Urban horseman Leo Leonard remembered fondly
Published Tuesday, July 10, 2012 7:10PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 10, 2012 10:38PM EDT
MONTREAL - The last well-known custodian of the old-Irish culture of the area just south of downtown was laid to rest Tuesday as Leo Leonard’s life was celebrated by the many who loved the 86-year-old proprietor of the Griffintown Horse Palace.
Leonard spent a lifetime working with horses in the city, starting by delivering ice from a horse, then driving a caleche and finally by operating the Ottawa St. stables from 1967 until 2010.
Tributes were flowing fast at Feron's Funeral Home Tuesday morning, saluting the big-hearted old-timer with time for everybody.
“He had that likable character. Once you talked to him you had an instant friend. That's the kind of guy he was,” said lifelong friend Dan Clayhane.
Along with his generosity and compassion, Leonard was also a repository of local history.
“He had a fantastic memory. He could tell you what he did 25 years ago at a certain time and place,” said Clayhane.
“When he drove the caleche, he had a story for each building. People were amazed by that, he knew the area, the time the building was made, who was the mayor at the time, it was fantastic,” he said.
Leonard also became the subject of many stories, such as one that combined his nose for a profit with his desire to serve: during the great snowstorm of 1971 Leonard spent a night getting stranded travelers around on with his trusted steeds.
“He would hook up a couple of sleighs and he went up to Atwater and for 10 bucks he'd take you from Atwater to place Ville Marie and he just went back and forth all night,” said friend Doug Palmer.
City politics was not kind to Leonard, who saw the Goose Village neighbourhood he was born in demolished under Drapeau in 1964. After he moved to Griffintown the city rezoned it in a way to allow the centuries-old community to be replaced by warehouses.
City second-in-command Laurent Saulnier said in 1965, that, “the people in Griffintown have nothing to worry about, they can always go on welfare.”
But Leonard was an example of the hardworking ethic emblematic of the embattled area, keeping his stables running long past a time when most others had left.
He also contributed to the area, helping out others in need, in the form of jobs, cash, clothing, whatever could be of help.
Leonard was known to offer passersby a warm beer or free fertilizer, as he marketed the horse manure piled up near the stables.
And that stables is what he will be best remembered by.
“He will always be remembered as the one who had the stable in Montreal,” said niece Colleen O’Connor.
“He always helped anybody out in need,” she said. “He made a lot of donations never bragged about never talked about it.”
The era when Montrealers were transported by horse came to a slow close at the start of the 20th century and eqine-oriented caleche families like the Tierneys, McGarrs and Butlers soon found other lines of work but the tradition endured with a few others, including Leo Leonard, whose passing feels like the end of an era.