Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Great Montreal Fire of 1852

In 1852 as Henri traveled through the U.S. he ventured north by steamboat and train to Montreal. He arrived in late July of that year, not long after the great fire.

"We disembarked at Grosse Pointe around six o'clock at night and we followed the Saint Laurent by rail and then, from the opposite bank, again by steamboat to Montreal. We reached it at ten o'clock at night. Although the great fire of Montreal had only been fifteen days before our arrival, the smell of smoke still hung in the air. It burned between eight and nine hundred houses, a great number of which, naturally the poorest ones, were not insured. From my window up above where I could embrace the biggest part of it, it was a sad but grandiose spectacle. The fire must have been furious since only portions of walls were still standing."

The fire of 1852 ravages Dalhousie Square (at the entrance to Faubourg Québec), by James Duncan.
© McCord Museum of Canadian History

While the city had been greatly damaged, Henri still found it incredibly charming.

"I was pleased to see Montreal. Like our good European cities, its houses,  built in stones, have a cozy look, which is far from being the characteristic of American cities. We also saw a very nice review of an infantry regiment and an English artillery battery, whose appearance, practice and aspect were, in my opinion, praiseworthy. We also climbed the Real Mountain, on top of which one can enjoy a beautiful view, at its feet the city of Montreal, then the Saint Laurent river with its islands, further away an immense plain covered with farms and villages, at the end of which, through the mist, rise isolated from one another, mountains of beautiful shapes and forms."

Photo of Montreal in early 1852

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