas. Garden paths that never overgrow! Bushels of perfectly formed, organic vegetables! Idyllic afternoons whiled away in draped pergolas, desultorily conversing with like-minded friends.

All of which lasts for about a week or ten days, before the great outdoors is abandoned in favour of a good book and a comfy couch safely indoors, where there are no midges or crawly things.

No one is immune from May’s siren call. Even Led Zeppelin couldn’t help but reference the occasion. “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now, It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.”

Ai eee! Spring cleaning! Washing your winter-stained windows in order to let the bright spring sun illuminate the dust bunnies you’ve cultivated whilst cocooning. Many gallons of cleaning goop will be purchased and used in the next few days, in a frenzy of scouring away the winter blues. Followed by many doctors being consulted for pain killers to numb the injuries stemming from long unused muscles strained during that frenzy.

vulcan and maiaI would much prefer to just dance around a flagpole, dressed in a long gown and draped with flowers, vying to be crowned the Queen of May, as they do in Europe. I mean, the month of May was named for the Greek goddess Maia, who was identified with the earlier Roman goddess of fertility, Bona Dea, whose festival was held in May. I’ll even take the pre-Christian Roman celebrations that revolved around Flora, the goddess of flowers, or celebrate Walpurgis Night or Beltane with the witches. In any case, my first act upon being crowned Queen would be to dispense with ritual house cleaning, in favour of far more civilized communal celebrations, rejoicing at the promise of another sun-filled summer.  Vote for me!

The pagan holidays were sacrificed as Europe became Christianised, mores the pity. Traditionally, May Day was associated with fertility; the earth is reborn,  the cattle get frisky, and, with less clothing to get in the way, people tend to get a little friskier themselves. The church frowned on frisky.

But still, traditions remain. And some should be revived! In some part of the United States, early American settlers made small May Day baskets, filled with flowers or treats, and left them at the doorstep of someone they fancied. “The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver; if caught, a kiss is exchanged.” (Wikipedia) flaming dog poop

That sounds a lot more fun than leaving flaming bags of poop on the doorsteps of unfriendly neighbours.

If you were up very early this morning, you might have heeded the call sent by the Facebook group, Toronto Morris Men. “Sunrise in Toronto on 1st May 2016 is at 06:09. We’ll be at High Park, will you join us?”

Copyright ©2014 Ruth Lor Malloy

Copyright ©2014 Ruth Lor Malloy

It’s an old custom still celebrated in Ontario.  “In Toronto, on the morning of May 1, various Morris Dancing troops from Toronto and Hamilton gather on the road by Grenadier Cafe, in High Park to “dance in the May”. The dancers and crowd then gather together and sing traditional May Day songs such as Hal-An-Tow and Padstow.” (Wikipedia)

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the last century, and thanks to social democrats and unions, May 1 has become much less fanciful. Here’s a “did you know?” for you … What trade unions and labour movements now celebrate as the May 1st International Workers Day, started as a response to the annual holiday that stemmed from a union strike in Toronto. In December 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union staged a parade in support of the strike for a 58-hour work-week that had been going on since March of that year. George Brown (yes, he of George Brown College) was editor of the Toronto Globe at the time, and he called for the police to charge the union with “conspiracy,” which resulted in 24 leaders of the union being arrested. (Laws criminalising union activities had already been abolished in England, but were still on the books in Canada.)

It was the seven trade unions that marched in Ottawa in protest that finally pushed then Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, to repeal the anti-union laws, and pass the Trade Union Act in 1873. We have been celebrating the occasion on the first Monday in September ever since.

In 1882, trade unionists in the United States, inspired by the Toronto unions’ bravery and success, proposed a similar holiday. But the Labour Day holiday did not become official until 1894, and still did not quite address the spirit of the movement.may day solidarity

The May 1st International Workers Day evolved from the 1904 International Socialist Conference in Amsterdam, when the Sixth Conference of the Second International, called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.”

May 1st was chosen to commemorate the May 1886 Haymarket incident in Chicago, where a bomb was thrown at police attempting to disperse a public assembly calling for an eight-hour workday. In response, the police fired on the workers, and killed four demonstrators.

It might then be logical to assume that the term chosen to indicate a state of emergency (Mayday!) would have come from the Chicago incident as well. But it actually originated in 1923, when a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, England, was asked to decide on a word easily understood by pilots and ground staff in an emeFrederick Stanley Mockfordrgency.

“Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, Frederick Stanley Mockford proposed the word “Mayday” from the French “m’aider”, a shortened version of “venez m’aider” (meaning “come and help me”). (Wikipedia)

The term, always said three times in repetition, replaced the Morse code SOS. Calling Mayday!is now taken so seriously in the United States that it is a federal crime to make a false distress call, and will get you up to six years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

may day 2016At the moment, it’s a gray, chilly morning in Toronto. I missed the Morris Dancers, (rats!) but if I hustle, I can get down to the square at Yonge and Dundas, where a rally and march will begin at 1:00 pm. This year’s theme highlights the struggles of resistance to anti-black racism, police brutality, and issues deeply affecting black communities, along with Indigenous sovereignty, gender justice, anti-poverty and anti-austerity organizations.

Or, in the spirit of my ancestors, I could find me a May Pole to dance around, and a hedgerow with a bustle looking for a May queen. I always did fancy being royalty for a day …

(first published at bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/roxanne-tellier-may-day-may-day/)