Monday, November 14, 2016

Montreal Vice and Corruption and My Grandfather

I never have liked this time of year. You look at the clock, thinking it's about 8.30 at night and it's only 5.25.

And this year, November 2016 is especially crappy. No kidding!  Gosh, I have this sickening sinking feeling in my stomach all the time.

So, what to do? Breath, for one. Then start on another writing project. What else?

So I don't have to read the headlines for the next long while.

I found this photo in an old archived Quebec newspaper: now I just have to describe the architecture. It looks Romanesque. But, is this room in the Old Courthouse from the 1800's or the new one  completed in 1925... I guess the really old one.

There's a newer courthouse now, all black windows and modern. I must figure out where the old one was.

It's of the opening of the Coderre Commission into Police Impropriety, October 1924.

During WWI, a group of Montreal social reformers got very concerned about prostitution around the barracks and that interest led to a post-war inquiry into Montreal vice.

The inquiry lasted a few months, cost many thousands, spawned 10 thousand pages of testimony and the final Coderre Report, published in early 1926, condemned Montreal as a place where vice had its tentacles in every corner of the city, but didn't end up changing much. 

Oh, they pulled back the hour of closing for dance halls by one hour from 1 to 12 am. Woo Hoo!

I've written about it in Milk and Water, my play on Amazon Kindle.  Milk and Water has my grandfather, Jules Crepeau as a character and so will this next bit. He was Director of City Services and embroiled in many scandals at the time. 

Grandpapa's name was brought up at this Commission by a certain Constable Trudeau, who appears to have been a real character, with an agenda.

Trudeau hated movie houses where boys, he thought, picked up bad habits, and while on the stand he was the one who changed the conversation about coal sellers ripping off their customers to the motion picture houses. He said citations against said entertainment venues that broke the by-laws were often cancelled by my grandfather. 

He also said something rather scary, "One day there's going to be a catastrophe. One day there's gonna be a fire and children won't be able to escape." (Paraphrased.)

Then, my grandfather fired him, before the Commission had come to a close.  Then a couple of years later there was a terrible fire where 72 children died, crushed in a rush to the door.

(Some accounts said mysterious men forced escaping children back up into the balcony.)

But, today, I'm starting on a larger, scarier venture. I'm going to write about the Laurier Palace Fire - and it all starts here, for me, with Trudeau's bizarre testimony fingering my grandfather for over-reaching his power.

Luckily the proceedings were well-described by the Quebec papers and this picture, from a French tabloid shows me exactly what Room 24 of the Palais de Justice in Montreal looked like in 1924.

All men in the picture and I can guess who they are. They are representatives of the Group of 16, churchmen and Rotary Club, Montreal General Hospital.  Mostly Englishmen, if not all English.  

Dr. Haywood Sir  Herbert Ames. Reverend Symonds.

The Group of 16 had initially had some radical women on it, but they got shaken off around 1920.

Like I said, Trudeau appears to be quite a pill. He's a lowly Constable but he's lent the Chief of Police 600 dollars.  He's someone's operative, that's for sure.