Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Snowdon mystery: why was a duplex rolled from Decarie to Trans Island?

   Montreal geography detective Urban Legend, who serves up considerable insight in the Coolopolis comments section, has assembled some pieces of a local geography  mystery.
   Why was a duplex inhabited by Max Barr and retired Montreal police Capt. Hugh McCoy placed on a truck and move it 1.4 kilometres from 5707-5709 Decarie (NE corner Cote St. Catherine) to 5198-5200 Trans Island - just up from Queeen Mary in around 1947?
   The bizarre specter of an entire building being moved remains unexplained.
   The vacated site became a BA gas station, which was later removed via wrecking ball and replaced by a larger structure.
   In spite of the giggles seen in the photo, the experience must have been an unnecessary logistical nightmare.
   Crowds likely gathered, streets cleared of traffic, overhead electrical lines must have been painstakingly avoided as the house rolled down Decarie, east on Queen Mary and then north on Trans Island in order to slide it in directly adjacent to the already existing duplex to its south at 5192-5194. 
    Being a brick house surely made it a risky endeavor, considering the likelihood of major cracks and other structural fractures occurring during transport and installation. Such moves today are rare and generally only for heritage dwellings.
   It's not entirely unprecedented, however as Al Palmer noted that the original Miss Montreal Restaurant was a train car rolled down Decarie from the Cartierville flying fields. 
   Resident McCoy was among those in charge of the Rosemount police station and was involved in high-profiled gambling busts in the 1930s before retiring in 1939. 
   Drapeau's Caron Commission called him to the stand in February 1951 and he told them the police practice of putting padlocks on the door was a farce that all officers were fully aware was futile, as gambling guys would simply open a new den down the hall. 
   The house, in its new spot, sits only a few doors down from 5146 Trans Island which is the spot from where gangsters attempted to dig into a bank across the street in 1967. And in 1986 a pair of bodies were left in a trunk for 41 days around the corner. 

Stories like this fill the must-read Montreal: 375 Tales of Eating, Drinking, Living and Loving, order your paper copy here now or buy it at Indigo or Paragraph.



  1. Nice work, Kristian, on tracking Captain McCoy's activities during his career. I wonder if he has any surviving relatives or friends who could shed some light on the house move: how much it cost, and so on. The source of the photos themselves is critical. If not taken by McCoy himself, are they from news reporters or bystanders? Who sent them in and to whom?

    Judging by the milkman's T-shirt, the move would have taken place perhaps as early as May and as late as September 1947 based on the weather conditions for that year which I have not researched. The aerial photo (link below) would have been shot soon after the Spring snow melt based on the thinness of the foliage. Onlookers all along the entire route would most certainly have taken their own photos which may still be sitting in boxes up in dusty attics or basements--historical gems awaiting discovery!

    That McCoy only resided at 5198 Trans Island for a short while is telling. Perhaps by then he was burned out from being on-the-job and glad to retire in spite of his presumed initial plan to stay on Trans Island. If that is indeed his wife in the photo, she appears to be in her forties. It also occurs to me now that the balding man in coveralls could be the foreman supervising the move seeing as he is dressed for such activities. This is only speculation, of course. To make wild, enthusiastic guesses is human nature but fraught with embarrassment when the real facts come out.

    Without knowing precise dates, researchers would have to slog through the 1947 Montreal Gazette, La Presse, etc., to search for any facts--that is, presuming the move was even considered "newsworthy" a the time. Only a brief paragraph somewhere in the back pages? Good luck finding such a needle in a haystack!

    Hopefully someday Google Archives or some other such service will build a more comprehensive tool having more precise tracking and cross-referencing methods. If Germany can piece together shredded Stazi files, surely newspapers can likewise be collated and worthwhile the effort?

    Anyway, the game is afoot, Watson! Possibly more clues and details will be revealed over time.

    See below: aerial photo of Decarie Blvd., Cote Ste. Catherine Road and surrounding streets in early 1947 prior to the house being moved. It is clearly seen in the photo as is the empty lot awaiting its snails-paced trip and arrival.


  2. On the Move...and with Joy - Part One

    For the benefit of gas station history buffs, in the background of the photo showing the milkman exchanging bottles with the woman (Mrs. McCoy and the pet dog?), can be seen the former Joy Oil gas station (Lovell's 1944 through 1951) at 5575 Decarie--the SE corner with Cote Ste. Catherine Rd. Joy's chateau-style design was unique. Note also (above the milkman's left elbow) the gas pump with its circular head typical of those at many competing service stations of that era and a Google Image search will bring up a colourful collection of them.

    Directly behind the Joy station can be seen the apartment building at 5567 Decarie which was demolished decades later. Cowan's Variety Store was in that building's ground level with more apartments further south at 5563.

    As has been mentioned elsewhere in this blog, these and the other buildings on the east side of Decarie between Cote Ste. Catherine Rd. and Edouard-Montpetit (originally named Maplewood) were, as it turned out, hastily and unnecessarily bulldozed into rubble in the years subsequent to the creation of the Decarie Depressway, following a tentative plan to run the Metro Orange Line underneath; the idea being to establish a Metro station somewhere along that stretch. However, due to considerable internal disputes the city planners finally settled instead on swerving the Orange Line further east with the Metro station to be located at Victoria and Cote Ste. Catherine Road in order to conveniently serve the dense population in that sector. Those Decarie fields of rubble were eventually replaced by today's newer buildings. Over the decades, service stations of the various competing oil companies along Decarie and elsewhere have come and gone due to rebranding, downsizing, and consolidating mergers. Many continue to exist in the U.S. and even elsewhere in Canada. Gulf, Texaco, Sunoco, BP, BA, FINA, Champlain, Irving, Supertest, Red Indian, White Rose, Golden Eagle (renamed Ultramar). Some have managed to survive such as Shell, Esso, Petro-Canada, and a handful of small independents like Sergaz.

    Replacing the 5575 Decarie Joy Oil station was a Bank of Montreal drive-in branch with its new address--5695--first listed in Lovell's 1954. Because there were a few armed hold-ups at that branch with the thieves arriving at the rear wicket to threaten the cashier, I can only assume that this was one of the reasons the branch was eventually closed some decades later, although the building remains vacant and in good condition, as does another former B of M branch at 5995 Decarie just south of Van Horne. A newer, non-drive-in branch has since opened at Decarie and Plamondon, however.

  3. On the Move...and with Joy - Part Two

    About those Joy Oil stations: these were a rarity in Quebec as compared to Ontario which had many. Lovell's 1950 lists only 11 Joy Oil stations in the Montreal area; their plant then located at 6370 Notre Dame E. The 1947 aerial map shows the Joy Oil station at 5320 Sherbrooke West on the southwest corner with Decarie in the same lot where today's Esso station is located, but the nine others in the aforementioned list are long gone. Lovell's 1951 lists no Joy Oil stations whatsoever. The end of an era.

    For those who care to investigate further, there are several interesting websites about Joy Oil. Indeed, one former station in Toronto was restored and is still awaiting re-occupation by any interested buyer. Who knows what will eventually occupy the place? Perhaps a fast food joint? Since Toronto needs decent fast food, why not invite Lafleur to open up a steamies restaurant there?
    In return, maybe we can induce someone in Toronto to open up an Uncle Tetsu's Japanese Cheesecake outlet here in Montreal. I haven't tasted that yet, but surely someone reading this who has can give us their opinion? Better than Dunn's? Hmmm...I wonder?

    Alternatively, if nobody in Toronto wants their empty Joy Oil, why not load it onto a flat-bed truck, haul it up the 401 to Montreal, and slide it onto an appropriate empty lot such as the one on the southeast corner of Decarie and Van Horne where the Esso station used to be? Who knows, some local enterpreneur might prefer to run a profitable business out of it there rather than some "developer" erecting another ugly condo?

  4. Correction: 5995 Decarie south of Van Horne was formerly a branch of the Royal Bank and not the Bank of Montreal.

  5. Due to the post-WWII housing shortage, the physical transfer of a sturdy building to another location may have been preferable to outright demolition and perhaps even a less-costly option than the construction of new housing at that time. Possibly a shortage of building contractors played a role as well. More research is needed.

    The physical movement of the 5707-5709 Decarie duplex may well have been part of a publicity campaign to discourage wasteful demolition. It is entirely possible that the adjacent BA service station at 5701 wanted to expand the size of its garage and instigated the removal of 5707-5709.

    The building directly north of 5707-5709 was then named Andre apartments at 5725 Decarie, first listed in Lovell's 1941. The Aryo Driving School is downstairs at 5729.

    As an aside, the history of gas service stations in Canada and elsewhere is an interesting topic all by itself: which brands went bankrupt and which were purchased and rebranded by others to over the decades.

    See: http://petroleumhistory.ca/archivesnews/2000/june.html

    For the old-timers out there who wonder whatever became of our once-prolific White Rose stations, these were purchased by Shell in 1962.

    I remember the one to the northeast of the Decarie Circle (now a field of rubble), and another on the northwest corner of Darlington and Barclay (today an empty lot).

    Correction to my earlier post: the former Joy Oil station at 5575 Decarie was first listed in Lovell's 1939-40 directory through to Lovell's 1951. Prior 1939-40, the lot was occupied by a St. Lawrence Oil service station.

    For those intending to further research the names and locations of former service stations, be aware that Lovell's generally lists their addresses under their proprietor's name and not always by the brand.


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