A postcard featuring a colourized photograph of Dominion Square from the tower of Windsor Station, circa 1907. In this view we see, from left to right: Windsor Station (towards the bottom-left corner), Saint George’s Anglican Cathedral, the Windsor Hotel, the crest of Mount Royal with McGill and the mixed commercial and middle & upper-class residential area near the centre point. The red brick building is the city’s first YMCA, built in the early-mid 1850s, and adjacent to the Knox Presbyterian Cathedral (both buildings would be demolished by 1913 for the development of the Sun Life Building). Finally, occupying most of the right side of the photo, Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.
Consider that back then, the square would have been exceptionally important for all Montrealers. Imagine standing there facing South, looking towards the industry of Griffintown and Goose Village and the rail stations closer to the square. To the West and Northwest, the newest portion of the Square Mile, featuring many large homes on low-density plots, in addition to many protestant churches, since demolished. To the North, the retail district, McGill University and the homes of the urban middle class while to the East the commercial and mercantile centre. All these forces and contributing factors would have found common ground and a necessity to use this crucial urban focal point. Railway stations, churches and social institutions, a luxury hotel and the Bishop’s Palace, all occupying the same space. In time, Dorchester Square would become the new corporate ‘front yard’ of the city.
Note the tram line along Peel going up towards what was then Dorchester Boulevard, and how the southern end of Dominion Square is almost totally bare when compared to the thickets of trees that now define the more ‘rustic’ Place du Canada. Also, consider the layout of walkways, as they lead from all sides and corners towards an elegant centre. There would have been about a dozen churches and cathedrals within eyesight of the square back then, though remarkably few benches for a place so much foot traffic. Some things never change, though by the look of things, the city’s planning a fountain for the southern end – something we’re sorely missing in this city. Judge for yourself: