Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Abner Bagg House

Abner Bagg House, Montreal

The grey stone building at the corner of King and William Streets in the Griffintown neighbourhood of Montreal has had many owners and vocations in its 200-year history, but it retains the name of its first owner, merchant Abner Bagg (1790-1852).

Born in Massachusetts, Abner came to Canada as a child. When he was in his early twenties, he went into business as a hat importer and manufacturer. His business was successful, and in 1819 he bought a large, empty lot in what was then known as the Ste. Anne suburb of Montreal, just west of the city core.

The house, completed in 1821, was built in a neoclassical style that originated in England and was popular in Montreal until the 1850s. In 1822, Abner attached a three-storey warehouse to the family residence and, although the warehouse has a more utilitarian appearance than the house, the two blended together successfully.

Abner ran into serious financial difficulties in the mid-1820s. He managed to hang onto the house for several years, but sold it around 1835. By 1841, he had sold the rest of the property.

The second owner of the house, grocer Orlin Bostwick, added a second warehouse to the complex. He sold the property to brewer William Dow in 1844.  Dow rented it to an innkeeper in 1850 and it was used for officers of the British Army until 1865.

In 1991, the Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural de Montréal (an organization established to preserve the city’s heritage buildings) purchased the property and restored the house. The following year, the city hired archaeologists to study the site. Today the building houses offices.

The Bagg house was typical of the early 19th century in that residences were adjacent to workplaces.  Buildings often had stores or workshops on the ground floor while the family lived upstairs, although in Abner’s case, the residence and the warehouse were side by side.

Commercial activities were expanding rapidly in that neighbourhood when Abner and his family lived there. The fortifications that had surrounded the city for more than a century had been torn down in 1817, and small businesses, which had previously been concentrated inside those walls, were spreading to the suburbs. Abner was always looking for fresh business and investment opportunities, and the fact that the area was growing was likely one of its attractions for him.

But there was a major drawback to the site: Abner’s house was built in a swampy area that flooded every spring, so the builder had to build up the soil with landfill before starting construction. In addition, the house was very close to the Saint Pierre River, a small waterway that was used as a sewer. Eventually, the river disappeared underground, but not before Abner and his family had left the neighbourhood.

Photo credit: Harold Rosenberg

Related article: Abner Bagg: Black Sheep of the Family? http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/04/abner-bagg-black-sheep-of-family.html

Sources
Ethnotech Inc. La maison Bagg, inventaire archéologique au site BiFj-32, 1992. Québec, Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, 1994.

"Maison Abner-Bagg - Grand répertoire du patrimoine bâti de Montréal." Maison Abner-Bagg. Accessed 30 Apr. 2015. http://patrimoine.ville.montreal.qc.ca/inventaire/fiche_bat.php?arrondissement=1&batiment=oui&lignes=2&id_bat=0039-36-1850-01&debut=190



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