Montréal Baha'i History

Early Bahá’í period (1898-1912)

Before the turn of the century, the only Canadian Bahá’ís were to be found in the United States in the city of Chicago. Of these, the first Canadian Bahá’í was Aimée Montfort, a teacher who married Honore Jaxon, another early believer and former secretary to Louis Riel (a famous Metis political leader). Paul K. Dealy, a railroad engineer and inventor from Saint John, New Brunswick, was also part of this expatriot Canadian group. Edith Magee (1880-1971) of London, Ontario, along with her sister, Harriet Magee (1882-1915), their mother, Mrs. Esther Annie Magee and Mrs. Magee's two sisters, constituted the first Bahá’í group in Canada. Introduced to the Bahá’í Faith in Chicago in 1893, by 1899 all five members of the family had become Bahá’ís.

May Ellis Bolles (1870-1940), an American who had become a Bahá’í in 1898 in Paris and established the first Bahá’í group in Europe, married William Sutherland Maxwell (1874-1952), a Canadian, in 1902 and moved to Montreal, Quebec that summer. Mrs. Maxwell was designated the "spiritual mother of Canada" by Shoghi Effendi, and was responsible for the development of the Faith in several centers, including Montreal and Toronto.

During his North American tour, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, visited Montreal, from August 30-September 9, staying four days in the Maxwell home on Pine Avenue West. He gave six talks, three in the Maxwell home, one in the Socialist Club (with an audience of 500), and two in churches—the Church of the Messiah (Unitarian) and the St. James Church (Methodist). `Abdu'l- Baha's stay in Montreal received unparalleled coverage from the press—both French and English.
Growth of the Faith

The sixteen believers in Montreal in 1908 formed the Montreal Branch of the "Bahá’í Temple Unity," forerunner of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada, which operated until 1948. After ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s passing in 1921, his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, became head of the Bahá’í Faith, and guided its growth here. Much of his encouragement was directed towards the Maxwell family. He later designated the Maxwell home a "Bahá’í Shrine"—the only such designation in the Bahá’í world outside the Holy Land and Iran because of its association with ‘Abdu’l-Baha visit.

During the 1920s, the Bahá’í Faith expanded to Vancouver and Toronto. Shoghi Effendi utilized this modest growth to lay the groundwork for the present structure of local Spiritual Assemblies.  These nine-member elected councils provide the leadership of Bahá’í communities, and were specifically described by Bahá’u’lláh in His writings for this purpose. 

This led to the formation of the Montreal local Spiritual Assembly in 1922, the first in Canada.

In March 1937, Mary Maxwell (1910-2000), the only child of May and Sutherland Maxwell, married Shoghi Effendi. She became known as Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, a name given to her by her husband.

In April 1937, Shoghi Effendi considered the growth of the Faith well enough established to launch the first of a series of carefully-formulated and challenging plans. For Canada, it meant that Spiritual Assemblies were to be formed in every province. Local Spiritual Assemblies were established in the cities of Moncton, New Brunswick; St. Lambert, Quebec (both in 1938); Hamilton, Ontario (1940); Winnipeg, Manitoba; Halifax, Nova Scotia (both in 1942); Edmonton, Alberta (1943); Regina, Saskatchewan; and Charlottetown, P.E.I. (both in 1944). Assemblies were later established in Ontario in Vernon, Scarborough (1947), and Ottawa; and in British Columbia in West Vancouver, and Victoria (1948).

In April 1948  the Bahá’í Community of Canada was separated from that of the United States. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada was thereafter elected in Montreal, followed by its incorporation by an Act of the Canadian Parliament .

The Bahá’í Faith and French Canada

Between 1897 and 1963, fewer than fifteen French Canadians were known to have joined the Bahá’í Faith. The first two French Canadian Bahá’ís, Aimée (Montfort) Jaxon and Louis Bourgeois, enrolled in the Bahá’í Faith while outside Canada, both before 1907; likewise, Mr. Urbain Ledoux, living in New York City in the late 1910s, became a Bahá’í. Around 1925, Mariette Germaine Bolton, nee Roy, a French Canadian chiropractor living in Australia, declared her Faith. May Maxwell made a special effort to teach the Bahá’í Faith to French Canadians. The first French Canadian to become a Bahá’í while in Canada was Mrs. Jeanette French in 1920. The 1930s saw the enrollment of Mrs. Jeanne Tremblay, Mr. Bernard Lagueux (a civil engineer), Mr. Henri Drouin, and Mr. Rene Roy. Two other early French Canadian believers were Mr. Edward Bellefleur, an Acadian who became a Bahá’í in Halifax in 1945, and Mrs. Francoise Smith, nee Rouleau, became a Bahá’í in 1947. Mr. Patrick Lapierre of Montreal, a former lay missionary, became a Bahá’í in 1963.

In 1966, the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada held a policy conference in Quebec for the first time, which resulted in the settlement in Canada of French-speaking Bahá’ís from Belgium and France. This led to new French Canadian believers in Montreal and Quebec City. In 1969, seven French Canadians became Bahá’ís. In 1970 there were another  the six or seven enrollments among which was the first French Canadian family, the Leonards of Longueuil, Quebec. The summer of 1972 marks a turning point in the development of the Faith in Quebec; the entire Canadian Bahá’í community was mobilized and urged to vacation or travel to Quebec, resulting in approximately 100 new Bahá’ís entering the Faith. The first fully francophone local spiritual assembly was elected in Ste. Foy, Quebec in 1979.

Contributions of Quebec Bahá’ís

Louis Bourgeois (1856-1930), a French Canadian, was the architect of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, the first to be built in the West. His design was hailed as "the first new idea in religious architecture since the thirteenth century." Another Montrealer, Mr. Siegfried Schopflocher, played an important role in the financing of its construction. The noted architect, Sutherland Maxwell, was instrumental in the design of the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel in Haifa, the World Centre of the Faith.

French Canadian believers have played a very important role in the spread of the Faith in francophone areas of the world, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean. Between 1972 and 1987, 63 French Canadians settled in international pioneer goals. By 1993, there were 442 French Canadian Bahá’ís serving the Faith either overseas or in Canada, with some 100 living outside of Quebec.


Bahá'í Center


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Montreal Shrine


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