The Lost Families of Stratherrick, Strathnairn, and Dunmaglass,
Printed with the Permission of it's author, Alan Hustak, The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec
Published, Sunday, October 28, 2007
Halloween approaches - as good a time as any to resurrect the memory of Simon McTavish, the fur trader whose ghost is said to haunt the blustery slopes of Mount Royal below the chalet. McTavish made his fortune during the second half of the 18th century as head of the North West Company. He was Montreal's richest man when when he died in 1804 at the age of 54. He was buried on the slope of the mountain on the grounds of his mansion which was still under construction. The mansion McTavish was building when he died was torn down in 1839 and in the 1870s his mausoleum was covered with earth to protect it from grave robbers.
Next year the city plans to spend $4 million to develop a downtown gateway to Mount Royal Park leading from Peel St. up the mountain past the grave. Heritage activists and history buffs say the memory of McTavish should be included in any new landscaping proposal. In his book, British America, published in 1820, John McGregor, writes about the original grave site which had been marked with a pillar as a "retired and beautiful spot, a pretty path winds among the trees. McTavish used frequently to sit for hours reading on this spot, where, on his death bed, he requested to be buried." A small cairn erected in 1942 marks the site, but does little to explain how important McTavish was to the neighbourhood.
As part of the proposed redevelopment scheme, details of which are expected to be made public next month, actor and cultural Donavan King wants the city to mark the footprint of the McTavish mansion, restore the monument that once marked the McTavish mausoleum and put up interpretive panels explaining the historic significance of the site. "There are human remains up there in the woods, and McTavish was a fascinating part of the city's history," said King. "His castle was once up there. When it was being demolished, a worker fell three storeys to his death. It was said to be an act of vengeance by McTavish who didn't want his castle dismantled. That's a colourful part of our heritage that's no longer there, a ghostly setting. There should be a reminder of McTavish and the power dynamics of his day," King added. His original house in Old Montreal which still stands on St. Jean Baptiste St. next to a non-descript hotel is unmarked. A downtown street commemorates the McTavish name, and from time to time his ghost has been sighted prowling the site of his long demolished castle or sliding down the hill on a toboggan.
"Right now, the McTavish memorial on the mountain is quite banal," said Heritage Montreal's Dinu Bumbaru. "It was a private burial ground, so you have to wonder why we let it go to seed," Bumnaru said. Any scheme to restore the gravesite has to be done in the context of "a consistent vision that tells the story of one of the world's great parks, Bumbaru added "There is room for a much more respectful monument, and something to explain it," he said. "But as for unearthing the footprint of the McTavish castle, an archeological dig would add more confusion to what is supposed to be a gateway to the park. It might be too much."