Le Neuvième

The putative reason for going to Montréal was always something lofty like taking in the latest collection of an art show at the Musée des Beaux Arts on Sherbrooke St W.  The real reason was far more iniquitous; namely, eating, drinking and generally gallivanting. We assembled ourselves throughout the city. The younger members of our conventicle reunited with friends who fortuitously lived in central Montréal close to all the action, perhaps Westmount or Outremont; while we older members opted instead for the caretaking of the Four Seasons or the Ritz-Carlton on Sherbrooke St W where we were assured in addition proximity to our primary targets – other that is than the night clubs which always entailed a cab there and back. We preserved the time-honoured tradition of propriety during the day but rapidly dissolved into darkness at night!

The evening meals were spread out across the City, a popular venue being café L’Express on Rue Saint-Denis. We frequented this place often and were never disappointed.  The steak tartare was my favourite! It was however the raucous conflab which ultimately distinguished the evening, sometimes to the point of exhausting hilarity! The next day always entailed a comic recap of the evening’s explosive events.

Before we descended to the glamour of evening wear and dark lights, there was the necessity of the midday meal which we found was exceptionally well accommodated at le Neuvième on Saint Catherine Street West.  A walk from the hotel to le Neuvième among the endless retailers guaranteed provocation for an appetite of every description.  It was the veritable insinuation of hedonism, including the initial entry through the main floors of Eaton department store. It was as well a pointed reminder that business in Canada began not in Toronto but in Montréal.

The Eaton’s Ninth Floor Restaurant (known as “The Ninth Floor” or “Le 9e”) is an endangered Art deco landmark in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It ceased operation in 1999 after 68 years, and not been open to the public since. This restaurant is a registered historical site.

There was inevitably a line-up at the entrance to the restaurant.  I don’t recall that they took reservations; but it was endlessly amusing just watching the people come and go, imagining what could possibly be going on. The agenda of food was what I would now call British staple – chicken pot pie being the most popular – always preceded by a martini served in a bathtub on a stick!

Lady Eaton, the wife of the multi-millionaire owner of the Eaton’s department stores, gave her interpretation of “class and style” to the major Eaton’s stores. In 1925 Eaton’s purchased the three storey Goodwin building located at 677 Saint Catherine Street West and commissioned architects Ross & MacDonald to build it up to six storeys in 1927. The top three floors were added in 1930–31. On January 26, 1931 Lady Eaton opened a large art deco restaurant on the 9th floor of the building. The restaurant was designed by architect Jacques Carlu and the floor to ceiling mural at the back of the restaurant was created by his wife Natacha Carlu. It was patterned on dining hall of the transatlantic liner Ile de France. The 9th floor corridor between the elevators and restaurant is also in the art deco style.

Raised in a large family in Omemee, Ontario, Canada, Flora McCrea moved to Toronto to become a nurse at Rotherham House, a private hospital on Sherbourne Street. While working as a nurse, Flora met a young patient, John Craig Eaton, who was the son of Eaton’s department store founder Timothy Eaton. The two eventually fell in love, and were married. They built a massive mansion in 1911 to accommodate themselves and their growing family. Named Ardwold, the home was one of the most lavish ever constructed in Toronto. They were the parents of four boys and one girl with one adopted daughter.

In 1915, John Craig Eaton was knighted and became Sir John Craig Eaton, and his wife became known as Lady Eaton.

After her husband’s death in 1922, Lady Eaton continued to live in the Ardwold mansion until the mid-1930s when she decided to retire to her summer residence, Eaton Hall in King City, north of Toronto. The contents of Ardwold were then auctioned off and the mansion was demolished.

Lady Eaton was interested in the occult, and had a séance room built in the turret of Eaton Hall. The ceiling of this circular room is painted with the zodiac. When she died in 1970, her maid was so distraught that she hanged herself there.

On the last occasion we frequented le Neuvième we were afterwards joined at table by the young pianist who had performed on the grand piano throughout our luncheon.  He was a music student at nearby McGill University.