Montreal’s downtown area is, like many cities, a blend of the old and new. One only has to trip over the numerous tourists who stop abruptly to take a picture of Christ Church Cathedral with the glass tower behind it to realize one of our city’s qualities is its history and attempts to preserve same.
It was pointed out to me long ago that one of the keys to appreciating this contrast is to look up; many current stores along Ste. Catherine Street occupy what was once housing and while the street level facades have been altered to accommodate commerce, the upper levels often retain their architectural elegance.
Today, however, I found a little blast from Montreal’s past at a much lower level, almost ground level in fact. At the northwest corner of Drummond and Ste. Catherine Streets there is a white pillar outside a storefront that now houses a Virgin Mobile outlet. The stamp on the pillar indicates it was made (forged) by Wm. Rodden & Company in 1893. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, William Rodden’s foundry was in Sainte-Anne ward. The business specialized in manufacturing various models of stoves, but made bedsteads, scales, and ploughs as well; it also forged and cast iron products of all kinds.
It seems William Clendinneng arrived in Montreal with his family in 1847 from Ireland. He worked as a clerk at Rodden’s and eventually become owner.
Under Clendinneng’s leadership, William Rodden and Company grew quickly. The foundry carried on business as before, but in addition it opened a store on Rue Saint-Jacques in the summer of 1862 to reap the profits from marketing its own products. Although the firm had been in a precarious financial position in the 1840s, it was now on a solid footing and became one of Canada’s largest foundries. In 1861 it had 65 employees on average. There were 90 by 1864, 150 in 1871, 180 in 1872, and 300 in 1886.
Interestingly the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online goes on to state that “In January 1884 Clendinneng brought in his son William as a partner in the foundry, which from then on was known as William Clendinneng and Son.” and yet to my eyes the stamp indicates 1893 and still has the Rodden name.
I still don’t know what made me look down (there were times when I did crawl along Ste. Catherine Street, but they were long ago and not conducive to noticing historical notes…) but I’ll try to keep my head up and down from now on.