A History of the Westmount Historical Association

Doreen Lindsay
A History of the Westmount Historical Association

The City of Westmount has a population of 20,548 residents as of 2009 who reside within the 3.9 square kilometre area on the southwestern slopes of Mount Royal surrounded by the City of Montreal.

The Westmount Historical Association exists, “to obtain and classify all historical and similar material about the City of Westmount which might be available and useful,” for the understanding of the development of this city within a city. This was the mandate of the Westmount Historical Association when it was founded in 1944 and continues to guide our existence today.

The guiding light in this endeavour was Miss Alice Lighthall. She was the daughter of W. D. Lighthall, a past mayor of Westmount who was named Honorary President. He was an avid historian who empowered those around him to admire the past as a way of understanding the present. The new organization was born at the meeting of the Westmount Municipal Association on 24 February 1944. The first thing the WHA did was organize an exhibition. Today we continue to mount changing historical exhibitions in the Westmount Public Library. The WHA held meetings and called for maps, letters, and newspapers to be donated by residents. This was the genesis of the WHA archives, which has grown and developed over the years.

During the 1940s Miss Lighthall wrote a column in the local Westmount Examiner newspaper entitled “Know your Westmount”. By 1995 it was continued by Aline Gubbay with a few guest articles by Nancy Dunton. We appreciate these articles today and access them from our archives or the files in the Westmount Public Library. Since 2007 Doreen Lindsay has written historical articles under the title “Westmount today, Yesterday and Before” in the newer Westmount Independent newspaper. We have always worked with our local newspapers to provide informed articles to reach out to the residents of Westmount. In Expo year, 1967, Dr. Hélène Saly, the French specialist in Westmount High School, assigned a class project that developed into the first book to provide a history of Westmount. “Old Westmount “ inspired a new interest in the history of the city. In 1994 we named our archives in her honour: The Saly Heritage Collection. Building on this publication, two active historians from our organization, Aline Gubbay and Sally Hooff, undertook their own research and self-published their more comprehensive history of Westmount entitled “Montreal’s Little Mountain: A Portrait of Westmount” in 1979. Then, in 1998, Aline Gubbay wrote her own social history of Westmount entitled “A View of their own: The Story of Westmount”.

During the1980s Miss Lighthall was less active and the WHA slumped into inactivity, as many historical associations tend to do with the lack of a leader. After an eight-year lapse Aline Gubbay revived the Association in 1994. The first lecture series was planned with the title “Living with History”.

Fund-raising Ventures
Our first fund-raising venture was the self initiated project to print two posters, one of Westmount Windows and the other of Westmount Doors, undertaken in 1995. The posters have remained popular items ever since.
The second self-publishing venture was photographic gift cards. We printed cards featuring black and white photographs on the front and historical notes on the back. One image is the ever-popular 1739 Hurtubise Family Home, and the other is the 1927 Flower Conservatory. People are pleased to purchase these photographic mementos of their city at our lectures or at Westmount Family day.

Collaboration with City of Westmount and City of Montreal - Historical Walks

The Westmount Historical collaborates with the City of Westmount and the City of Montreal in organizing historical walks within Westmount. We designed and conducted a very successful guided tour of the Hurtubise Family home; the buildings by local architect Robert Findlay; and more recently have given walks along the original Côte St. Antoine Road. For the past two years we have collaborated with the directors of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame to develop historical walks through their original Mother Houses, which have been converted, into Marianopolis College and Dawson College.

1899 Westmount Public Library.jpgLecture Series held in the Westmount Public Library
The Westmount Public Library provides their prestigious Robert Findlay-designed Westmount Room for our Lecture Series. An average of sixty-five people, members and friends, attend each lecture. Since December of 1996, Doreen Lindsay and Caroline Breslaw have researched and organized two series of four thematic lectures per year.

The Westmount Historian
The first issue of the newsletter of the Westmount Historical Association was printed in the fall of 1995 and included a brief history of the Association, and a review of the first lecture series. The name was changed to The Westmount Historian in 2000. Since September 2004 each newsletter is based on the theme of the previous lecture series so that the information is preserved and mailed to all members and available to other interested people.

WHA archives

WHA archives have always been an important element of our Association. In the beginning they were housed in the tower of the Westmount Library and maintained by Dr. Hélène Saly. During renovations to the Library our archives were temporarily housed in spaces in Victoria Hall and on St Catherine Street. In 1995 a card cataloguing system was started, and a year later we moved into a basement room in the Westmount Public Library. Our archivists, Philip Dombowski and then Barbara Covington have since been cataloguing our books, maps and photographs. New residents buying or renting in this historical neighbourhood look to us for information about their homes and streets.

As more and more people wanted to access information via computers, we developed a web site in 1999. People can read about the history of Westmount, find out what our holdings are, discover our upcoming Lecture Series and download the membership form to join our association.

Today we have 132 members who pay $20 each per year or $30 for a family. Membership includes free access to eight lectures and our bi-yearly Newsletter, plus the privilege of borrowing books from our collection. For more information, see http://www.westmounthistorical.org/.

Doreen Lindsay, President
Westmount Historical Association.
4 March 2010