Research Note: The Legend of “Banjo” Frank Hanley

June 5, 2014 § 1 Comment

Frank Hanley, 1909-2006, in 1942

Frank Hanley, 1909-2006, in 1942

I met Frank Hanley a couple of times back in the early aughts, including one afternoon in Grumpy’s on lower Crescent St.  He was holding court, drinking, I think, a club soda.  He was, at this point, already in his 90s.  But he was irrepressible.  Even though he was 96 or 97 when he died in 2006, I was still surprised to hear the news.  He got the nickname sometime back in the 1920s or 30s when he was a minstrel player in Montreal, or so he told me.  He didn’t know how to play the instrument.  Hanley is the kind of guy that doesn’t exist anymore, which is kind of sad.  He was the city councillor for St. Ann’s Ward from 1940 until 1970.  He was also the MNA for St. Ann’s from 1948-70.  He didn’t belong to any parties, he was always an independent.  He tended to side with ‘Le Chef’, Maurice Duplessis, in the National Assembly during the 1950s.  But I just never could hold that against him.  He also despised Jean Drapeau, Mayor of Montreal from 1954-7 and from 1960-86.

Griffintown was left to die in the 1960s whilst the other neighbourhoods of the sud-ouest were given makeovers, mostly in the form of slum clearances and the building of housing projects in the Pointe, Burgundy, and Saint-Henri.  Griff got the rénovations urbaines part, but that was it. Nothing was built to replace what was torn down.  And it was not because of the 1963 re-zoning of the area as ‘light industrial.’  All of St. Ann’s Ward was, as were other parts of the sud-ouest.  Griffintown, quite simply, did not attract the attention of hôtel de ville and Drapeau’s team of rénovationistes as a site of investment.  The only voice demanding Griff get some love was its councillor: Hanley.  Local legend has it that Griff was left to die to hurt Hanley’s re-election chances, such was Drapeau’s enmity for him.

Anyway.  Hanley was an old school populist politicians, his first real concern was his constituents.  And his constituents tended to be poor in Griffintown and the Pointe.  He raised money for an emergency fund to help out his constituents when they ran into trouble.  Most of this money was raised from other constituents.  Occasionally, of course, a few dollars would fall into his own pocket.  While today we would shake our heads at this or perhaps bring Hanley up on charges of corruption, in his era, no one had any problem with that.

In the summer of 1967, Hanley ran into trouble with Revenue Canada.  He had been handing out over $150 per week to his constituents in trouble for much of the past decade, maybe longer.  And, of course, he took a bit for himself.  So Revenue Canada threatened to take his house at 500 Dublin St. in Pointe-Saint-Charles.  His constituents from Griffintown and Pointe-Saint-Charles had other ideas, and they showed up one morning in Hanley’s yard and proclaimed the ‘Republic of Hanley’ in his front yard.

In the end, Hanley and Revenue Canada reached a settlement.

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