3724 Rue McTavish, Montréal, Québec

Completed in 1862, for Orrin Squire Wood (1817-1909) and his second wife, Julia A. Forbes, daughter of William Forbes (1778-1833), of Montreal. Long known as "Braehead," the house is situated within Montreal's Square Mile and though stripped of many of its original Victorian features, including the verandah, structurally it remains almost unchanged. It was built using many of the materials salvaged from the legendary McTavish Mansion. It was donated to McGill University in 1946 and is named Duggan House for its last private owner. It is currently McGill's Faculty of Education....

This house is best associated with...

Orrin Squire Wood

Pioneer Telegrapher & President of the Montreal Telegraph Company


Julianne (Forbes) Wood

Mrs Julia Anne (Forbes) Wood


Matthew Hamilton Gault

M.P., Founder of Sun Life Assurance Company, Montreal


Elizabeth (Bourne) Gault

Mrs Elizabeth Joanna (Bourne) Gault


Leslie Hamilton Gault

President of the Gault Brothers Co., Montreal & 20 Eaton Square, London


Marion (Davidson) Gault

Mrs Marion Anderson (Davidson) Gault


George Herrick Duggan

Champion Yachtsman & President of the Dominion Bridge Company, Montreal


Mildred (Stevenson) Duggan

Mrs Mildred Scarth (Stevenson) Duggan


Wood was a pioneer telegrapher and the first student to study at New York University under the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872). In 1847, he was specifically brought to Canada by the Montreal Board of Trade to take up the appointment as first President of the Montreal Telegraph Company. The Woods were well-connected: his sister, Mary Ann (1811-1891), was married to Ezra Cornell (1807-1874), the co-founder of Western Union and Cornell University; and, his wife, Julia, was the sister-in-law of the Liberal Member of Parliament, Luther Hamilton Holton (1817-1880).

A Phoenix from the Ashes

The final portion of the former McTavish Mansion estate (from Sherbrooke Street up to Mount Royal) was divided into five lots and sold at auction in 1860. Wood acquired one of these lots either at the auction itself or through a deal made shortly afterwards with his wife's brother-in-law, Holton. From various property maps of the period, it is clear to see by 1860 Wood was the owner of the McTavish Mansion and its immediate surroundings. At the same time that he built Braehead, he sold off the southern half of his property to Andrew Allan that would become part of the extensive gardens of the Iononteh estate.

In 1861, Wood hired a fellow New Yorker, Andrew B. Taft (1816-1885), to design his new home in the Gothic-Revival style. It was Taft's first domestic commission since arriving in Montreal the previous year. Much of the materials used came from the McTavish Mansion, which Wood confirmed in an affidavit: "The (McTavish) house was removed in 1861 by the mason (James Brown) who built the new house (Braehead). All of the material of value in the old house was used in the new house, coach house, driveway and walks. The joice (first quality pine) from the old house was cut up by my carpenter, Mr Robert Weir, and used for doors, window frames and finishing in the new."

Proctor to the Gaults

Wood kept a summer home at Turner in Orange County, New York, until the end of his life. But, only a few years after building his Montreal home he sold it to Charles Daggett Proctor (1821-1892), a merchant involved in the railroad boom. In 1869, it changed hands again when Proctor sold it to Matthew Hamilton Gault (1822-1887), the founder of Sun Life Financial whose father-in-law built the Lafontaine House. Gault lived here with his wife, Elizabeth Joanna Bourne (1834-1908), and their 16-children.

It's thought that the Gaults named the house "Braehead". Its front door and the verandah that once stood next to it are south-facing and before urbanisation occurred it leant itself to a magnificent view down over the river. Decorations within featured, "dark coffered panelling covering three-quarters of the height of the walls, a number of delicately moulded Tudor-arch double doors framed in colonnettes topped by capitals and an attractive semi-circular staircase of walnut" (with plaster alcoves between the panelling).

Duggan House

After Gault's death in 1887, the house was left to his eldest son, Leslie Hamilton Gault, who lived here with his wife, Marion, and their five children. On moving to England, they sold the house in 1911 to the celebrated engineer and noted yachtsman George Herrick Duggan (1862-1946) who moved in with his wife, Mildred Scarth Stevenson (1867-1939), and their three children. Their only daughter married Senator Hon. Adrian Norton Knatchbull-Hugessen (1891-1976),  President of the Liberal Party of Canada, but tragically, both of the Duggan's sons were killed in action during World War One.

It was the Duggans who leant their home to the army towards the close of World War One, to be used as a convalescence hospital for disabled Canadian soldiers returning from Europe. In 1930, Duggan employed architect Harold Lea Fetherstonhaugh (1887-1971) to carry out various modifications to the house, notably to the east tower. Many of the more elaborate Victorian decorations were removed both internally and externally.

McGill University

In 1944, Duggan donated Braehead to McGill University, though he added a proviso that would allow him to remain on until his death which occurred in a car accident two years later. McGill’s School of Commerce was the first to make use of what was now referred to as "Duggan House". In 1975, the old mansion was renovated and two years later it was reallocated to McGill's Faculty of Education, as it remains today.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 08/10/2018 and last updated on 10/11/2023.
Main Image Courtesy of Courtesy of Thomas1313 from Wikipedia Commons; The Square Mile, Merchant Princes of Montreal (1987), by Donald McKay; Mansions of the Golden Square Mile (1987), by Francois Remillard & Brian Merritt; McGill University Archives; Invisible Empire, A History of the Telecommunications Industry in Canada (2001), by Jean-Guy Rens & Kathe Roth; Notman Archives, McCord Museum, Montreal; Luther H. Holton, A Founding Canadian Entrepreneur (2001), by Henry Cornelius Klassen. Biography of M.H. Gault in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, by Gladys Pollack & Gerald Tulchinsky; The Canadian Album, Volume 5 (1896), by William Cochrane.


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