Nuisance and Neighbourhood in Late Nineteenth-Century Montreal: Drysdale v Dugas in its Contexts

AuthorEric H. Reiter
Nuisance and Neighbourhood in Late
DrysdalevDugas in its Contexts
Npersonal dimension that can bel ie the often relatively
modestlegalst akesinvolvedPiing neighbouragai nstneighbour andin
volving perceived invasion of the homes, workplaces, or senses of the par
ties, nuisance complaints tend to elicit vehement reactions on both sides.
One such aair is Drysdale v Dugas, which reached the Supreme Court of
Canada in  Centring on a dispute between neighbours in Montreal,
the case pits Drysdale, who built and ran a stable in a residential neigh
bourhood, against Dugas, who complained of the horses’ unpleasant odours,
foulliquids and incessant noiseIt alsoh ighlights diculti ssuesof prop
erty powers and duties, fault and liability, precedent and public policy, and
remediesMoreoverast heSupremeCourt srstmajorpronouncement on
nuisance in Canada, Drysd alesinuencehasextendedbeyonditsorigins in
thecivillawofQuebecRece ntlyitsrelevancewasrearmedwhentheSu
preme Court endorsed its view of liability for nuisance in StLawrenceCement
Like all nuisance cases, D rysdale sits at the intersection of t he law of prop
erty and civil liabi lity, and it reveals lawyers and judges alike seeking co
herentoratleastworkablerulesandconceptsi namurkyeldoflaw
Like all Quebec nuisance ca ses, Drysdale also st raddles the civil law and the
common law, with French and English principles and precedents mingling
sometimes in concert, sometimes i n tension. Finally, like all legal cases of
whatever kind, Drysdalehas astory behindit onethatbothlls outandat
times challenges t he rather lifeless published reports of the cas e. In this
article, I use Drysdale a nd its stories to explore the intersections of doctri nal
legal principles and lived social ordering in a ti me of changing urban la nd
scapes and neighbourly relationships.
Dramatis Personae: Dugas and Drysdale
N   concept. The smells, noises, smoke, vibrations, and
other physical irritants behind t he legal idea of nuisance become problem
the irritants. It is also, of course, a legal concept, and the pri nciples, inter
pretations and precedents of the legal system aect the so cial aspects of
nuisance as the social aspec ts aect the legal Behind bot ha re people
neighbours, lawyers, and judges — who come to litigation with previous
historieswhichprovideanotherlevelofinuenceonthecourseofthecas e
CalixteAiméDugastheplaintiinDrysda lewasaprominentandwell
connected member of the Montreal legal commun ity. Though it was no se
cret at the time, it appears nowhere in the reported judgments that Dugas
was himself a judge of the Montreal Court of Sessions, t he lower criminal
afut ureQ uebecc hiefju sticeAADorion anda futu repri memi nister of
Canada JJCAbboAfter admission tot hebar in h isfort unatecon
nections continued: he practised law with a f uture Supreme Court justice
DésiréGirouardand inma rriedSuza nneHarki nacousi nofLew is
Drummond, justice of the Quebec Court of Q ueen’s Bench. Dugas served
br ie y in mu n ic ip al go ve rn me nt an di n  r an u ns uc ce s sf ul l yf or th ep ro v
incial Liberals. Soon after h is defeat he was rewarded with an appointment
as judge of the Court of General Sessions of the Peace, serving also a s extra
dition commissioner. A proponent of military training, Dugas belonged to
promotedtoLieutenantColonelduring theNorthWestRebellion of
Dugas was also a member of several prestigious Montreal clubs, mingli ng
with the francophone elite at the Club Canadien and the a nglophone elite at
the Metropolitan Club.
Besides his position as judge and his general knowledge of the law,
two other aspects of Dugas’s personal history factor into this l itigation: his
litigiousness and a speculat ive streak. Like many legal professionals with
knowledge of their rights and a drive to vindicate them, Dugas was involved
inanumberoflegalac tionsovertheyearsAl readyinthesasayoung
lawyerhepart icipatedin awellpublicized fracas overhis having hitched
his horse to a gatepost, as a result of which he was arrested for allegedly
assaulting a constable. Tellingly, he not only defended himself again st the
charge but launched a  suit against the constable and the City of
Montreal for false arrest and violation of his rights.I ni nanothe rcause
célèbre, Dugas successful ly brought private criminal l ibel charges against Ed
mundSheppardow nerof thes ensationalist anda ntiFrenchTorontoEv en-
ing News, over articles al leging cowardice, looting, and desert ion by Dugas’s
regiment during the Rebell ion. Dugas also appears in various cases con
nected to his business deali ngs, such as a breach of contract suit arising from
plans to form a company to exploit an invention to turn garbage into fuel.
JudgeDugasMontrealQCbyWilliamNotma nSonDecemberThis
photograph of Dugas, like the pho to of Drysdale below, is by Montreal’s premier society
photographerWilliamNotma nMcCordMuseumIIReproducedwithpermiss ion

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