Monday, November 17, 2008
Joe Beef's was 'a den of filth'
THE CANADIAN VOYAGEUR
CONTINUING THE DESCENT OF THE ST. LAWRENCE
- The New York Times
Aug. 20, 1881
Dateline: Quebec, Aug. 15 dispatch.
JOE BEEF'S CANTEEN.
Montreal is so well known to Americans that an effort at description of it would be a waste of time. But there is one place in it that, it is to be hoped, is not so well known and not so frequently visited by travelers. This place is known as "Joe Beef's Canteen;" a den of filth that may confidently be pitted against anything its like on the continent.
A morally wretched but physically powerful creature ca;ling himself Joe Beef, occupies the whole of one of the big stone buildings facing the river, a block or two from the Bon Secours Market. The building is four stories high and 30 or 40 feet wide.
"Joe Beef" is one of those despicable characters who, while they sell the vilest rum and keep places that disgrace a city, gain reputations for great charity and some goodness by giving to the poor some of their ill-gotten gains. We have some such men in New-York; men who do more harm in their life-time than a regiment of men could counteract, but who make themselves something of a reputation by dispensing a little ostentatious charity.
Joe Beef's Canteen is the foulest and vilest hole I ever visited, not excepting the worst of the "resorts" on the West Side of New-York. It would not be allowed to exist a minute in New-York.
Yet, with all this, "Joe Beef" has made himself a reputation in Montreal, by giving a little meat to the people he has robbed. He is respected a little in some decent quarters, and the vagrants look upon him as their best friend.
I went through his den, with a guide who knew the place. The first room we entered was the bar-room, in which a dozen vagrants were lounging, in various degrees of intoxication. The proprietor himself was behind the bar, and on the counter was a pile of sick-looking raw beefseaks. Beef sells one of these raw steaks and a raw potato for 5 cents, for the customer to cook them. All the vagrants and sots of Montreal eat here, when they can raise 5 cents. The smell in the building is sickening.
I was introduced to Beef, and he showed me some of his curiosities, as a special mark of his favor. Most of them were too disgusting to look at, too indecent to describe. He had snakes done up in glass jars, and toads, and a variety of other articles. In a small dark room, just back of the bar-room, an enormous black bear was chained, and by his side were fastened a score or more of ferocious dogs. The next room was the "theatre," where, on Sundays, religious services are held. A half-drunken clown and a black monkey were performing on the stage for the edification of half a dozen tramps, who were stretched on the benches.
The proprietor is evidently an educated man, and speaks and writes well. But he is a little nearer a devil and his place near what the revised version calls Hades than anything I ever saw.
To visit this place is to see it in nightmares for the next week. But the Montreal Police do not interfere with it, and Joe Beef goes on "helping the poor."
Note: But McGill likes Joe Beef.