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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Bulmer Family in "Peopling the North American City: Montreal 1840-1900"

I'm used to finding references to family members in so-old-they're-out-of-copyright local history volumes.  It's a treat to find something up to date that's relevant to my research.  This recent (2011) and comprehensive social history of Montreal by Sherry Olson and Patricia Thornton, put out by McGill-Queen's University Press,  contains several references to the Bulmer family in Montreal.  Here are a few quotes.

"Thomas Bulmer, soon after his arrival in 1842, moved into the manufacturing of brick;  his plumber son-in-law Charles Garth began manufacturing stopcocks, bathtubs, and steam radiators."
 (p. 188).

That's news to me.  I knew that some of Thomas's sons were well-to-do contractors, but the only information I've ever been able to find about Thomas himself is that he was a "bricklayer".  Doesn't sound too entrepreneurial.  But it turns out he was a business owner and the head of a very upwardly-mobile family:

"The Bulmers were an Anglican extended  family that...worked together and lived as neighbours.  Thomas Bulmer had learned his trade in Hatfield, Yorkshire, arrived by way of Trois-Rivieres, and was laying brick in Montreal from 1843 to 1881.  (He died age 87 from a fall while inspecting a construction site.)  He taught his trade to four of his eight children, and from 1843 to the end of the century three of them maintained a partnership in brick laying, contracting, and brick making.  They extended the family network into the supply of building materials:  one married the daughter of a lumber merchant,  another married a brick maker's daughter, a third the daughter of a manufacturing plumber with 150 employees, and a granddaughter married an architect who owned a sash-and-door factory."  (p. 49)

"What the  Bulmer brothers built in successive construction booms...reflects the expansion of the city as a place of wealth and enterprise.  Although we have found only a portion of their contracts, the notarial documents reveal the progressive uptown extension of development and the reconstruction of centre-city sites with taller and more massive buildings.  In the 1840s Thomas Bulmer and his sons, just arrived, were building brick houses for a 'middling' range.  The most modest was 20 x 28 feet...with three rooms in the upper storey, built-in cupboards, and a trapdoor 'large enough to take up the double windows to the garret.'...On the Dorchester Street terrace...they built a classic double-decker house with four apartments of five rooms each, with double-decker galleries leading 6 metres from the house to the double-decker privies. The most elaborate mansion, on Sherbrooke Street... displayed a skylight, wine cellar, butler's pantry, an indoor water closet, chimney pieces painted to look like marble, and 'an English park gate.'
In the 1850s Montreal experienced its steam revolution...and the Bulmer's work was immensely varied. They built a fireproof office for notary Gibb, an elegant chapter house for the Anglican synod (contracted by Canon Bethune), and a river-front wall and tun room for expansion of Molson's distillery.  Many of the Bulmer contracts were situated in the new uptown neighbourhood of wealth, where they built handsome new models for city living. The best known was Mount Royal Terrace, with twelve units on McGill College Avenue.  Top of the line in this era was an Italianate dwelling on Sherbrooke Street, with the latest and most elegant in plumbing:  black walnut fixtures with marble taps, galvanized iron bath with an 'American shower', iron gas pipes in all rooms, and laundry tubs fitted with hot water.
In the late 1860s...the Bulmers were now concentrating on large brick-laying contracts for a new generation of six-storey commercial buildings in the core of this financial district. As the next boom reached a peak (1886), suburban housing was in demand among the middle class, and Bulmer grandsons began developing tracts in Outremont, Cote-des-Neiges, and the western edge of what is now Westmount."  (p. 49-50).

I also hadn't realized that the Bulmers had business interests outside of Montreal.  It seems like not all the Bulmers were successful.  Unfortunately this book is more interested in family patterns and does not always name individuals: 

 "...two Bulmer sons occupied themselves with a family-owned lumber mill in Manitoba;  another, to escape creditors in Montreal, went to the Yukon..."
(p. 57)

John Bulmer is, of course, our immediate ancestor: 

"...John Bulmer's handsome terraced houses rented for $25 a month.  Bulmer's tenants were among the most comfortable tenth of Montreal families..." (p. 77)

William Bulmer is the son of Henry Bulmer and Jane Maxwell.  He would be John Bulmer's nephew. This section of the book is interested in women's experiences with childrearing: 

"Harriet Richardson, age 24, married William Bulmer, 32, from that Yorkshire Anglican family of builders.  Their twelve children all survived infancy;  eight of them married and raised children in Montreal, three others never married but lived into their nineties...The three women had much in common.  Each bore her last child at age 44 or 45, and for twenty to twenty-five years must have been fully preoccupied with child raising.  From the birth intervals and the likelihood that they breast-fed most of their babies, it is possible that from the month after marriage, menstruation was a rare event in their lives.  In other ways their experiences differed.  William Bulmer worked at two jobs and did not share his brother's lifestyle of banquets at the Hunt Club and costume balls at the skating rink, but Harriet could usually put a roast or a hen on the Sunday dinner table, and they lived on a wide and well-maintained street...."  (p. 130-131)

" of Jane Bulmer's sons was briefly an object of gossip: 'A few years ago a young English girl received a place as a servant, met Bulmer who seduced her under promise of marriage.  He refused to marry her and went to Pullman, Illinois.  She followed him, they went to Chicago, where she became a mother.  He deserted her, she attempted suicide.'  Back in Montreal, after a lawyer confronted his father, there was a midnight wedding, and the son left town again."  (p. 151) The section in quotes is taken from the Montreal Star, October 27, 1886, last edition.  Jane Bulmer must be Jane Maxwell, wife of Henry Bulmer (John Bulmer's brother). 

"Thomas Bulmer's will provides an example of the usual share-alike among eight sons and daughters (Act of Isaacson, 27 July 1846).  (p. 413).

Intrigued by the knowledge that the Bulmer family were industrialists, I did a quick internet search and came up with a patent for an automatic brick-making machine developed by Henry Bulmer and his partner Charles Sheppard in 1871.  I have found patent references to this machine in  Canada, the U.S. and Australia.   The next time I'm at the Canada Science and Technology Museum I'll check it out!

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