BUILDERS 150: CAMILLIEN HOUDE

5 May 2017

A key figure of Montreal history, Camillien Houde had a career in politics for many years and served as mayor of Montreal on and off between 1928 and 1954 . Nicknamed “Mr. Montreal,” he attended the inauguration of the Jacques Cartier Bridge on May 24, 1930.

Did you know that Camilien Houde was a prisoner at the internment camp in Petawawa, Ontario?

After getting a degree in commerce, Houde began his career in banking and then worked as a representative of the J. Dufresne de Joliette cookie company. He quickly developed a strong interest in politics and became a member of the provincial conservative party.

Camillien Houde won a seat in the National Assembly for the first time in 1923 in the riding of Sainte-Marie. From the working-class neighbourhood of Saint-Henri, he ran and was elected mayor of Montreal on a promise of opening up city hall to help ordinary citizens. Early in his first term, the misery caused by the Great Depression guided his mandate. His administration gave $100,000 to the Société de  Saint-Vincent de Paul to help the poor and launched large-scale projects such as the construction of viaducts, the Botanical Garden, and the Mount Royal and Parc LaFontaine chalets. Truly engaged with his local Montreal constituents, Houde transformed his Saint-Hubert home into a place for support and assistance.

As the Second World War unfolded, Houde openly declared his opposition to any form of conscription to a number  of journalists. His public declaration drew the ire of the government, and he was arrested by the mounties. He was detained at the Petawawa internment camp for four years. In 1944, a jubilant Montreal crowd at the Windsor Station welcomed Houde back home, and they re-elected him that fall.

The great lifetime honours he received include being named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and a Knight of the French Légion d’honneur. He was known for his flamboyant style, his sense of humour, and his penchant for black Tueros cigars.