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200 years of the Chamber of Commerce | Behind the door of the Chamber, unknown stories



During its two centuries of existence, the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal has brought about astonishing achievements and experienced surprising concerns. Here we recount some of these little-known milestones.

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

Waterloo was seven years old when, on April 11, 1822, a group of Montreal business people, concerned about this crisis, came together to form a Committee of Trade – a trade committee.


Michel Leblanc, President of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce

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

This committee was chaired by Thomas Blackwood, a merchant of Scottish origin.

The city then had about 22,000 inhabitants (22,540 in the 1825 census). Metropolitan Montreal now has 200 times more, and the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal celebrated its 200e anniversary.

Trade with the British Empire and the efficiency of the port through which it entered and exited were at the top of the priority list of the committee, which was soon to take the name of the Montreal Board of Trade.

Dredge along the quays

In 1830, the Harbor Commission was established at the instigation of the Montreal Board of Trade to build wharves and urge the government to dredge the river to facilitate the passage of ships whose tonnage was constantly increasing.

Two years later, in 1832, the first permanent quays extended over one kilometer, allowing Montreal merchants to speed up the export of cereals, foodstuffs and manufactured goods.

The dredging between Quebec and Montreal of a channel 4.8 m deep and 76.2 m wide was completed in 1854, after four years of work.

“There is something symbolic of today’s reality here,” argues Michel Leblanc. Already, the first concern of the Chamber of Commerce is to connect with the rest of the world for commercial activities and the circulation of information. »

A room for French speakers

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

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

Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

The organization wants to improve the rail network in the metropolitan area, but is also concerned with culture.


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

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

A high school at the bottom of the hill

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

The École des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, the first university management institution in Canada, was founded in 1907. It will occupy a splendid Beaux-Arts style building, at the corner of Viger and Saint-Hubert streets, whose construction was completed in 1910. The building now houses the National Archives.

This already testifies, between 1887 and 1907, to this concern for talent and training. They wanted to have French-speaking executives who were as well equipped as possible, as competent as possible, in a dynamic of entrepreneurship and management.

Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

“To date, he adds, we are still appointing two directors to the board of directors of HEC Montréal. »


Architectural rendering of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, 1909

Rails, but not just anywhere

“We were also precursors, in quotation marks, of a concern for urban planning and the environment,” says the president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal. “And sometimes it can be paradoxical. »

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

In 1902, he relates, the Montreal Board of Trade protested against the construction of a tramway that would have crossed Mount Royal Park, splitting it in two. “At the time, it was downright a concern for the preservation of the park,” he says.

It was perhaps to prevent such trenches in the urban landscape that the body recommended in 1906 the construction of an underground metropolitan railway. In other words, a metro like Paris, London and New York already had it.

“We are talking about 1906, and not 1967, insists the president. For the first time, the Board of Trade, along with the business community, is saying that Montreal is a modern metropolis and that it should equip itself, like the big cities, with a metro system. It took 61 years to get there. »

Local manufacturing

Concerns that we believe to be contemporary often have distant roots.

“In 1925, the Chamber launched the Made in Canada initiative,” explains Michel Leblanc. In 1925! And that is clearly part of a logic of buying local. It is then a question of distinguishing the products manufactured in Canada from those manufactured abroad, in particular in the United States and Great Britain. »

A merger

The Montreal Board of Trade and the Montreal District Chamber of Commerce joined forces in 1992 to form the Greater Montreal Chamber of Commerce.

This is the third attempt to bring the two business communities together. It was not so much the language as the traditions that had derailed the first two attempts.

At the time, the Montreal District Chamber of Commerce had a lot of activities and demanded membership fees. Its business model pays for itself and is in balance. But it has no historical endowment, that is to say it has not accumulated a surplus.

Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

Conversely, the Board of Trade has built up a solid reserve since its foundation, from which it draws to ask for symbolic membership fees and to hold its events free of charge. “It is an entity that is in the red, year after year. »

The two visions long appeared irreconcilable in the eyes of their respective boards of directors, until “pragmatism leads everyone to say to themselves: Well, well, we’re going to get together. »

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