A History of Compassion
The Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (now fondly known as Montreal’s SPCA) was the first humane society in Canada, founded in Montreal in 1869 by a group of prominent citizens. It is not known under whose influence the society was formed, but its history acknowledges assistance from societies in Paris, England, and the United States.
Although it was formed under a provincial charter of Quebec, the initial stated object of the Society was “to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the Dominion of Canada”. Though we had only one branch in Montréal, the Society did have an agent in Ontario before a separate humane society was formed in that province.
During the early years, the primary concern of the SPCA was improving the treatment of work horses. Beatings, overloading, starvation, lameness, and harness sores were common cruelties inflicted upon work horses in those days. Within its first year, the SPCA made significant headway in improving conditions for horses throughout Montreal. This was only the beginning, and it was not long before the SPCA focused its attention on other issues such as humane dog control, cock-fighting, and the killing of wild birds.
In 1914, the Society acquired its first shelter at 201 Demontigny St. E. By 1928, the shelter had become overcrowded and the Society moved to new headquarters on St. James St. West (now St. Jacques). The Shelter staff consisted of six inspectors, a driver, a person in charge of euthanasia, and a night watchman and three administrative employees. The SPCA continued to operate out of its St. James St. headquarters until 1953, when the Society found a property on Namur St. (now Jean-Talon) and began to build a new shelter. The new building was completed in 1955 and served until 1985, when it was partially demolished and rebuilt to meet the increased demands for better animal housing and care.
The SPCA has come a long way since its beginnings in 1869. Our Society has grown with the rest of the humane movement – speaking on behalf of animals wherever there is ignorance, cruelty, exploitation, or neglect.
It is a telling comment on the western world that legislation for the prevention of cruelty to animals predated protection of children in most areas. A century ago in England, eight- and nine-year-old children were forced to work longer hours in the coal mines than the pit mules, which were protected by law. In 1884, John Colam, Secretary of the RSPCA, helped to form the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.