The origins of BEACONSFIELD
Being of particular strategic interest for defending not only Ville-Marie, but also the fur trade, it didn’t take long for the West Island of Montreal to become settled. The Sulpicians, seigneurs of the island of Montreal since 1663, endeavoured to profit from their lands by granting concessions along the lakeshore to noblemen, wealthy merchants and brave soldiers of the glorious Carignan-Salières regiment.
The first concession on the present-day territory of Beaconsfield was granted to Jean Guenet in 1678. A hatmaker by trade, Guenet was also controller of the King’s lands, and tax collector for the seigneurs of the Island of Montreal. Through these roles and his cordial relations with the Sulpicians, Guenet came to know the surrounding area, and sought out the best lands. He acquired a waterfront tract of land 4 arpents across by 20 arpents deep, which would become the birthplace of Beaconsfield. He named it Pointe de Beau Repaire (Beaurepaire). Today, this site is better known as Thompson Point. Guenet would go on to acquire other concessions in the west of the island, including part of the concession of Bellevue at Sainte-Anne, and another in Lachine. Other settlers joined him.
The Great Peace to the rescue of development
And yet, development in the West Island of Montreal was hindered by its vulnerability to attacks. Living outside the ramparts of Ville- Marie was in fact perilous because the hostility of Native tribes who were at war with the French posed a constant threat to the nascent efforts at colonization. Several French settlers were massacred in 1689 during an Iroquois raid on Lachine, bringing the region’s expansion to a halt for some time. The Great Peace of 1701 between the French and Natives revived colonization not only in the West Island, but everywhere outside of Ville-Marie. The West Island was finally able to grow.
Beaurepaire developed gradually throughout the 18th century.The arrival of the railway in the latter half of the 19th century gave new impetus to its expansion. In fact, the train allowed many wealthy families born of the Industrial Revolution to contemplate living the romantic ideal of the gentleman farmer. The vast lands in Beaurepaire and the surrounding area soon welcomed these well-to-do individuals, who built sumptuous homes on large estates. A second wave of wealthy settlers followed, populating Beaurepaire by building waterfront summer homes where they could escape the bustle of the city and enjoy the fresh air.
This changed Beaurepaire’s demographics somewhat during the second half of the 19th century. Following in the footsteps of several other towns, the 375 inhabitants of Beaurepaire found themselves residents of a brand-new town when Beaconsfield was incorporated on June 4, 1910. The inaugural town council meeting, chaired by Mayor Joseph-Léonide Perron, was held the following month in a modest school in the old village.
Joseph-Léonide Perron, Beaconsfield’s first mayor
Born on September 24, 1872 in Saint-Marc-sur- Richelieu, Joseph-Léonide Perron studied law at the Montreal branch of the Université Laval. He received his law degree in 1892 and was called to the bar in 1895.
He quickly became one of Montreal’s most respected lawyers. A prominent individual who had built strategic connections for his career, Perron entered politics in 1910 by becoming the first mayor of Beaconsfield, where he owned a summer home.
He remained mayor until 1916. Aware of the growing importance of automobiles, Perron went on to mark the town’s history with his determination to develop a quality network of roads. In 1912, the newspaper La Patrie praised Perron’s efforts by declaring that the town of Beaconsfield had one of the most beautiful roads in all of Quebec. And for good reason, reported the newspaper: the road had cost $7,000 a mile, while the average salary at the time in Quebec was only around $450 a year!
Perron’s political career quickly made the jump to the provincial level when he ran as the liberal candidate in Gaspé’s by-elections in 1910. Two years later, he was elected Member of Parliament in the riding of Verchères. A rising political star, Perron soon became an important cog in the Liberal machine. When Premier Lomer Gouin withdrew from politics in 1920, Perron was one of the most promising candidates to lead the party.
However, Gouin selected Louis-Alexandre Taschereau as his replacement. Taschereau went on to appoint Perron minister of roads in 1921, and six years later, minister of agriculture. Upon taking office, the reformist Perron proposed to put in place a program of agricultural self-sufficiency that emphasized new technologies, modern marketing, electrification of the countryside and the exportation of produce. While some applauded his proposals, conservatives were wary.
Buoyed by his successes, which had made him one of the most prominent politicians in the province, Perron remained focused on a bigger prize: that of party leader. His tumultuous relationship with Taschereau eventually evolved into a rivalry that would drive Perron to covet the position of premier.
In 1930, when all signs were indicating that Perron was poised to dethrone Taschereau and take over as party leader, an attack of angina pectoris brought his ambitions to a halt. His days were now counted. On November 20, 1930, at the age of 58, Joseph-Léonide Perron died of a heart attack.
From Beaurepaire to Beaconsfield
When Jean Guenet settled in the region in 1678, he called his first concession Beaurepaire. This French-sounding name would endure for nearly two hundred years. The name of Beaconsfield only first appeared in 1877, when John Henry Menzie named his farm and vineyard after his friend, politician and novelist Benjamin Disraeli, who was also the Earl of Beaconsfield and Prime Minister of England (1874-1880).
Given the changing demographics of the 19th century, during which many English-speaking people moved to or spent time in the region, it was not surprising that the town council chose this name in 1910 when the town was incorporated.