Articles & Reviews

"Book Review: Sir William Hingston: Montreal mayor, surgeon and banker"

Reviewed in this article:
Sir William Hingston: Montreal mayor, surgeon and banker
by Alan Hustak
Price-Patterson Ltd., Canadian Publishers, Montreal, 2004
Hardcover version, ISBN 1-896881-37-8
Softcover version, ISBN 1-89688-48-3

Morrissey Family History Newsletter, winter 2006, issue # five
By Stephen Morrissey

It was with great pleasure that I read Sir William Hingston, Montreal mayor, surgeon and banker, a biography by Allan Hustak. The book is highly readable and of interest to both a general readership and to anyone with ancestors in Montreal in the second half of the nineteenth century, as it vividly describes both this fascinating character from Canadian history as well as living conditions in the city at that time. A foreword by Professor Graeme Decarie of Concordia University's History Department, as well as photographs, contribute to this fascinating story of Hingston's life. There is also an excellent index and bibliography that make the book even more "user-friendly". In all, Sir William Hingston, Montreal mayor, surgeon and banker introduces us to a man of extraordinary ability and intelligence.

William Hingston's father, who was of Anglo-Irish descent, settled in 1823 on the Fifth Concession in the Township of Hinchinbrooke, about fifty miles southwest of Montreal. I know this area very well having owned property for many years only a few miles from the Hingston family homestead, where William Hingston was born in 1829. William Hingston was educated in Huntingdon, Quebec, and then by the Sulpicians at the Collge de MontrŽal in Montreal. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree at McGill University in 1851. Hingston then continued his medical studies in Europe, specializing in surgery, before setting up his practise in Montreal.

By all standards, William Hingston was an extraordinary man. He was considered one of the top surgeons in the British Empire in the final decade of the nineteenth century. He also served two terms as Mayor of Montreal and then concluded his public life by being appointed to the senate in Ottawa where he served for eleven years. He was knighted in recognition of his distinguished service to the Dominion of Canada. He was also acclaimed as a banker; he was a president for many years of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank. His influence on Montreal life extends to this very day: Mount Royal Park came into existence during his mayoralty. We can also thank Hingston for promoting sanitary living conditions in Montreal, which were in a deplorable state when he came to office.

There is a passage in Hustak's book that refers directly to our family's history, the passage deals with founding a hospital for "English-speaking Catholics" in Montreal. Hustak writes, "He (that is, Sir William's son, Donald Hingston: my italics) and Helen Morrissey (see note below), an English-speaking nursing sister at the Hotel-Dieu felt the time had come to open a facility for the city's growing English-speaking Catholic population." In 1908 the plan was to call the hospital "The Sir William Hingston Memorial Hospital for English-Speaking Catholics", this became the present-day St. Mary's Hospital.

There was much dispute regarding who was to run the hospital. Was it to be controlled by Church officials, or by a lay committee? Details of these negotiations are too complicated to be summarized here; however, the possibility that the new hospital would not come into existence was very real. A crucial deciding factor that saved the hospital is the intervention of two priests. Hustak writes:

It took another five years of negotiating but St. Mary's re-opened on March 20, 1934, after two supportive Roman Catholic priests, Luke Callaghan and Michael P. Dawson, convinced the archbishop of the wisdom of allowing the institution to be run by a lay board of directors. "In one of the darkest moments, when our little group had been abandoned by its influential friends, Father Dawson and Canon Callaghan came to our help. In my opinion they saved St. Mary's," Donald Hingston confided to friends.

Canon Luke Callaghan, Father Martin Callaghan and Father James Callaghan, were brothers of Mary Callaghan who married Thomas Morrissey (my great grandfather) in 1867. Of course, Fr. Luke Callaghan was well connected in the Church; he had been for many years the assistant Chancellor at the Archbishop's Palace, located on LaGauchetire Street in Montreal. As a young priest he had been sent to Rome to study for his Doctorate and later he was pastor at St. Michael's Church, soon to be the largest English-speaking congregation in Quebec. Callaghan had influence and prestige and his intervention in the dispute regarding St. Mary's was decisive. Father Martin Callaghan officiated at the funeral of Sir William Hingston who died on 19 February 1907; Hingston's was the largest funeral at St. Patrick's since Thomas D'Arcy McGee's funeral in 1868.

Anyone living in Montreal's Notre Dame de Grace neighbourhood knows of Hingston Avenue, but most would not know of the fascinating Montrealer for whom this residential street was named on 29 May 1911. Sir William Hingston is certainly on the list of great Montreal mayors, along with Jacques Viger, John Easton Mills, John Guerin, Camillien Houde, and Jean Drapeau. As I was reading Hustak's book last spring, a letter carrier delivered a pamphlet: "Enfin! At last!" it reads, "56 New Condos" at "Les Terrasses Hingston" located on Hingston Avenue near Upper Lachine Road. Hingston will not be forgotten!

1. Sister Helen Morrissey—no apparent relation to us—is the author of Ethan Allen's Daughter: The Life of Frances Margaret Allen (Garden City Press, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, QC, 1940). Sister Helen Morrissey's book is a biography of Frances Margaret Allen who lived from 1784 to 1819 and was a daughter of Ethan Allen (1738 Ð 1789) who, with the Green Mountain Boys, took Fort Ticonderoga from the British and later attacked Montreal. The book has two parts, the first is a biography of Ethan Allen's life; the second part is concerned with the life of his daughter, Sister Frances Margaret Allen, who served at the Hotel-Dieu Hospital in Montreal from 1807. Sister Helen Morrissey's book was reviewed by Aloysius Plaisance, O.S.B., in "The American Benedictine Review", 8.2 (1957).

Copyright © 2007 The author