Friday, February 17, 2017

The Importance of Marriage and Dowries in 1900

72 Serbrooke East in the 1920s. the height of my grandfather's power.

It was a perfectly good salary for a single man back in 1900: 600 dollars a year. Nothing outrageous, though.

It was my grandfather's salary. Jules Crepeau was a clerk at Montreal City Hall in 1900, one of two. There were also two Assistant City Clerks, higher up, and the City Clerk.

The Assistant City Clerks were making 1,400 and 2,100 a year, excellent salaries, and the City Clerk, L.O.David was making 4,500.

L.O. David, a gentleman and scholar, it is written elsewhere, was my grandfather's mentor.

 So it's no surprise, then, that Jules Crepeau was promoted to Second Assistant City Clerk in 1911 with a salary of 2,500 and 3,000 by 1913,and then in 1921 he was appointed Director of City Service, a brand new post  with a starting salary of 8,000 soon rising to 10,000 a year.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, became the highest paid civil servant at Montreal City Hall!

I have written a lot about Grandpapa on this blog - and about the dirty politics of this city on the St. Lawrence River in the Era of  American Prohibition.

(The previous post, for instance.)

But, this post, here, is about more mundane things, like family.

My grandfather, Jules Charles Crepeau, married my grandmother Maria Roy in 1901. She was the daughter of a master-butcher in Montreal. (Butchers, apparently, had a lot of clout in turn of the last century cities. They decided who got the best cuts ;) but they also met a lot of people who voted.)

This marriage was as important to Jules' rise up the ranks as his hard work at City Hall or his fortunate connections. (But, such was the reality in the Edwardian Era.)

My grandfather's father was a lowly house-painter. (His mother, however, was somehow connected the the powerful Forgets, the French Canadian Water and Power industrialists and stock market financiers.)

My mother told me Maria had a 40,000 dollar dowery. Seems high, but there is no question that Jules could not have married in 1901 and started having children on a 600 salary unless he wanted to fall into poverty, like so many families in the era in the city of Montreal.

Instead, I found a record online that says he had a house built on Amherst in 1902, by a noted Montreal architect whose specialty was churches -and not homes.

Maria's money!

My grandfather died broke in 1938. The stories on this blog explain. But, in between,  he lived on Amherst, St. Hubert(1911 census), St. Denis (1921 census) and, shortly thereafter, at 72 Sherbrooke  East, a grand four storey greystone that still stands today. (The house has recently been renovated, but it still has the old doors from the 1920's) and on Harvard, in NDG, where he was living when he died.

My grandmother was born in 1921, so she only remembered Sherbrooke and Harvard. She also remembered her father at the peak of his influence, with powerful people dropping by all the time, like the Chief of Police, who liked to take money for his underlings, and the Mayor with his mistress and not his wife. (Apparently, as a little girl of seven or so, she pointed this 'mistake' out to the Mayor.)

In 1914, just before a municipal election, Jules was caught in a bribery sting by a local journalist funded by an English financier who hated French City Hall - and, especially, Hugh Graham, a newspaper rival. It would be one of many scandals my grandfather was involved in during his long career. He survived them with his reputation intact, as his 1938 obituary in Le Devoir explained. But, the iffy circumstances of Jules' death were never really explored, until now. Yes, it's all on this blog.

                                                 Some Montreal City Hall Salaries, 1900.