200 years of the Chamber of Commerce | Behind the room door, anonymous stories

In its two centuries of existence, the Metropolitan Montreal Board of Trade has made astounding accomplishments and seen surprising concerns. Here we recount some of these little-known landmarks.


The Napoleonic Wars had repercussions as far away as Montreal, in the form of a strong and persistent economic depression.

Waterloo was seven years old when, on April 11, 1822, a group of Montreal businessmen, interested in this crisis, met to form Trade Commission Commercial committee.

PHOTO MARTIN TREMBLAY, PRESS

Michel LeBlanc, President of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce

“At that time, they were English and Scottish merchants,” describes Michel LeBlanc, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Montreal Board of Trade. They are 54 men. »

This committee was headed by Thomas Blackwood, a merchant of Scottish descent.

Then the population of the city was about 22,000 (22,540 in the 1825 census). Metropolitan Montreal now has more than 200 times, and the Metropolitan Montreal Chamber of Commerce celebrated its founding 200 times.e Anniversary.

Trade with the British Empire and the efficiency of the port through which it entered and exited were high on the priority list of the committee, which soon took the name of the Montreal Board of Trade.

We wed along the sidewalks

In 1830, the Commission of Ports was created at the instigation of the Montreal Board of Trade to build docks and urge the government to dredge the river to facilitate the passage of ships whose tonnage was ever increasing.

Two years later, in 1832, the first permanent wharves stretched over a kilometer, allowing Montreal merchants to speed up the export of grain, foodstuffs, and manufactured goods.

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Dredging between Quebec and Montreal for a canal 4.8 meters deep and 76.2 meters wide was completed in 1854, after four years of work.

“There is something symbolic of today’s reality,” argues Michel LeBlanc. Indeed, the first concern of the Chamber of Commerce is to communicate with the rest of the world for business activities and information exchange. »

French speaking room

In 1887, Joseph-Xavier Perrault, an agronomist by trade, persuaded a group of French-Canadian businessmen to found the Montreal Provincial Chamber of Commerce, which brought together 135 merchants.

It is the creation of a French speaking equivalent [du Montreal Board of Trade], if one wanted to. It testifies to the mobilization of the Francophone community, which wanted to have its own institution.

Michel LeBlanc, President and CEO of the Council of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

The organization wants to improve the metropolitan area’s rail network, but it also cares about culture.

Photo archive press

Joseph-Xavier Perrault (1838-1905) is considered the “father” of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce

The following year, the fledgling organization supported the Society of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, of which Joseph-Xavier Perrault was a member, for its project to build a cultural centre. Monument-National opened in 1893 and now houses the National Theater School of Canada.

High school at the bottom of the hill

The new Chamber of Commerce immediately embarked on another project that would have some ramifications: in 1892 it proposed the creation of an institution of higher education that would train French speakers in management and commerce.

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The École des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Canada’s first university management institution, was founded in 1907. It will occupy a magnificent Beaux-Arts building, at the corner of Viger and Saint-Hubert Streets, which was completed in 1910. The building now houses the National Archives.

This already testifies, between 1887 and 1907, to this interest in talent and training. They wanted to have French-speaking CEOs as equipped as possible, and as competent as possible, in the dynamism of entrepreneurship and management.

Michel LeBlanc, President and CEO of the Council of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

He adds: “So far, we are still appointing two directors to the board of directors of HEC Montréal.”

Image provided by the British Library, public domain

Architectural rendering of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, 1909

Rails, but not just anywhere

“We were also precursors, in quotation marks, of interest in urban planning and the environment,” says the president of the Metropolitan Montreal Board of Trade. “Sometimes it can be paradoxical.”

The irony is that some Montreal businessmen once opposed the laying of the rails.

He said that the Montreal Board of Trade had protested in 1902 the construction of a streetcar that would have crossed Mount Royal Park, dividing it in two. “At the time, it was an obvious conservation concern for the park,” he says.

Perhaps it was to prevent such ditches in the urban landscape that in 1906 the body recommended the construction of an underground urban railway. In other words, subways like Paris, London and New York already had it.

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The president insists: “We are talking about 1906, not 1967. For the first time, the Board of Trade, together with the business community, is saying that Montreal is a modern city and must, like the great cities, equip itself with a metro system. It took 61 years to get there »

local manufacturing

Fears that we think of as contemporary often have distant roots.

“In 1925, the Chamber launched the Made in Canada initiative,” explains Michel LeBlanc. In 1925! This is clearly part of the logic of buying locally. Then it comes to the question of distinguishing products manufactured in Canada from those manufactured abroad, particularly in the United States and Great Britain. »

Fusion

The Montreal Council of Commerce and the Montreal County Chamber of Commerce teamed up in 1992 to form the Greater Montreal Chamber of Commerce.

This is the third attempt to bring the two business communities together. It wasn’t so much language that derailed the first two attempts as tradition.

At that time, the Montreal County Chamber of Commerce had a lot of activities and demanded membership fees. Its business model pays for itself and is balanced. But she does not have any historical talent, that is, she has not accumulated excess.

Michel LeBlanc, President and CEO of the Council of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

Conversely, the Board of Trade has built up a strong reserve since its inception, drawing from it to claim a nominal membership fee and hold its events free of charge. “It is an entity that suffers from a deficit year after year. »

For a long time the two visions seemed irreconcilable in the eyes of their boards of directors, until “pragmatism leads everyone to say to themselves: OK, we’ll get together.”

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