The first railway in Canada opened in 1836 as a portage between the Saint-Laurent and Richelieu Rivers. By 1859, when the remarkable Victoria Bridge spanned the Saint-Laurent, the Grand Trunk Railway ran all the way from Portland, Maine on the Atlantic coast, through Sherbrooke to Montreal, and westward to Toronto, Sarnia, and Chicago. After Confederation in 1867, new lines were added to serve the new Maritime provinces. To convince British Columbia to join Canada in 1871, John A. Macdonald’s government promised that an all-Canadian transcontinental railway would be built.
The Québec government and private investors joined forces to build a rail line from Québec City and Montreal to Ottawa to connect with the transcontinental line, as well as a branch into the Laurentians to allow colonization of the sparsely inhabited land north of Montreal. Pierre Beaubien, owner of a vast tract on the east side of Saint-Laurent road (now boulevard), was able to ensure that the Montreal segment traversed his land. The railway opened in 1876; in 1878, the Mile End station was built on Beaubien land, at Bernard and Saint-Dominique. That same year, the village of Saint-Louis-du-Mile End was incorporated. The railway was purchased by Canadian Pacific in 1882.
Over the next 35 years, the village rapidly turned into an important residential and industrial suburb, served by the railway and linked to nearby Montreal by electric streetcars. The village became the town of Saint-Louis in 1895, and was annexed by the city of Montreal in 1910. Although transcontinental trains had been rerouted into the new Windsor Station in 1898, bypassing Mile End, Mile End station was rebuilt, larger and more imposing, in 1911.
In 1907, railway activity had become so intense that Canadian Pacific purchased Alma street from the city between Bellechasse and Laurier, and replaced it with a spur railway to serve industries and freight yards. The area bounded by the main line, Henri-Julien, Maguire, and de Gaspé became Canadian Pacific’s Saint-Louis Yard, entirely filled with tracks in a herringbone pattern. And this was only one of a series of freight yards along the Canadian Pacific line between Outremont and Hochelaga. Heavy industry was concentrated along the railway for decades, served by a constant flow of freight cars making deliveries and shipping finished products.
But gradually the flow of traffic began to ebb. Already in 1931, the passenger station was replaced by a larger facility at Parc and Jean-Talon. The old Mile End station was rented out to industries for workshop and warehouse space for 40 years until it was unceremoniously demolished in 1970 to make room for the Rosemont–Van Horne viaduct. By this time, railway-based heavy industry was moving out of the city to new industrial parks along highways. The East side of de Gaspé avenue was built up, as parts of the Saint-Louis yard were removed. Large ten-storey concrete structures for the garment industry took over the area between 1965 and 1975. Only the northeast corner of the Saint-Louis yard remained. By the mid 1980s, that too was gone; not built on, but left as a vacant lot. For over twenty years it has been a quiet place. Now a new flow of activity is approaching.