From Horses to Cars

Tuesday, June 04 2019

Fire Station #1, 1909 Credit: WHA archives

A century ago, most Westmounters travelled by horse, streetcar or train. Tradesmen delivered their milk, bread, and other goods by horse and cart. Many residences on large lots had coach houses for horses, carriages, and sleighs. Horses were also housed in local livery stables. The City of Westmount had its own stables in the Public Works yards, and Fire Station #1 on Stanton Street accommodated horse-drawn fire engines. Horse troughs for water were found around the city.

Following the First World War, as more Westmount families acquired automobiles, parking became a problem. Very few homes or apartment buildings of the period had garages. The lots of most rowhouses and semi-detached homes in lower and middle Westmount had no space for parking, and the city did not permit overnight street parking. Many carriage houses were converted into garages, some with upstairs apartments replacing the former staff living quarters.

For residents living below Côte St. Antoine Road, multi-storey neighbourhood parking garages offered a solution. The owner telephoned the garage when the car was needed, and a driver brought it to the house. Two former parking garage buildings still survive—376 Victoria Avenue (today’s Victoria Park) and 1-3 Hillside Avenue (the former Hillside Armoury). Cliffside Garage at 27 St. Catherine Street operated from about 1914 until the 1970s, when Place Kensington was built on the large site. This garage had a 3-wheeled Harley Davidson motorbike, which was hooked behind the car, so the employee could return to the garage quickly. Nearby Mount Royal Riding Academy and Stables at 1-3 Hillside Avenue housed the Grant Garage from 1919 until 1921 when the armoury took over the premises. The Victoria Avenue Garage was located above a car dealership and operated from the 1930s into the 1970s.

Former parking garage at 376 Victoria Avenue, 2019 Credit: Patrick Martin

As more residents acquired cars after World War II, street parking regulations evolved. Paved parking aprons gradually replaced many front lawns and gardens, as street parking became limited. Nowadays, new parking aprons are not permitted, although red Westmount parking permits allow overnight street parking for residents on an annual basis. Except for some commercial facilities, large public parking garages no longer exist here. There are few parking lots. Today the shortage of street and indoor parking remains an issue, both for residents and visitors. As in the past, public transportation continues to link Westmount to other parts of the city.

You can find information on Westmount carriage houses on the Westmount Historical Association website

Caroline Breslaw