Scions of Anglo Montreal sell off the family heirlooms
Morgan family parts with Senneville estate and its collection of curiosities from around the world
By Kalina Laframboise, CBC News Posted: Apr 09, 2017 6:00 PM ET Last Updated: Apr 09, 2017 6:15 PM ET
Elizabeth Morgan stood at the back of a room at the Beaconsfield Golf Club and watched as her famous family’s heirlooms were auctioned off, lot by lot, to strangers.
“There are so many pieces that are just killing me to sell, to be honest,” Morgan said Saturday.
Morgan is the granddaughter of Frederick Cleveland Morgan, a collector and philanthropist known for his curatorial work at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
The family first rose to prominence in nineteenth-century Montreal as the founders of Henry Morgan & Co, a department store bought by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1960.
Alongside other Scottish immigrant families like the McGills, Redpaths and McTavishs, the Morgans were titans of Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, home of the city’s elite.
Frederick Cleveland Morgan, who died in 1962, spent much of his life amassing a collection of antiques from around the world.
His items up for auction this weekend included books, paintings, furniture, fine china and precious ornaments from silver spoons to delicately carved figurines.
Bidders’ numbered sheets shot up in the air as they seized on lots like a Louis XV walnut commode, a Qing dynasty woodblock and 17th century Spanish apothecary jars.
Some artifacts sold in seconds for hundreds of dollars, others for thousands. A collection carefully built over decades was sold off in a few short hours.
“It’s been a very emotional two months,” said Morgan.
Collector, gardener, botanist
Over the course of more than 45 years, Frederick Cleveland Morgan acquired over 7,000 objects for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Since his death, a further 3,000 items have been donated on his behalf.
But his legacy to Montreal’s history doesn’t only live within the museum, it also lines the walls of his vast home, known as Le Sabot.
Located on a winding, tree-lined street in Senneville, on the western tip of Montreal, the stone estate oversees the Lake of Two Mountains.
Built in 1912, the 27-room mansion is considered by some to be a masterpiece of Arts and Crafts architecture.
It is just a few minutes drive from the Morgan Arboretum, a preserved 245-hectare forest, negotiated by and named after the museum builder, and which now belongs to McGill University.
Le Sabot is where Frederick Cleveland Morgan lived, entertained and pursued his passion for plants and flowers for most of his adult life.
“I knew him as a gardener. He was a wonderful botanist,” his granddaughter said.
It’s also where he passed away in 1962. Fifty-five years later, the family home is being sold.
“Unfortunately, Le Sabot will be closing its doors and is now empty and I’ll be moving out in a day or two to live with my son in Hudson,” said Morgan.
While there is very little left inside the mansion as moving day approaches, the bright, open solarium that her grandfather loved still contains ferns, poinsettias and a variety of plants.
‘We’ve done as much as we could’
The 20,000-square foot mansion and rolling lawns were too much to maintain for Morgan and her son.
“My grandfather in his day had 10 gardeners full-time and he provided housing for them,” she said. “Plus cooks and chauffeurs, you know, the whole nine yards.”
Moving to a 1,200-square foot bungalow outside of Senneville hasn’t been easy for Morgan, who raised her son James at Le Sabot.
She credits James for being practical and level-headed. But he also acknowledged the importance of his family history.
“I lived in Le Sabot growing up — all of my life,” said James Morgan, who is in his 20s. “I’ve heard all the stories, lived with family and the heritage.”
Downsizing led the family to auction off large parts of its rich history because Morgan would no longer have the space to store it all. It took years to compile the documents and months to prepare for the auction.
“It’s the reality — I have to sell and it’s being done with respect,” said Morgan. “We’ve done as much as we could to do this properly and not offend our ancestors.”
While the estate housed hundreds of artifacts, the family also leaves behind memories that cannot be auctioned off.
Past the entrance and off the kitchen wing is the airy solarium where hundreds of signatures of loved ones, guests and famous friends are etched onto the window panes of the doors.
Look closely enough and you’ll find the names of Prime Minister John Abbott and humorist Stephen Leacock.
It was a tradition begun by Frederick Cleveland Morgan and carried on for the century that his family lived there.