Golden Square Mile
The Square Mile and also known as the Golden Square Mile is the nostalgic name given to an urban neighbourhood developed principally between 1850 and 1930 at the foot of Mount-Royal, in the west-central section of Downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The name “Square Mile” has been used to refer to the area since the 1930s; prior to that, the neighborhood was known as ‘New Town’ or ‘Uptown’. The addition of ‘Golden’ was coined by Montreal journalist Charlie Lazarus, and the name has connections to contemporary real-estate developments, as the historical delimitations of the Golden Square Mile overlap with Montreal’s contemporary central business district.
From the 1790s, the business leaders of Montreal looked beyond Old Montreal for spacious sites upon which to build their country homes. They developed the farmland of the slopes of Mount-Royal north of Sherbrooke Street, creating a neighborhood notorious for its grandeur and architectural audacity. At the Square Mile’s peak (1850-1930), its residents included the owners and operators of the majority of Canadian rail, shipping, timber, mining, fur and banking industries. From about 1870 to 1900, 70% of all wealth in Canada was held by this small group of approximately fifty men.
By the 1930s, multiple factors led to the neighborhood’s decline, including the Great Depression, the dawn of the automobile, the demand for more heat-efficient houses, and the younger generations of the families that had built these homes largely moved to Westmount.] During the Quiet Revolution, some of the businesses created in Montreal, on whose fortunes the Square Mile had been built, moved to Toronto. In this period, the Square Mile evolved to gradually become the central business district, and many of grand houses were demolished. The face of the Square Mile was altered, leading to the formation of Heritage Montreal to preserve architecture in the city.
By 1983, only 30% of the mansions in the northern half of the Square Mile had survived demolition; and only 5% survived south of Sherbrooke Street. Many of the remaining mansions, such as the James Ross House, today known as Chancellor Day Hall, are today owned by McGill University. Nevertheless, the mansions of the Golden Square Mile represent a prosperous period during which Montreal was the cultural and financial capital of Canada.
First established during the late 18th century as a peaceful homestead within reach of the Old Port, then considered “downtown”, the area owes its iconic Victorian mansions and commercial edifices to the 1850s, when it became the seat of Montréal’s impressive wealth. Some say 80% of Canada’s wealth was concentrated in the Golden Square Mile at the turn of the 20th century! The area’s inhabitants were Montréal’s most famous families – captains of industry mostly of Scottish descent – including the McGills (oMcGill University), the Stephens (see Le Mount Stephen Hotel), the Allans (of the Allan Memorial Institute) and the Baggs.
Today, the Golden Square Mile glints with a different set of offerings: it has become central to the excitement of downtown, mixing historic charm with cultural gems and tony tourist attractions.
As the centre of Canada’s second-largest city, Ville Marie is a bustling, cosmopolitan area with internationally-renowned universities and corporate headquartersis situated on the southernmost slope of Mount Royal. Consequently, the population swells by day. The western half of Ville Marie is lined with skyscrapers, while the eastern portion, which technically includes the Latin Quarter, the Village, and Old Montreal (neighbourhoods in their own right, in reality), has more of a community vibe. Downtown Montreal is also home to the main campuses of McGill University and UQUAM and Concordia University.
The Old Port of Montreal was the site of the original city of Montreal, which dates to the 17th century. Today it makes up the historic district of Old Montreal (Vieux Montréal). The picturesque, pedestrianized streets and river banks teem with tourists, especially in summer, as they amble between souvenir shops and the many beautiful old buildings, including the almost 200 year-old Notre-Dame Basilica. With all this history, beauty, culture, and architecture, rent can be expensive and family amenities few and far between. Of all the Montreal neighbourhoods, Old Montreal is more suited to young professionals than families.
Sometimes known as Milton Park, after two streets that form part of the neighbourhood, the McGill Ghetto is not a ghetto in the popular sense of the term. Rather, this small area between the Plateau and McGill university is the habitat of choice for students of McGill University.
A wonderful location means that within 15 minutes’ walk residents could be hanging out on St-Laurent, at an outdoor show at Place des Spectacles, in a bar downtown, up the mountain or, of course, in class. There is fierce competition for housing in the McGill Ghetto, as students try to get a place before classes start in September. Those renters, however, often disappear for the summer and sublet their rooms at knock-down rates, so if you’re coming to Montreal just for a summer, you would be well advised to look for a place around here.
The Village, also known as The Gay Village, is home to Montreal’s active LGBT communities. Originally identified as one of the more working-class Montreal neighbourhoods, the Village became increasingly gentrified as more gay-friendly businesses moved into the area. Village residents come from all walks of life and an array of sexual orientations.
Each summer, the section of St-Catherine Street that goes through the Village closes to traffic and decorative bunting stretches across the street, which becomes an outdoor mall. This is when the Village truly takes on a life all of its own.