Martin C. Barry
Sunday Dec. 15 was an historic day for elected officials in hundreds of towns and cities across Quebec.
On that day a hundred years before, mayors and city council members gathered for the first time to found the Union des Municipalités du Québec, an organization that has represented the interests of municipalities across the province ever since.
On Dec. 15 1919, a special meeting took place at Montreal city hall during which more than 400 delegates agreed to form the UMQ. At the end of the 19th century, according to the UMQ, Quebec was in the midst of a tremendous period of social and economic development.
Although rapid industrialization was accelerating the rate of urban development, this in turn was causing management problems within towns and cities that elected officials were having trouble dealing with.
And while the status of municipalities was officially established within Quebec’s territory as early as 1855, it was only in 1867 that the newly-formed Canadian federal government granted the Province of Quebec jurisdiction over municipal affairs.
But even if municipal governments were given a certain degree of autonomy at that time, historians and academics today acknowledge that the province’s towns and cities were still hardly in a position to adequately deal with the socioeconomic problems they faced at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th.
Around this time the outbreak of the First World War would further impact the economic difficulties being felt by municipalities and the provincial government overseeing them. It was about then that voices began to be heard from leaders of the municipalities, questioning what was then a provincial Liberal government that seemed indifferent to the situation.
They found a solution
The conclusion the municipal representatives came to was that the creation of a common association was the right course to take. It should be noted that around this same time several other similarly-minded associations were also created, including the Union of Canadian Municipalities (UCM), dating from 1901.
As well, most of the other provinces across Canada also saw associations of municipalities created within their boundaries towards the beginning of the 20th century. In Quebec, the phenomenon was a little late to start. After some initial attempts in 1907 and in 1913, it was finally in 1918, following the end of World War I, that a definite move was finally made.
Beginnings of the UMQ
The first UMQ committee was formed by Télesphore-Damien Bouchard (Saint-Hyacinthe), Robert Ryan (Trois-Rivières), Rosaire Prieur (Pointe-aux-Trembles) and Frederick Wright (editor of the Canadian Municipal Journal). It became official the following year.
The UMQ’s first annual convention, held Dec. 15 – 16 at Montreal city hall, marked the official launch of the Union des Municipalités de la province de Québec (as it was known then).
UMQ’s first president
In all, 400 delegates from all over Quebec voted unanimously for the adoption of the resolution formally creating the UMQ. Joseph Beaubien, who was then mayor of the City of Outremont, was elected as the UMQ’s first president. He remained in the position for the next 29 years, which stands to this day as the longest term in office by a UMQ president.
The founding members of the UMQ established the basic orientations for the organization. Among these were the goals to improve and facilitate the administration of municipalities. As well, the UMQ members decided the organization should strive to bring all Quebec’s municipalities together so that they constitute a unified force to deal effectively with the provincial government.