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Started as a picnic grove in Montreal, it's considered by some to be the first major amusement park in Montreal, and as one that set the precedent for the later Dominion and Belmont Parks. On the grounds were the Reid wing of the General Hospital. This had been built by Mrs. James Reid. Her husband's uncle was John Reid who was a trustee of the McGill estate. Also on the property was the Manor House.
The park proper would be founded by partners Ernest Lavigne and Louis-Joseph Lajoie. Ernest was considered a pioneer in concert music in Montreal. Such acts of the time typically played light classical music. Ernest studied in Europe and performed there, as well as in The United States. He returned to Canada in 1874 and became involved in the music trade as both a performer and as a salesman. By 1881 he formed Lavigne & Lajoie with Louis-Joseph Lajoie. They published music and sold musical instruments.
Ernest formed many bands including The Bande de la Cite (City Band in the mid 1880s. They played the classics, but also marches and waltzes. Many of the songs were composed by Ernest. In 1885 he began a series concerts at Viger Gardens and he became a celebrity.
Wishing a more permanent venue, he rented part of the area described above. It was bounded by Panet, Notre-Dame and Salaberry Streets. The fourth side was The St. Lawrence River shoreline. Sohmer Park opened on June 1st, 1889. The name was taken from a piano brand sold by the partners.
The park must have had lovely gardens because this quote was in The "Gazette", a Montreal newspaper: "The nearest thing that Montreal ever had to a living Renoir painting was Sohmer Park".
By 1892, Sohmer Park had a 64-person carousel, a small zoo, and a crystal maze. It also came to feature orchestras, singers, operas, circus performers and sporting events.
It's unclear if a concert venue was there at the start, but in 1893, a large 7,000-seat hall was built. It was used year round for various musical acts, plays, and sporting events. One of the boxers featured there was the great Gene Brosseau. Wrestling matches located are:
February 4, 1903 - Tom Jenkins vs. Jim Parr November 6, 1903 - Dan McLeod vs Antoine Gonthier November 1911 - Raymond Cazeaux vs B.F. Roller
On January 30, 1918, Joe Burns and Frankie Fleming fought to decide the Canadian Featherweight title. Fleming won.
The great Canadian wrestler and strongman, Louis Cyr, competed and performed solo there over the years a number of times. One of his solo shows in December 1891 saw two teams of two horses, one attached to each arm via harnesses, try to pull him in one direction or the other. They did not succeed.
In 1909 Ernest Lavigne died, but the park continued on with a variety of other directors. By the time of The Great War (World War I), Montreal was nearing a half million in population. That produced a greater number of people seeking recreation, and Sohmer Park got its share.
In July of 1916, Sohmer Park presented Lightning Weston, Paul LvVan and Dobs; The "Belles of Seville", Fonti Boni Brothers, and the Three Jordan Girls.
The park seemed to do well, but tragedy struck on March 24, 1919. A fire of unknown origin began in the concert venue and spread to other parts of the park. The owners wanted to rebuild, but the insurance could not cover the cost. After a few years, the park was sold by the city for unpaid taxes. It was acquired by the heirs of a Charles Campbell. Today, a Montreal street bears the name of Ernest Lavigne.
|Thanks to researcher and journalist, Steve Proulx of Montreal, for suggesting this park and providing initial information.|
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