A good friend recently asked me which building here in Montréal tops my list as favourite. Didn’t take me very long to choose the Sun Life Building, a Montréal landmark sans-pareil. Built over the course of twenty years between 1913 and 1933, the SLB is made of Stanstead Granite, and towers some 26 floors above Dorchester Square in the Central Business District of Montréal. It was, at one point, the tallest and largest building in the British Empire, a title later held by Place Ville-Marie. The building was deemed an ideal location for the storage of the British crown jewels during the Second World War, as it was widely believed the building could sustain significant damage via direct bombing without succumbing. I still hope they were right.
The interior was renovated after Sun Life moved out in 1978. A small local office is maintained by the company, which precipitated the ‘Anglo Exodus’ after the passage of Bill 101 in 1978 when they decided to uproot the operation and sail on down the 401 to Toronto. Many other major corporations followed, which only makes the list of major corporations still operating out of Montréal that much more significant (in my opinion). Regardless, the building is still considered to be a major piece of local real estate, and is well used. The building has neo-classical and art-deco elements, providing a well-proportioned monument which maintains an excellent relationship with the square in front of it. Few other buildings in the city are complimented as well – its almost as if the park was made for the building.
Starting in December, I believe, a ‘player-celesta’ dating from the very early part of the 20th century, plays sheet music piped outside by speakers, flooding the square below with beautiful music. The last few times I heard it, it was around 5pm, and was preceded by the church bells of St-George’s Anglican. The centre of the city was alive with pleasant music, and all around me I saw the weariness of a long day’s work dissipate just long enough to manifest itself in the form of smiling faces as far as I could see.