little burgundy

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In 1887, Sainte-Cunegonde (now familiarly referred to as Little Burgundy) started playing host to the majority of Montreal’s black community.  This working class neighbourhood generated as a result of nearby industry along the Lachine Canal.  Important railway lines also ran close to the municipality and recruited the American black community to serve as porters on its trains.  Immigrants were mostly attracted from New York and Washington (p.10).


Gradually, the neighbourhood welcomed Afro-Canadians (from Ontario and the Maritimes) and those from the Caribbean, too.  Women were mostly hired to perform domestic work.  After two waves of immigration - at the end of the nineteenth century and during the First World War - Caribbeans represented close to 40% of Montreal’s black community and most of them chose to live in Little Burgundy (p.11).


Human rights’ movements characterize the history of Little Burgundy.  In 1902, a social club was founded to create a sense of mutual responsibility between its members; this Women’s Coloured Club of Montreal helped to resolve lodging problems and encouraged exchange and donation to provide for those less fortunate.  Betterment of social conditions again spawned two other groups: Union United Congrational Church in 1907 and Negro Community Center in 1927.  In 1919, a final organization, Universal Negro Improvement Association, adopted the mandate of restoring dignity, ending social isolation, and helping with the material needs of families.  People came to this area in hopes of a better future and yet had to be patient for three decades before certain rights were guaranteed.  The general misery of factory work, the poor working and living conditions and the poverty affected the black community more given very present racism and discrimination (p.11).


Fortunately, those social groups and the subsequent closeness of the community overcame the threat of overwhelming hopelessness.  Instead, their hope was often manifested in the form of music.  Jazz was introduced to Canada through the influence of gospel singing and the importance of native songs to the Afro-Americans.  Fellow citizens and tourists were invited to discover jazz in the theatres and the night clubs, from Beacon Grill to Terminal Club, that grew up at the beginning of the twentieth century (p.15). 


Oscar Peterson, the most successful pianist in Canadian music history, was raised in Little Burgundy.  His father worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad.  By the age of twenty, Peterson could be seen performing in many big band concerts, including Benny Goodman’s.  The most popular bars were along Saint-Antoine Street, and Peterson also shared these stages with fellow Montrealers Oliver Jones and Charles Biddle, and famed Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis Junior.  Up until the 1950s, visitors had an opportunity to see great musical variety at Rockhead’s Paradise, Club Saint-Michel and El Moroco (p.15).


More recently, during the 1980s, Little Burgundy underwent gentrification.  The City of Montreal pursued a residential renewal of the area; mostly single-family homes and condominiums were built to attract wealthier, more educated, and ethnically-varied residents (p.28).


CLSC Saint-Henri.  Portrait de Quartier du Territoire Desservi par le CLSC.  Montreal: Les Publicités A. Campeau Ltées, 1999.



View of the Lachine Canal from the south shore 1882

South-West Montreal 1875

Atwater Market - the border between Saint-Henri

and Little Burgundy

Oscar Peterson in concert at Victoria Hall 1947