Friday, December 29, 2006

JJ Harpell underrated local legend

Anybody here know anything about St Anne de Belleview on the West Island?

I don't even know how to spell it.


If it's West of, say, Lasalle it's off my map. But there's a part of that loverly community known as Gardenvale whose progenitor I nominate for the list of underrated Montrealers.

JJ Harpell was an Irish anglo from Montreal who got some forward-thinking ideas when kicking around Europa. He returned in 1910 raving of the utopian concept of the garden city, which was an urban plan for growing suburbia at the time.

Garden cities were meant to be self-sufficient and well-organized communities which would be pleasant to live in. My Master's level Mtl history teacher Walter Van Nus hinted that I should do a paper on gardencityology. I sought glory elsewhere but learned enough to know that Gardenvale in St. Anne's was built with fond thoughts of Gardencityness.


JJ opened the Garden City Press, aka, Harpell Press, which printed and published and edited stuff. The West Island had railway service and cheap land so Harpell was one among the pioneers to bring action to the area. He purchased 10 acres and popped in housing surrounded with gardens and other rustic charms. After a few years of disorganization the whole thing started to truly hum.

J. J. Harpell made sure his workers got some higher book learnin' and sent them to evening school.

Oh, and he was friends with Mackenzie King's finance minister Fielding, who told him that the big financial power in Canada belongs to the banks and the insurance companies.

So JJ published a book attacking the insurance industry and got into buckets of hot water. He was busted for libel in 1932, but the world heard his plea.

One of his workers, Louis Even, was inspired by Harpell to unite social credit, or credit unions with religion. Even's legacy remains to this day in the Michael Journal. You've probably seen the car with the writing all over it. They're still puttering about.


Harpell sold his company to his workers in 1945 under condition that it remain a workers' co-op. In August 1984 it had 183 workers, 97 percent of whom were part owners. It was raking in $10 mill a year.

I have at a spooky book by a Montrealer put out by Harpell in the early 70s which inspired this whole line of inquiry. I'll get into it a bit later. Harpell/Garden City put out tons of books.

I'm less-than-sure what happened next. JJ Harpell seems to have suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth, as if swallowed up by aliens. The buildings were turned into condos which still bear the Harpell name, as does a community center out there. It's an unjustifiably faint legacy.

There's a Harpell Printing in Ottawa I found on the net, but the number is out of service. There's a couple of West island historians who might be able to tell me more about Harpell but so far I haven't been able to get them on the buzzard.


De toute facon, there really should be something more significant named after Harpell than what he's got now.

11 comments:

Russell K.Thoman said...

J.J.Harpell was my grandfather.He was a taskmaster for education,and would not tolerate anything else.
When I was 15 and worked as a helper to his gardener,and when it rained I was sent to his library.
From there I was no longer a helper but to continue my studies.
A great gentleman,and I have some wonderful memories of him,not all pleasant but still good.

James Thoman said...

JJ Harpell is also my grandfather....
I would like to talk to Kristian to compare notes on JJ my telephone no. is 519 369 5400... Call me and I will call you back... I will pay the LD charges.

frogless2004 said...

I am researching the Harpell families of Canada. JJ Harpell was the great grandson of Margaret and George Harpell of Kingston Ontario. I have come across many articles on him and he seems to have been quite a character. I would like to hear his side of the story from his relatives. I can supply family tree info to anyone interested. Lew Harpelle harpelle@execulink.com

Family-Memories Of Home said...

I am researching the Thoman genealogy, especially in Ohio. My grandfather's name was Nathan or Nathen Thoman, married to Alice. Had three sons Dale, Melvin and Leroy. Would appreciate any assistance or suggestions.

Reach me at linda.thoman@sbcglobal.net

Wayne Dayton said...

J.J. Harpell had a son who married a girl from Rosemont named Patricia, who through marriage became Patricia Harpell. After they were divorced, she worked as a live-in domestic for noted Pinball King (and former L.A. Dodgers prospect) Gerry O'Reilly of Alouette Amusement. Suffering from dementia, she is now residing in a Dorval seniors' home.

Loyalist1967 said...

I am a descendant of George Harpell who was an United Empire Loyalist (UEL) that settled in Cataraqui (present day Kingston). He arrived in Cataraqui in 1783 and was from Pennsylvania. His relatives came from Germany. JJ was not Irish. He grew up just ouside of Kingston. He studied law and went into the printing business. He was the official printer to the Vatican, he gave a great amount of money to the RC church. His sister was a nun and resided at a residence for nuns that he financed at Amherstview, Ontario (just outside of Kingston). His family was a mix of Anglican and later Free Methodist. His mother was RC - hence the influnce. I can be reached at panageotopoulos_@hotmail.com

Christine said...

I am a Canadian who has been living in Mexico for some years, working in various aspects of education both teaching and extensively in administrative positions for the past 25 years. I am planning on returning to Montreal by the end of July or before should it be necessary. I am interested in any information that you could supply about the Harpel Press building that is abandoned in St. Anne de Bellevue,such as, who is managing the property, is it available for restoration, does the government have any financial plan available for the preservation of such buildings????? I am completely fascinated with it!!

Christine said...

I am a Canadian who has been living in Mexico for some years, working in various aspects of education both teaching and extensively in administrative positions for the past 25 years. I am planning on returning to Montreal by the end of July or before should it be necessary. I am interested in any information that you could supply about the Harpel Press building that is abandoned in St. Anne de Bellevue,such as, who is managing the property, is it available for restoration, does the government have any financial plan available for the preservation of such buildings????? I am completely fascinated with it!!

Anonymous said...

I worked for his son John James Harpell and I still think of him and miss him - He was quite the man.

andy-bayard@hotmail.com said...

James J Harpell was involved in many business dealings. He invested in many companies and I was fortunate to have received an original No.1 share issued to James J. Harpell by John M. Ferguson of The Mines Publishing Company, Limited on the 24th of July, 1906. I also have a promisary note from J.J. Harpell of The Industrial Educational Publishing Co., Limited payable to the Dexter Folder Company for the amount of $250.00 USD (271.25 C$) Nov.1, 1922. And Lastly, I have a cheque payable to cash from The Industrial Educational Publishing Co., Limited signed by
J.J.Harpell-Pres. & Mgr.Dir.
All very exciting when you look back at the Harpell Press building in Ste.Anne de Bellevue now converted into Condos.
andy-bayard@hotmail.com

jean-marc richard said...

Hi, my name is jean-marc richard and I am the unofficial historian of Ste.Anne de Bellevue , studying its history for over 35 years. I have a treasure of photos and documents about J. J. Harpell and Gardenvale, Ste.Anne de Bellevue . It was known as the Garden City Press, then became National Business, then Harpell Press. If anyone is interested in asking me questions , call me at 514 902-0230