Colourful Charles McKiernan, known as Joe Beef, championed Montreal's humblest labourers.
This Irish Anglican immigrant opened a tavern in 1868 near Griffintown in the port district. Many day labourers worked here, and they quickly adopted Joe Beef's tavern for hard drinking, debating and brawling. To amuse the men, Joe Beef showed off his menagerie of mangy animals, including beer-drinking bears. He also spoke for hours on hot topics of the day--in rhyming verse. Middle-class Montrealers were not amused.
A soft heart beat under McKiernan's tough exterior. He pioneered what we would now call social services, providing room and board to hundreds. Famously, he steadfastly supported the Lachine Canal strikers in 1877-78. He made the workers, mostly Irish and French Canadian, huge batches of soup and bread.
When McKiernan died in 1889, the Gazette called him "the poor man's friend." Joe Beef Park in the Pointe St-Charles neighbourhood honours his memory today.
"He cares not for Pope, Priest, Parson, or King William of the Boyne; all Joe wants is the Coin. He trusts in God in summer time to keep him from all harm; when he sees the first frost and snow poor old Joe trusts to the Almighty Dollar and good old maple wood to keep his belly warm, for Churches, Chapels, Ranters, Preachers, Beechers and such stuff Montreal has already got enough."