A brief history of “Le Petit Chicago”...

“Le Petit Chicago” is both the remnant of a long evocative past for the Old Town of Hull, and it is now an important element which has an impact on the social and cultural development of the city of Gatineau and its downtown, the Old Town of Hull.

Since the end of the 18th century, Hull has seen a series of important development periods, first economic and social, and then cultural. At the beginning of the 19th century, a limited number of American promoters such as Philemon Wright settled in to take part in the timber trade. Over generations, its small population of 420 (in 1861) experienced a marked growth. The technological innovations in the pulp and paper sector have greatly contributed to that economic boom.

Afterwards, the very profitable industry of matches developed by Ezra Butler Eddy (E.B. Eddy) caused a succession of major fires in Hull. On the 100th anniversary of its foundation, Hull was ravaged by what would become known as the “Great Fire”. A total of three additional major fires will ravage the urban landscape during the 20 years that followed.

While Hull was adding up its fires and its dwellers were working hard to rebuild their beautiful town, the First World War was ending. South of the border, the temperance movements were growing. Activists were mostly supported by pastors who didn’t wish to see the happy after-war period tarnished by excesses and abuses. The 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1913 to 1921, was also an advocate for the movement. On October 28th, 1920, the Volstead Act officially prohibited bars to sell liquor. There was a fierce opposition amongst the population who saw this as an impediment to their personal liberties. With people becoming unsatisfied, the most daring developed the parallel trade of alcohol smuggling. Risks were considerable, so was the economic greed…

Al Capone saw in it the opportunity to pursue his illicit activities, and it’s in Canada that they were trading the alcohol shipments with a certain peace of mind. Although the Prohibition has been a part of the Canadian scene, the province of Quebec applied the Prohibition only for a few weeks. The simmering discontent of the French Canadians got the better of this ultraconservative measure. So while our neighbours, south of the border, were preaching abstinence and good sense in public only to meet in the thousands of speakeasies, it was party time in Quebec. It’s in Hull that it all took shape with the opening of gambling houses, bars, lodger rooms, and the installation of public benches for hobos. Since Al Capone was from Chicago and because of his presence during that boom, people started to affectionately call the place “Le Petit Chicago” or Little Chicago. Al Capone, his accomplices, gangsters of all kinds, liberated women, and musicians were flocking by the thousands.

The biggest names in jazz and music performed in Hull during that thriving inter-war period (1919-1939): amongst the most famous, we have Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, as well as one of our talents, La Bolduc.

“Le Petit Chicago” has long been associated with the best musicians, parties and long memorable nights.

It’s the muddled history of the past and today’s mission that we proudly share with everyone since 2004.

X