History of Dorval
A BRIEF HISTORY OF DORVAL
The first settlers in this area were Sulpician Fathers from Ville Marie (Montreal) who opened their Gentilly mission and School here in 1667. François Fénélon, a French aristocrat as were most of the early missionaries, was one of them. They had to close the mission in 1685 in part because of the widespread hostility of the Iroquois Indians.
The extensive mission property was bought by Agathe St-Père and her fiancé Pierre Le Gardeur de Repentigny, both well-known in Ville-Marie society, but they do not seem to have lived there. Instead, "Gentilly" became La Présentation.
The guerilla warfare with the Indians continued and in 1689, in revenge for some earlier European treachery near Kingston, the Iroquois attacked the settlers along the river between here and Lasalle and killed many people. As that whole area came under the name of Lachine at the time, the tragedy is known as "The Lachine Massacre".
It was two years before Agathe could sell her land and it was then bought by Jean-Baptiste Bouchard dit d'Orval. Jean-Baptiste's father, Claude, had added "d'Orval" to his name to distinguish himself from another Claude Bouchard in his community. Orval was the hamlet in France from which Claude had emigrated.
Jean-Baptiste, a semi-retired fur-trader, married Marie-Antoinette, daughter of Médart Chouart Desgroseillers the explorer, and fathered two children - René and Geneviève - who married one Pierre Barsalou. Jean-Baptiste died in 1711 and is buried at Ste. Anne de Beaupré, near Quebec City.
The Sulpician Fathers had laid out all the land of Montreal Island in the standard strips customary to the French system in those days. Over the year, the Dorval properties changed hands many times but kept the same form and use, as farming land, for nearly two centuries, until the Grand Trunk Railway came through about 1855 and broke it up.
It was the directors of the Grand Trunk who gave the name "Dorval" to the station they placed at the point nearest to the Lake and to Dorval Island which had recently been acquired by Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson Bay Company.
Montreal was a noisy, smelly, dirty city in the middle of the 19th century and the wealthier people liked to leave it during the sultry summer months. They found the Lakeshore very delightful and accessible and many bought or built summer homes here, which brought considerable changes to the lifestyle of the local farmers.
These wealthy business people needed servants and services for their homes and recreations and, of course, the farmers' families were happy to oblige. The Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club and the social Forest and Stream Club were both founded in the 1890s and are still prestigious in Montreal today. So are the Royal Montreal and the Elmridge Golf Clubs, although both have now moved west to Ile Bizard. The two horse-racing tracks, the Bel-Air track and the Jockey Club, that were here at various times have, however, completely disappeared. Both the Anglican St. Mark's Chapel and the Catholic Church of La Présentation were built at the turn of the century.
The first signs of commerce to emerge were the butchers and bakers and builders and blacksmiths needed by "Les Messieurs" as the summer folk were known, and these artisans settled mainly in what is still called "The Village", east of Dorval Avenue. Many of the buildings you see there today are a hundred years old under their modern coverings, with a few being older still.
In 1940 the Federal government bought 1500 acres (including the old Dorval Jockey Club) just north of the railway tracks and there constructed an airport better able to serve Montreal than south-shore St. Hubert could.
In 1941 the U.S. "Lend-Lease" program was set up and airplanes for Britain were a priority. Again, Dorval was better suited to this new, heavy traffic than St. Hubert. Thus "Ferry Command" was inaugurated at Dorval and 10,000 airplanes delivered to Britain by the end of the war in 1945.
Such a huge enterprise inevitably brought tremendous changes to the small community. Industry followed the airplanes, the population doubled and farmland disappeared under new housing estates...
But Dorval still retains a strong nucleus of old French families, all anxious to preserve the character and prosperity of the 125-year old Village of which they are so proud.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Dorval, we invite you to read a thesis written by Catherine Paulin which you can download here.