The area known as Griffintown was once a working-class neighbourhood stretching as far north as Notre-Dame street and bounded on the east by McGill street and on the west by Guy. Originally, this area was known as the Nazareth fief and made up the east half of a larger fief ceded to Jeanne Mance in 1654 and administered by the nuns of Hôtel-Dieu. In 1791, Thomas McCord signed a 99-year lease of the fief from the Hôtel-Dieu nuns (From Steam, 20). At the time, there was already talk of building the Lachine Canal; a prospect which could make this parcel of agricultural land very valuable for future subdivision. In 1796, while McCord was in England, his business associate fraudulently sold the lease to Mary Griffin. Griffin planned a subdivision where lots would be rented and the revenue to be shared by herself and the nuns (Recollets, 30).
In 1923 there were no more than a hundred houses in the area, most of which were located east of Nazareth Street. However, the building of the Lachine Canal (the first seven locks were completed in 1825) attracted many working-class families to Griffintown. In 1853, after the enlargement of the Canal (1843-48), the area of Griffintown was described as being entirely built up. By the turn of the century, the neighborhood was home to 30,000 inhabitants (From Steam, 20,21).
Griffintown was populated by recently-arrived immigrants who were recruited by the areas many industrial businesses who wanted cheap, unskilled labour. The famines and land clearances in Ireland between the years 1845-47, forced two million Irish to emigrate. Many of these Irish immigrants came to Montreal and would form the majority of Griffintowns population.
Griffintown was often mentioned for its over-crowding and cramped living conditions. In his study from 1897, Ames pointed out the discrepancy in living conditions between wealthy areas of the city (the upper city) and the areas inhabited by the working-class (the city below the hill):
"The sanitary accommodation of the city below the hill is a disgrace to any nineteenth century city on this or any other continent. I presume there is hardly a house in all the upper city without modern plumbing, and yet in the lower city not less than half the homes have indoor water-closet privileges. In Griffintown only one home in four is suitably equipped, beyond the canal [in Pointe-Saint-Charles] it is but little better. Our city by-law prohibits the erection of further out-door closets, but it contains no provision for eradicating those already in use. With sewers in almost every street, no excuse for permitting this state of affairs to continue now exists, except it lies in neglect and in greed." (Ames, 105)