Michael P Davis (1849-1932) and William H Davis (1851-1905)

The three Davis brothers (Michael P, William H and James T) were the sons of an Irish immigrant who moved to Canada (and eventually Ottawa) in the 1840s. All became successful builders of major public works, such as the historic Windsor train station in Montreal  (headquarters of the Canadian Pacific railway for over a century), railways, canals and bridges, including the new piers for the Quebec City bridge after its collapse in 1907.

Michael P inherited the family house at 565 Rideau St. after his father’s death in 1889. That large house once stood on the corner of Charlotte St, across the street from the then-Protestant hospital (now Wallis House). This mansion was large enough to host splendid parties as this report in the January 26, 1907 edition of Toronto Saturday Night attests:

…Mrs. M.P. Davis … was the hostess of a particularly smart and delightful house-dance, in which all the young people of the capital’s four hundred[1], as well as many guests who are in town just now, participated. The spacious ballroom in the basement provided ample room for the large number of dances, and was beautifully decorated and brilliantly lighted, quantities of red and white carnations being in evidence in every available nook and corner.

Residence of Michael P Davis (565 Rideau Street), November 1889. Note the condition of Rideau St. – it had not yet been paved. Credit: Topley Studios Source: LAC MIKAN 342 2435

M.P. remarried in 1910, when he was 61, to Gertrude MacGrady, a woman less than half his age whom he remembered holding on his knees as a baby and giving her lollipops. In announcing the wedding, the Ottawa Journal reported, diplomatically, that “the disparity in their age was not strikingly apparent.” (Ottawa Evening Journal, 3 May 1910, p 1). 

M.P. built his son William an equally-grand house which still stands at 407 Wilbrod (see write-ups on Australia House and Agnes Scott).

For his part, William H built himself a 21-room house at 404 Theodore Ave (where the Strathcona Apartment Building now stands) in 1893, which he named Cresthill. He must have had a temper because, in 1894, he was arrested (and later convicted) for giving James Baxter, a Montreal broker, ”a sound beating”, over the non-payment of promissory notes. In 1901, the census records that William H. was living at Cresthill with wife Caroline, two sons and five servants. William H. also built Timber House at 27 Goulburn Ave., which still stands today behind the Strathcona. He died in Montreal in 1905 at age 54.

404 Theodore Ave. (now Laurier Ave. E.), October 1895. It is Davis’s son William T. riding the pony in front of the footman in the family carriage. Source: LAC PA-027700

The youngest brother, James T., built himself an imposing house (he had six children and numerous servants) on Drummond St. in Montreal. It is now home to McGill’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy.

The Davis brothers were members of Ottawa’s élite, participating at social events hosted by the Governor General and Lady Macdonald and holidaying at prestigious resorts. William H. also occasionally lent his collection of modern paintings to the National Gallery. When M.P. died in 1932[2], his funeral procession included Sir Robert Borden and Sir George Perley.









[1] This is a reference to the élite of New York City. It was said that Lady Astor could fit 400 guests in her New York ballroom.

[2] He was then living at 5 Blackburn Ave.