Short & Long Term Impact

Remy Ventura
The history of the MPPA and its influence is a historical narrative not only about time but also space. This section aims to explore how the MPPA’s authority over space relates to the control of the people within that space in both the short and long term.

McCord Museum, Painting | Mrs. George A. Drummond, Lady Drummond | M988.98.2

The history of the MPPA and its influence is a historical narrative not only about time but also space. I adopt a spatial analysis to understand the short and long term impacts of the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association. Spatial analysis is based on the assumption that space is “not fixed, dead, or undialectical, but has a critical relationship to the people who inhabit a space and to the spaces and people seemingly exterior to [it].”[1] In the Foucaultian sense, control over space inevitably results in control over the bodies within it. Moreover, the relationship between space and its inhabitants is a reciprocal one, whereby the social relations constructing a space are in turn acted on by it. However, Montreal is more than a conceptual or actual space, but a place upon which identity is formed. The term place refers to the more specific “notions of home, collective history and social location in reference to an identified group or individual.”[2] The Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Associations has been critical in not only shaping the physical landscape of the City of Montreal, but by extension the social relations contained within it. In essence, the influence of the MPPA is imprinted upon the city itself. I argue that in its early history, the MPPA’s vision of Mount Royal is a sanitized one reserved for certain populations. However, in the long-term, the legacy of the MPPA’s efforts around Mount Royal have had a democratizing impact.

At the turn of the century, Montreal’s population grew exponentially, from 78 000 in 1851 to over one million in 1931.[3] The increase in population density in combination with industrialization radically transformed the landscape. According to miasma theory, disorderly and polluted city living was directly correlated with poor health outcomes.[4] What had become Canada’s largest city also acquired the reputation of being one of the unhealthiest in the western world.[5] It was out of this reality that the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association emerged, conditioning the Association’s mandate and objectives in both the short and long term. The stated purpose of the MPPA upon corporation was “to act as a medium through which members may engage in joint study of social problems in the development of a planned program to meet the welfare, recreation and health needs” of Montreal residents.[6]

The MPPA’s response to the urban ills plaguing the city was consistent with the 20th century philosophies of the City Beautiful movement. City Beautiful reinforced the notion that a clean, organized and ultimately aesthetically appealing city could not only address physical and mental health problems but also notions such as “nationalism, citizenship, patriotism, economic productivity, social cohesion and quality of life.”[7]  City Beautiful was subsequently followed by the City Practical movement, which placed greater emphasis on utility over beauty. While some scholars view the Beautiful and Practical movements to be in direct opposition, Robert Freestone demonstrates their co-existence and constant mediation. Aesthetic beauty was central to both movements, the difference being that “in the late 1920s beauty was more subtly ensconced as a by-product of practical city planning…rather than an end in itself.”[8] Therefore, the City Beautiful and Practical movements reflect the evolution of urban planning along the same continuum rather than as a distinct dichotomy. The MPPA occupies different points along this continuum over time, but nevertheless consistent with the same school of thought.

The City Beautiful movement conceived of cities as living organisms.[9] Montreal was diseased and the MPPA existed to treat and ultimately cure it. The notion of the city as a living creature advanced comprehensive rather than piecemeal planning: “a view of the city as more than just an agglomeration of individuals and buildings, but as an entity that must be manipulated and designed as a whole.”[10] Universal panning necessarily requires the intervention of a coordinating body, which at the beginning of the 20th century was the responsibility of private sector organizations such as the MPPA. These philosophies governed MPPA’s impact on the Montreal landscape and therefore the people within it.

Excerpts from letters written to the MPPA in support of saving Mount Royal from proposed apartment buildings in 1960:“Long before we came to Canada, we used to hear and read, in England, about the beautiful, unexpected Mountain of Montreal: to us, it typified Montreal every bit as much as its celebrated position as a unique inland port.”
– Francis Conway. Jan 15 1960“Paris, Rome and London are large cities but they do have wonderful park areas, beautifully preserved. Here we are in Montreal, the largest city in Canada, and we are about to lose one of our most valuable attributes.”
– Norma Johnston. Jan 20 1960“Oh progress- what crimes are committed in thy name.”
– Mr and Mrs. G.W. Benjamin. Jan 19 1960.

“The mountain belongs to me, and all the people of Montreal. So keep your greedy hands off our Mountain.”
– Mr and Mrs. G.W. Benjamin. Jan 19 1960. [27]

Defining the difference between life and death, the heart is primal in the vitality of any living being. Similarly, if the city is a living organism, then the heart of a city is the source of its life, determining the very nature of the city as a whole. The heart of Montreal is indisputably Mount Royal. Since its establishment, the MPPA has been “dedicated to the defence of the park against unwise development schemes which would destroy its unique character.[11] In a report addressing the Future of Mount Royal, the MPPA writes “more than 400 years ago, after the first wonder-filled climb through the oak trees, the great captain (Jacques Cartier) recorded his impressions in terms that have proved to be not only accurate but prophetic….In naming the mountain, he named the city, and forever linked it with its chief claim to topographical distinction.”[12] In essence, in order to understand the impact of the MPPA in Montreal, it is most valuable to analyse its role in relation to Mount Royal.

The MPPA has defended the mountain against short sited and market driven development projects that threatened its inherent “dignity, serenity and strength.”[13] Consistent with post-industrial City Beautiful and City Practical movements, the MPPA primarily regarded the mountain as a “tranquil refuge from the noise and nervous tensions of the city.”[14] MPPA lobbying of municipal and provincial governments prevented schemes for large parking lots, motor vehicle access up the mountain while allowing for expansion of protected areas including Fletcher’s Field.[15] The MPPA archival documents exhibit an ongoing and reciprocal relationship with city officials as well as the government of Quebec. It is not insignificant that in 1961 the MPPA helped to quash economically promising plans to construct 16 structures, including apartment buildings at the perimeters of the mountain.[16] The MPPA’s impact over Mount Royal is visible to this day: gravel rather than paved paths, a winding path around the perimeter of the mountain rather than a direct one to the top, a general absence of man-made structures, indigenous flora, cyclists, runners and cross country skiers, not vehicles.

Nevertheless and more importantly, in what way did this authority over space correspond with authority over social relations in the city? At its inception, the MPPA was an elitist and exclusive organization. The 1895 Park Protective Association, the precursor to the MPPA, was established by a group of Anglophone Montreal women in direct response to the plans for a railway up the mountain. The PPA permitted women of a certain class the opportunity for socially acceptable participation outside of the domestic sphere. The PPA was comprised of women of high socio-economic status, notably Julia Drummond, the wife of George A Drummond, President of Bank of Montreal and later a senator. However, upon the incorporation of the MPPA in 1902 the elected board immediately became exclusively male. In a speech years later, Julia Drummond later explained why men were brought into an organization originally established by women.[17] In her opinion professionalization and the ability for the organization to act as a robust force against potential development of the mountain required the skills that only men possessed. The new board, predominantly the husbands of the founding women, was well connected with government. They had friends in high places.

The elite, Anglophone and male dominated nature of the early MPPA gives one the impression of a top-down imposition of values and norms upon the remainder of the Montreal population: “control of space becomes tools for defining a community’s physical and metaphorical boundaries, its character and how individuals or groups will be determined.”[18]. City Beautiful schemes, prioritizing visual aesthetics denote a sense of luxury and indulgence. An emphasis on aesthetic beauty has a sanitizing effect, excluding what they defined as the messy and ugly realities of Montreal. Their perspective of “what kind of park Mount Royal should be” had important implications for defining the kinds of populations who could enjoy it.[19] In annual reports, the MPPA overtly maintains that the exclusion of certain populations is justifiable in order to maintain the natural and unimpeded character of the mountain. The omission of a vertical railway and paved roads necessarily excluded “old people and invalids who wish to visit the lookout.”[20] In addition, the MPPA often refers to the growth of the middle class as allowing for increased leisure and vacation time for city dwellers.[21] Mount Royal was the perfect location for the middle class family to escape the concrete city and enjoy a picnic. Thus, the view of Mount Royal as a all-natural site for the vacationing population excluded portions of the population who could not afford time-off of work. Furthermore, the prioritization of heart of the city, of Mount Royal, marginalized peripheral areas, catering predominantly to Anglophone communities. Mount Royal is envisioned as a sanitized space

Nevertheless, Gilbert Selter argues against this elitist conception of the 20th century City Beautiful movement in Montreal, finding it to be populist in nature. Despite its elitist origins, in the long-term the MPPA’s initiatives have had a democratizing impact. The Park Protective Association emerged as a citizen’s committee and their campaign against the vertical railway took the form of a popular petition, acquiring 20 000 signatures.[22] Although originally composed solely of men, in 1910 Julia Drummond became president of the MPPA, shortly after which the MPPA officially expressed sympathy for the women’s suffrage movement. [23] In addition, the MPPA had formal ties with other organizations and charities in Montreal such as: the Francophone parallel of the MPPA, Le Foundation des Dames Patrones de l’Association St-Jean Baptiste, the Victorian Order of Nurses, The YMCA, the Women’s National Immigration Society and The Canadian Council of Women. Therefore, the early MPPA, while not diverse in itself, was affiliated with a variety of peoples and opinions. This network of organizations also encouraged the decentralization decision making in the private sector. The MPPA relied on support from other associations in order to achieve its objectives. Furthermore, the activities of the MPPA received “serious newspaper coverage and discussion- the public was concerned and involved.”[24] The MPPA’s 1960 campaign to “save our mountain,” protested the construction of apartment buildings on the perimeter of Mount Royal and received widespread public support. Thousands of Montrealers wrote the MPPA to state their loyalty to their initiatives and offered their assistance to the cause. One letter reads: “the mountain belongs to me, and all the people of Montreal. So keep your greedy hands off our Mountain.”[25] From this perspective the MPPA represents the voice of the average person against powerful corporate interests. The mountain is a home belonging equally to all residents of the city: a space upon which a collective identity is formed.


  1. Mona Okawa. “Cartographies of Violence.” In Race, Space, and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society, edited by Sherene Razack. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002. 76.
  2. Nelson, Jennifer. “The Space of Africville: Creating, Regulating, and Remembering the Urban Slum.” In Race, Space, and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society, edited by Sherene Razack. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002. 226.
  3. Wolfe, Jeanne M. and Grace Strachan. “Practical Idealism: Women in Urban Reform, Julia Drummond and the Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association.” In Life Spaces : Gender, Household, Employment, edited by Caroline Milroy Beth Moore Andrew. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1988. 66.
  4. Copp, Terry. “Public Health in Montreal 1870-1930.” In Medicine in Canadian Society: Historical Perspectives, edited by S. E. D. Shortt. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1981. 416.
  5. Ibid., 414.
  6. Container 1, File 3.
  7. Robert Freestone. “Reconciling Beauty and Utility in Early City Planning: The Contribution of John Nolen.” Journal of Urban History 37, no. 2 (2011): 256-77. 259.
  8. Ibid., 257.
  9. Gilbert A Selter. “Rethinking the Significance of the City Beautiful Idea “. In Urban Planning in Changing. World : The Twentieth Century Experience, edited by Robert Freestone. London; New York; E& FN Spon, 2000. 98.
  10. Ibid.,. 110.
  11. Container 1. File 6. Letter to the Mayor of Montreal. Re: the Future of Mount Royal. December 11. 1961.
  12. Container 1. Box 8. The Future of Mount Royal. Address to the 70th Annual Meeting of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects at Lac Beauport. Han 27 1961.
  13. Container 1. File 5. 1966 Architectural Historians. 6.
  14. Container 1. File 6. Letter to the Mayor of Montreal. Re: the Future of Mount Royal. December 11. 1961.
  15. Wolfe and Strachan. Practical Idealism: Women in Urban Reform. 68.
  16. Container 1. File 6. Letter to the Mayor of Montreal. Re: the Future of Mount Royal. December 11. 1961.
  17. Wolfe and Strachan. Practical Idealism: Women in Urban Reform. 69.
  18. Nelson. “The Space of Africville: Creating, Regulating, and Remembering the Urban Slum.” 217.
  19. Container 1. File 8. The Future of Mount Royal. Address to the 70th Annual Meeting of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects at Lac Beauport. Jan 27 1961.
  20. Container 1. File 8. The Future of Mount Royal. Address to the 70th Annual Meeting of the Province of Quebec Association of Architects at Lac Beauport. Jan 27 1961.
  21. Container 1. File 6. Letter to the Mayor of Montreal. Re: the Future of Mount Royal. December 11. 1961.
  22. Wolfe and Strachan. Practical Idealism: Women in Urban Reform. 68.
  23. Ibid., 72.
  24. Ibid., 77.
  25. Selter. “Rethinking the Significance of the City Beautiful Idea “. 99.
  26. Container 1. File 25. Jan 16 1960.
  27. Ibid.
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