Sohmer Park. A Montreal amusement park created in 1889 by Ernest Lavigne, who wanted to revive the happy experience of the Viger Garden concerts of 1885. With his partner, Louis-Joseph Lajoie, Lavigne rented the historic property located between the St Lawrence shoreline and Salaberry, Notre-Dame, and Panet streets. The park adopted the name of a make of New York piano, of which Lavigne & Lajoie were the distributors. It was inaugurated 1 Jun 1889 with a concert by the Bande de la Cité. This brass band was supplanted in May 1891 by a symphony orchestra of 40 players from Belgium and several Canadian musicians. The Belgian players were mainly from Brussels and Liège; many of them were conservatory graduates with premier prix who had been recruited by Lavigne in Belgium in 1890. Some of them were to form in 1894 the nucleus of Couture's MSO.
Sohmer Park had many attractions: while sampling refreshments, adults could enjoy overtures, Viennese waltzes, and military marches and could applaud such singers as Louis Vérande or Victor Occelier in performances of ballads or operettas. Meanwhile the children could play to their hearts' content on the rides and other attractions. For a modest price Montrealers had access to all kinds of exhibitions, variety shows, and circus acts, even to contests featuring the great champions of wrestling and boxing.
Soon Sohmer Park became so popular that a pavilion with a capacity of 7000 was built in 1893 to house winter events. Around this time, Lavigne tried unsuccessfully to establish a permanent troupe of European artists able to perform a different opera or operetta every evening for four months. Even so, the park presented itinerant troupes in such operettas as La Fille de Madame Angot, La Mascotte, La Périchole, or Les Cloches de Corneville and various instrumental ensembles including the Theodore Thomas Orchestra.
In 1909, on the death of Lavigne, Xavier Larose took over the direction of the orchestra. Larose was followed by J.-J. Goulet 1911-14, a Mr Van der Meerschen 1915-16, and J.-J. Gagnier 1917-19. On 24 Mar 1919 the pavilion was destroyed by fire. The land was acquired by the Charles S. Campbell estate and what had been for more than 30 years the most popular amusement park in Montreal became a simple playground.