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A Brief History of Greenfield Park

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To get an appreciation of Greenfield Park today, it is necessary to look back nearly one hundred years to 1911, the year the municipality was founded. At that time all the land was either used for agriculture, abandoned or overgrown with bush. Montreal, only five miles away across the St. Lawrence River, was booming. Immigrants were hoping for better than the when they arrived in Canada, often from crowded British cities, but they frequently ended up settling in poor, polluted and cramped industrial neighbourhoods like Pointe St. Charles and Griffintown.

larger_GPK Streetcar Chur & Hub. c'45.jpgSome of the earliest English settlers in what is now Greenfield Park purchased land for summer use only, to allow their children to breathe fresh air at least part of the year. When the Montreal and Southern Counties Railway, an electric tram service, was extended to Greenfield Park in 1912, a further influx of settlers bought land for permanent houses. Most preferred to buy land close to the tram so they could easily catch a train and be in Montreal in fifteen minutes. It was inexpensive relative to other nearby areas, and large lots allowed them to save money by growing their own vegetables.

Greenfield Park FloodsNever advertised by the vendors were the problems caused by the three creeks that crossed "The Park", as the municipality is affectionately known by its inhabitants. During the spring thaw, ice jams brought on flooding that caused houses to become little islands in the middle of huge lakes. Municipal workers struggled valiantly to get the water flowing again, but it was a battle that had to be repeated daily until the weather warmed. Then it might take weeks for the muddy roads to be passable without 'billy boots'.

Everyone worked in the city except about six or seven intrepid entrepreneurs who set up small stores to service the local population. If you wanted something out of the ordinary you bought it in Montreal or travelled by tram to St. Lambert. This remained the same for nearly fifty years, even though municipal employees offered cheap land and low taxes to anyone who wanted to set up some sort of industry.

In the 1920s virtually every family had one or two members born in Britain, Ireland or Scotland. The town was extremely patriotic toward the Empire. Many claim that Greenfield Park, by percentage of population, sent the highest number of men to enlist in the services of any town in Canada in both World Wars.

larger_GPK 5 Mile Rd. Race 3 Chur.1922.jpgOne thing that is often overlooked is the civic spirit of the community. Civic leaders organized a Dominion Day “Fete” on July 1st that was the place to be for anyone on the South Shore, from 1912 right into the 1940s. Its Five Mile Road Race was considered the Championship of Canada. Free ice cream was given out to each child in the community, a real treat, particularly during the Great Depression.

In its earliest years sports and recreation were encouraged for both boys and girls. In 1930 a girls' softball team, the Greenfield Park Cardinals, was one of the best teams in Montreal's Major Ladies Softball League. Over the decades Park teams dominated South Shore Leagues, even though they were often competing against towns with three times its population. The love of sports in the town has continued to this day.

In the early days almost everyone was poor, but every family was willing to share with neighbours so that all could get by. There are many cases of families giving coal or food to a destitute family without ever expecting to have it returned. This spirit continued into the 1950s with an organization called the Sunshine Girls, who did all they could to make life better for those who had little or had health problems. The volunteer Fire Department is another example of "Parkers" working to help their neighbours. It continues today with organizations like Meals on Wheels and the Greenfield Park Christmas Baskets. Volunteerism is something that has always set Greenfield Park apart from other communities.

In 1932 Taschereau Blvd. was built as part of an improvement to Quebec's highway system. It became in essence the ring road of the South Shore. The vision of Mayor Lawrence Galletti in the mid 1950s led to the building of a large shopping complex on that road. People from neighbouring communities flocked to Greenfield Park to do their shopping. Commensurate with this commercial development and the building of Charles LeMoyne Hospital, new streets were opened up year-by-year, offering hundreds of low cost bungalows. As other nearby communities like Brossard began developing with the construction of Champlain Bridge, the commercial development on Taschereau moved south with it. This tended to leave "The Park" behind, as almost all of its land had been developed. The same thing is now happening to businesses in Brossard as new commercial developments are opened along a second South Shore ring road, Autoroute 30.

In the 1950s the population was 85% English, but starting in the 1960s, when new housing developments sprung up, the percentage of Francophones gradually increased to about 40%. With the FLQ crisis and the election of the Parti Québecois in the 1970s, Anglophones began leaving for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta in droves. One reason was the poor teaching of French in schools and another was that many Anglophones saw that their poor French skills would prevent them advancement at work. So they pulled up stakes and headed west. But each left with a heavy heart and a love of Greenfield Park that has still not disappeared. Even though Greenfield Park is now a Borough of Longueuil (a majority of "Parkers" recently voted to demerge from Longueuil, but not enough citizens showed up to vote on that day, so the town lost its chance), there will still be a Centennial Celebration in 2011 that will bring back hundreds of ex-"Parkers" to the town they still call home, even though they may have lived elsewhere for 35 years.

Now the English population is about 35% and Anglophones and Francophones get along better than ever before. This may be due to the French Immersion programs that have enabled most younger Anglophones to become fluent in French, and not be fearful, like their grandparents, to strike up a conversation with a French-speaking neighbour.

Although the town has few buildings of historical note and the English speaking population is less than half what it once was, we of the Greenfield Park Historical Society wanted to make sure that the struggles of the early inhabitants are remembered. That is why we have written two books and created two videos to preserve that valuable history.

John Riley, President
Greenfield Park Historical Society