Hochelaga was once one of Canada’s most prosperous municipalities; in the early part of the 20th century, it was the fifth most industrialized city in the country.
The municipal government of the time displayed extraordinary largesse in its efforts to attract industries to its territory, granting generous tax exemptions and financial assistance that resulted in a mushrooming of factories in the area.
By way of example, from 1898 to 1903, a dozen shoe companies set up shop in Hochelaga. In addition to footwear, the main areas of activity that benefited from the city’s benevolence were the textiles, leather, metalwork and food-processing industries. The American giant Johnson & Johnson opened the first subsidiary in its history there.
But broadsided by the recession that followed the First World War (1914-1918), Hochelaga declared bankruptcy and was annexed to Montreal in 1918.
The annexation had no impact on the industrial life of the neighbourhood, which was inhabited at the time by 35,000 people, mostly labourers, many of whom were immigrants. They worked at the Canadian Vickers shipyard, the Viau cookie factory, the St. Lawrence Sugar refinery, the Watson, Foster wallpaper factory and the Hershey Chocolate factory, to name just a few.
But industrial activity gradually ran out of steam as a result of the coup de grâce delivered by the economic turmoil of the 1980s. The neighbourhood fell into decline but slowly began to revive at the turn of the millennium as the area underwent a major transformation. Factories that had been stripped of their souls were reborn as gorgeous condos, office buildings, artists’ studios and shops.
Not to be left out, the Olympic district, dominated by the celebrated stadium and its iconic inclined tower—the highest of its kind in the world—was developed into a popular recreational centre.
To revisit the history of Hochelaga, you can take a guided bus tour organized by the Château Dufresne museum.