Côte (meaning Hillside): Does this actually mean “neighbourhood”?
An interesting find from my neighbourhood research in the book Montréal en Évolution is the concept of “Côte” which actually does not simply mean “Hillside”. Yes, these are areas on the hillside of Mount Royal, but in the Québecois sense of the word, they were once upon a time considered to be the equivalent to the word “neighourhood” today (Note that “côte” was later replaced by “row” – rang en français). Today we recognize the word “Côte” as a hillside or also a slanted road but back in the 1700s and 1800s, it in fact represented territorial areas. Now I wish I could have found a map prior to 1840 to show you some of these earlier « Côtes », I was able to find the map above from 1879 that shows how these areas continued to be neighbourhood through the 19th century (merci Maxime pour le lien des maps en ligne de la Bibliotèque nationale).
“Côtes” were more important in Montreal for the rest of New France because the Seigneurs (entrepreneurs who managed the lands as described in an earlier blog) created these areas as autonomous zones in order to properly exploit these fertile lands and to continue to safeguard the island similarly to what the well-located forts/parishes where doing at the time. Therefore Côte-Vertu and Côte-St-Catherine were actual neighbourhoods once upon a time and not just a name of a road. Neighbourhoods that were sprung from the root of a côte include St.Laurent, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Cote-des-Neiges (although the name appears to have been “Notre-Dame-des-Neiges” at one time), and St. Michel. Côte St.Michel is interesting to note since it was not side by side any other Côtes nor Mount Royal, as one can see from the map above, which shows more evidence that a Côte was a territorial space on its own. All in all, we see the formation of Montreal’s first villages and a type of governance that begins to provide a sense of belonging to the Montreal population. We can also see that the shape of the Côtes themselves (although not effectively from this particular map) are divided in rural blocs which helped shaped the city’s street structure that we have today. And with the growing population, these Côtes created further subdivision of the lands into lots and additional roads that followed the lines of these areas. These straight lines would also make life easier for pipes, rail and electrical lines.
Note: Montréal en Évolution offered a great glimpse of the roots of Montreal neighbourhoods and now it will be interesting to find the links between these earlier “Parish” and “Côte” neighbourhoods and that of the “Wards” created in the late 1800s and 1900s. I have only begun uncovering some information on this so if you have any tips on books or websites to read, please send me a note. “St-Eusèbe” (now part of Sainte-Marie) was equally a parish as well as a ward so one could guess that there was a natural change. On the other hand, the English rule also played a large part I am sure as wards took anglo-saxon names (or perhaps I was just looking at an old English map that translated everything?).
p.s. The 1879 map above also shows what I discussed in a past blog: why my own micro-neighbourhood between Iberville and the CP railways is often considered Hochelaga… because it was once officially part of Hochelaga so it naturally never lost its original roots.