This weekend’s Walk to the Stone reminds me about Montreal’s Martyr Mayor, John Easton Mills.
In his short time as mayor, John Easton Mills made a lasting impact on Montreal and Irish Montrealers. Although he was a member of the American Presbyterian Church he made a handsome donation toward the erection of St. Patrick’s Church, the church of the Irish Roman Catholics. He helped the Ladies of the Sacred Heart in their educational work, and devoted his entire salary to the newly-established Mechanics’ Institute. He cooperated with Bishop Bourget and others in the founding of the City & District Savings Bank.
He and his brother Cephas came to Montreal together to establish C. and J.E. Mills fur dealers. While Cephas moved to New York, John Easton Mills remained in Montreal and founded Mills’ Bank, and through it played a part in financing many major projects.
When the typhus epidemic reached Montreal, John Easton Mills rolled up his sleeves and got down to business tending to the sick alongside the doctors, nurses, and the clergy all the while fending off Montrealers, angry that the dreaded typhus reached Montreal’s shores.
In November 1847, as the cold weather gave hope that the worst of the epidemic was over, Mayor Mills was stricken by the very disease that killed thousands in the fever sheds in the Goose Village area. On November 12, 1847 he passed away and on November 15 was buried at the St. Lawrence Burial Grounds.
There is a street in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district named after John Easton Mills, far from his Beaver Hall Hill home, far from the fever sheds and Commemorative Stone, far from City Hall. One has to ask what thought processes went into the selection of this far away street as suitable for this honour?
In any case, as you walk to the Stone on Bridge Street this Sunday, remember Montreal’s Martyr Mayor, those who tended to the sick, and those who died of “ships fever” as they fled their home country in the hopes of building a better life for themselves.