The Golden Square Mile

MRS. SYBIL BOLTON was an editor of The Montrealer in it’s early days. She looks back at the era of THE GOLDEN SQUARE MILE

“Seventy percent of the wealth of Canada,” said Alvah Beatty, “is owned by 25,000 people who live within an area of one square mile in Montreal. If you can reach them, you needn’t bother about the rest.”

The Montrealer, which aimed to do just this, happily ignored the existence of 700,000 French Canadians living east of St. Lawrence Boulevard, 100,000 Jewish people living between Bleury and St. Lawrence, the wealthy French-speaking suburb of Outremont and the English speaking suburbs of Notre Dame de Grace and Verdun, not to mention little ethnic pockets such as the Chinese on Lagauchetière and the 500 Negroes on St. Antoine Street most of whom were employed by the two great railways.

At the apex of the sacred Square Mile there was Ravenscrag. It is now the Neurological Institute but it was then the home of Sir Montagu Allan and it was here that his daughter, Martha, bent on founding a repertory theatre in Montreal, entertained Sir Barry Jackson, founder of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

It was a scene of baronial splendour—Martha behind an enormous silver tea service, and a liveried footman bringing in pâté de foie gras sandwiches on more silver. A repertory theatre seemed a more urgent need then than it does now. There was no television, no CBC even.

…The CNR was Sir Henry Thornton, who looked liked a Viking. The CPR was Sir Edward Beatty— until his heart broke in the depression. The Bank of Montreal was Sir Vincent Meredith and Sir Frederick Williams Taylor whose faces appeared on all the dollar bills issued by the B. of M.

Sir Charles Gordon was the Royal Bank of Canada; and Sir Herbert Holt was Montreal Light, Heat and Power; McGill University was Sir Arthur Currie, his chest ablaze with medals from the first World War. The Sun Life was T.B. Macaulay, who had his own private band of Scottish pipers, and The Montreal Star (if you except Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Thomson) was Canada’s first and only press baron, rosy-cheeked little Lord Atholstan who counted his millions as carefully as he once counted the cents. He was my employer and I was happy to supplement my meagre earnings with free-lance writing for The Montrealer, which led in turn to my becoming its editor. Had I known it at the time, I was jumping out of the frying pan into the fire when I sat myself down in the editorial chair of the magazine with roseate dreams of making it into another New Yorker.

Source: Sybil Bolton, "The Golden Square Mile," The Montrealer, May 31, 1966. Notes: VOL. 40, NO. 5, PGS, 35-39. Excerpt from PGS, 35-36

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