Monday, June 19, 2017

Why did Camillien Houde Hate My Grandfather?

Well, how cool.

In celebration of Montreal's 375th, Le Nouveau Theatre Expérimentale  is putting on a play about Camillien Houde, People's Mayor of Montreal from 1928 to 1950 something.  The play will run August 22, 2017 to September 2.

The play is called Camillien Houde: Le p'tit gars de Ste Marie, the same title as a 1961 bio by Hertel LaRoque.

Camillien Houde is the famously 'colourful' Mayor of Montreal who forced my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, to resign his big post back in 1930.  Grandpapa, a 42 year veteran of City Hall, was Director of City Services.

At a fiery 1930 debate at Montreal City Hall between Houdists and the Leon Trepanier faction, Houde said, "The people want revenge for the Montreal Water and Power Deal, the typhoid and the Laurier Palace Fire."

It's all so very strange.  My grandfather had never been accused in public of having anything to do with the horrible fire.

I'm plunging into my next project, a novel about Montreal in 1928, from two points of view, city politics and feminism. It's a project I have actually spent 15 years researching.

I learned a lot writing FURIES CROSS THE MERSEY, about the British invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1912.  In 1914, a certain Edward Beck, journalist, tried to bring my grandfather's career to a halt. He enlisted the Montreal Suffragists to help.

My grandfather will figure large in my new book, with my husband's great aunt Edith, who was Tutor-in-Residence at the Hostel, a woman's residence at McGill.  She had a little job in a little place, but she was connected to the English elite. She stepped out with Miss Carrie Derick, McGill Prof, former President of the Montreal Suffrage Association and board member of the newer La Ligue des droits de la femme, with Therese Casgrain. (Edith was also a member of La Ligue.)

English and French, you see. Trough politics and feminism. Jazz Age fun and Prohibition-Era vice.

But, right now, I need to find this Houde bio. It's available on Abebooks but not in my local library.

Why? This morning, scanning the 1928 Montreal Gazettes I found this  very suspicious article:

Houde was a member of the National Assembly in February, 1927.  The next year, Houde would run for Mayor of Montreal and win, ousting my grandfather's people.

This article suggests that Houde was very invested in the idea of a broad inquiry into the Laurier Palace Fire.


As I have written about on this blog, my grandfather was the first to speak at an initial inquest into the fire, one that, according to the Gazette, aroused little interest. He talked about licenses.

Jules was otherwise involved in the fatal fire, that's for sure, but only in an oblique way, and THAT was never brought up. Read all about that here.

Very soon, there would be a call for a full-blown  Royal Commission into the deaths at the Laurier Palace.

 My grandfather would be called on to testify, once again, along with policemen, parents, church leaders, school principals, movie house owners, etc.

All this testimony would only serve to muddy the waters. The widely-publicized Royal Commission would uncover little of use. No one was found culpable for the fire or for the deaths of the 78 children. (All but one died from asphyxiation, at a crush by the door.)

Still, when all was said and done, Quebec children under 16 were barred from going to the cinema, even in the company of an adult, for 40 years. Yes, 40 years! (Well, the kids found way around it, of course.)

 I must find out: Was Camillien Houde the instigator of this lengthy Royal Commission?

As the testimony reveals (its available online) there was a great deal that was suspicious about the fire. Read the short-version here on my blog.

Most suspicious of all was an incendiary quote  by crooked cop Conrad Trudeau, much earlier in 1925, that WASN'T brought up in 1927, even though the testimony made all the newspapers and was extremely relevant to the 1927 fire. The quote came during testimony at the Coderre Inquiry into Police Malfeasance.

 "One day there's going to be a catastrophe, One day there's going to be a fire (in a movie theatre) and no one will be able to get out."

On the stand, that day in 1925, and without being asked, Trudeau brought up the fact that my grandfather forced the police to look the other way when movie theatres broke the rules. (He had been asked only about coal and scale tipping.) Then Trudeau uttered that prescient quote reported on in the Gazette, left out of other newspapers.

 This 'catastophe' line, I figure, could have been a threat by organized crime  -or someone else-  aimed directly at my Grandfather, Jules, whose brother was Isadore Crepeau, VP of United Theatre Amusements.

Conrad Trudeau, apparently, had lent a lot of money to the Chief of Police, Bélanger, but only as a friend. (sic). This suggests he had ties to organized crime.

My grandfather fired Trudeau on the spot, but for another unrelated bribery incident. Juge Coderre laced into my grandfather in his final report also printed up in all the newspapers. Who is this Jules Crepeau who controls the police? he asked.

During the 1927 Royal Commission, Le Devoir newspaper tried to get people to wake up to this two year-old Trudeau testimony,  with a sly hint in the back pages of the broadsheet, pointing to the exact line -date, page, and number  - in the Royal Commission Transcript, but nothing came of it.

What a media literary lesson this has turned out to be

Jules and family in Atlantic City circa 1928..