Driving through the Town of Hampstead, one cannot help but marvel at the distinctive homes, the beautiful parks, the abundance of greenery, and the overall tranquility that surrounds this oasis of a town. Located only fifteen minutes from downtown Montreal, Quebec, the Town has managed to maintain the exclusive feel that was the intention of its founders. The administration of the Town has never deviated from the high standards imposed by that original plan. To this day, the Town's executive council considers each choice to be an existential matter, and treats each decision accordingly.
The founders of the Town of Hampstead envisioned a community where residents could be safeguarded from the chaotic mixture of residential, commercial and industrial zoning. The area- bordering on the City of Côte St. Luc, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, and the City of Montreal- was to be developed with houses of individual characteristics and high architectural standards. This original vision was laid out in a plan adopted by the provisional council of 1913-1914. The plan was based on a model for development that became popular towards the end of the 19th century. This model was known as the "Garden City" concept.
The Garden City is a conceptual framework that aims at establishing an idyllic suburb community. The plan offers residents some of the amenities of country living, by giving each family an individual home surrounded by ample green-space. Those interested in gardening, for example, could grow vegetables while still being able to devote some land to decorative gardening. This rural-oriented movement was a reaction to the overcrowded and unpleasant tenement areas, characteristic of the post-industrial city. Urban planners slowly moved toward more rural-based concepts, creating what came to be known as the Garden City trend.
The founders of the Town of Hampstead took the Garden City model one step further. Each house was assigned a generous-sized lot, with room for a maximum amount of trees, shrubs and green-space. Particular attention was also paid to the curving of the Town's roads, as opposed to the usual grid-iron design, and to the strategic planning of its trees. The unique design adopted by the founders has had the effect of discouraging through traffic, while further distinguishing the appearance of the Town.
As Hampstead's name suggests, the original planners of the Town were greatly influenced by developments in the north section of London. Actually, there are two Hampsteads in London. The first is Hampstead proper, which surrounds the Hampstead-Heath area. The other is the Hampstead Garden Suburb, which lies further north, and where development began as early as the turn of the twentieth century. Both of these contributed to the naming of the Town, and also to its planning. In fact, some of the street names used by the Town's planners- including Fleet, Finchley, Kilburn, and Wexford -can also be found in the original cities.
The area chosen by the founders, in 1914, was an undeveloped plot of land, mostly covered by forests. Access was limited by the fact that only Queen Mary road served the area, which was out of the reach of the existing public transportation system. At the time, the area was not served by public services and had no infrastructures like sewage, water, lighting, sidewalks etc. Therefore, any development depended in large part on the availability of funds and a good deal of initiative. Notwithstanding this difficult situation, successive administrations have firmly and consistently adhered to the rigid regulations and standards originally laid out by the founders, in order to maintain the distinct character of the Town. These restrictions were mainly structural in nature, for the most part dealing with lot values, housing designs, building materials, and quality control. Even during periods of slow growth, economic depression, and war, the guiding principle of the Town was never compromised for the sake of expansion.