The St Andrew’s Society of Montreal offered accommodation for Scots in need from the late 1850s, catering for all Scottish immigrants and Scots without a permanent home who lived in or passed through Montreal. The idea for a home was ‘the result of an experiment made last Winter ’. It was then that a house ‘was leased and managed by a Committee of Ladies, under the auspices of the Montreal Society. It proved of great benefit to several very destitute Scottish families, and 42 women and girls found a temporary home there. A committee was subsequently appointed to consider ‘the propriety and practicability of making the effort a permanent one’.
The first intake for the permanent home came a little earlier than planned, however, as an immediate result of the burning of the steamer Montreal on 26 June 1857. The Montreal had been en route up the St Lawrence River between Quebec and Montreal, carrying a large number of Scottish passengers, most of who had recently arrived in Quebec directly from the Clyde on the John McKenzie. When hearing of the disaster, the Montreal St Andrew’s Society decided that the home it was then still refurbishing had to be ‘opened and furnished, and on the evening of their arrival [in Montreal] 76 survivors found home in the building’. One of them was David Milne from Glasgow. ‘This poor fellow’, the Montreal Herald reported, ‘after struggling long to save himself and family, unfortunately lost them all—consisting of his wife and five children—but one, a little boy of seven years old, he saved and had with him’. There was also Peter McColl, aged nine, whose parents died in the tragedy.
Further to providing shelter and support at the new home, the St Andrew’s Society also arranged for the burial of the 15 victims of the tragedy who had been brought to Montreal. This was made possible because the Society was presented with a lot at the Mount Royal Cemetery by the Cemetery Company, and interred the 15 bodies there. Among those buried was John Muir, a nine-month-old baby whose mother, Agnes, had made it to safety and was staying in the St Andrew’s Society’s home with her nine-year-old son George. Agnes’s husband, another son and a daughter had, however, died in the tragedy or were missing. Agnes and George stayed in the home until early July 1857, and then went on to Ohio. The cost of travel, as well as clothes and other essentials, together with a small sum of cash, was provided to them and other survivors thanks to the generous donations the St Andrew’s Society received from other ethnic societies in Montreal, including the German Society and the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society, from Scottish associations based elsewhere in North America and from many an individual. According to one list, different supporters gave £1,132 to help the survivors of the Montreal.