What most people first notice is the Hornstein Pavilion, in the middle of the photo above, a Beaux Arts styled building completed by the noted Maxwell Brothers architectural firm in 1912. Today, this pavilion is dedicated to world cultures and archeology. If I recall correctly, it also houses Ben Weider’s collection of Napoleon memorabilia, including one of the late emperor’s undershirts. The Hornstein Pavilion features four massive Ionic columns and intricate bas-reliefs with a variety of sculptures and installations gathered in front. It doesn’t need the stately lettering along the edge of the roof, nor the signs out front, to make it any more obvious it’s an art museum.
The museum was previously located in the former Art Association of Montreal building on the northeast corner of Phillips Square, roughly on the same location of where that godawful Burger King stands today. The association traces its roots back to 1860, seven years before Confederation, when it was established by Bishop Fulford (this building’s name suddenly came to mind, it’s an old-folks home next to the Bar-B-Barn, steps away from Concordia).
The first major expansion of the museum was, logically enough, immediately behind the Hornstein Pavilion, and is quite possibly the least severe brutalist structure in the city. The Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion opened in 1976 and is today dedicated to design and decorative arts. It is built into the rising side of the mountain, the low, flat boxes of the pavilion jutting out like rock formations. Ivy, earth tones and set-back, dark-tinted windows enhance its natural aesthetic by reminding one of caves and crags, in actuality open-air spaces, terraces and balconies.
I’m not crazy about this new design as I feel it’s too out of step with its surroundings. We’ll see how it works out, I have a feeling the design may change a bit between now and it’s intending opening in 2017, for the city’s 375th anniversary.
I took in the recent Impressionism exhibit at the MMFA on closing day – always an exciting time to visit a museum, even if it is chocked-full of the dilettantes and bridge & tunnel types of our local cultural community. I count myself proudly among them, and either way it’s a nice feeling to see the place at maximum capacity, because I know more often than not I’ve seen the place too empty.
As an aside, after seeing the lines two weeks prior, I decided to get a VIP membership. Would highly recommend, many excellent little bonuses (i.e. no waiting, 10% off in bookstore etc.) and have a gander at the MMFA’s beautiful website while you’re at it.
Though perhaps times are changing. The museum has been expanding considerably over the last few years – they just opened a dedicated children’s education centre where there was once an ill-suited eye-glass store, and the renovation of the old Erskine & American Presbyterian Church into the new Canadian arts pavilion was completed last year and is an excellent demonstration of the re-purposing of heritage architecture. It looks like the museum is gearing up once more to expand, this time into a fifth pavilion south of the main halls of the Desmarais Pavilion on Sherbrooke. The new building will be completed in five years to house a sizeable collection of Old Master paintings donated by Michal and Renata Hornstein. Cost is $25 million and to be paid by the province. Here’s the presser announcing the finalists.
Though the initial cost estimate may seem very low and likely to change, perhaps what we build over the next five years (in the lead-up to the city’s 375th anniversary and the nation’s sesquicentennial) won’t get taxed by “Monsieur 3%”. From what I’ve heard from some ‘well-placed sources’ in the local construction industry, the Charbonneau Commission has at the very least succeeded in making people far more discreet in their dealings, and cost throttling and the various other acts of brazen corruption we’ve been discussing are not occurring to the same degree as they once did. All that to say, build now while we’re being cautious.
Perhaps this is why Alexandre Taillefer is so keen to move Calder’s Man – maybe he wants it as an integral part of a wholly redesigned MACM (of which he is chairman of the board.)
I would rather see our contemporary art museum prominently display an original piece created with a specific purpose in mind. Moreover, I’d want that piece to not only be emblematic of the museum, but made by a local as well.
And yeah, we need to make sure kids understand that the oil in Alberta comes from extinct dinosaurs and not the magical hand of god. A natural history museum with some fearsome looking dinosaur recreations can help us inoculate our children against creationism, and if there was ever an unaddressed public health concern that’s it in my books.
Further west, parts of the remnants of Fort Senneville may date from 1692 when the French Governor rebuilt the original 1671 construction, itself destroyed by fire, but this is difficult to ascertain given how little is actually left. Last I heard there were parts of a stone windmill and parts of the foundation.
Chateau Ramezay, across the street from the Hotel-de-Ville (1878, rebuilt in 1922) dates back to 1705 with certainty, as its regal and political importance kept it very much in use until it was developed into one of the city’s first public heritage and cultural sites. The Chateau competes with the Sulpician Seminary as the oldest continually used, continuously important, building.
We lack buildings from much of the 18th century thanks to a series of fires which destroyed the city several times over the course of that century. By the early 1800s new fire-prevention measures had been implemented, including the use of tin shingles in lieu of cedar (a point honoured in the mural at McGill Station, near the words ‘La Sauvegarde’). The pre-Confederation part of the 19th century witnessed a revival in ‘Habitant’ architecture dating back to the mid-17th century (in design and materials used) among local architects, while American and British firms worked on larger public constructions, such as the Bonsecours Market (1847) and Saint Patrick’s Basilica (1847) and the original Parliament Building (destroyed by a Tory mob in 1849 and today the location of a converted fire hall at Place d’Youville. In 1815 the old fortifications were torn down, allowing the city to begin expanding outward. In this sense, everything you consider to be city outside of Old Montreal has really only been in use for about two-hundred years, though most of the buildings were built in the last half-century.
That said we nonetheless have a few 18th century examples remaining, including the Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel (otherwise known as the Sailor’s Cathedral) built in 1771 on the ruins of another church. There also still stands the Papineau House, built in 1785.
Rue de la Frippone owes its name to the Old French government warehouse that once stood on the site, as the government officials would habitually fleece the stocks for their own use. Thus, cheat street.
I can imagine there may be some old treasures lost about Rue Saint-Paul, Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Saint-Gabriel and Saint-Francois-Xavier as well, but the prevalence of ‘heritage design’ in the 19th century makes it a difficult task to ascertain just how old something actually is.
Suffice it to say, what we generally consider to be the ‘architecturally significant’ old part of the city is only about 100-160 years old, not terribly representative of our nearly 400 year local history. In effect, the most tangible reminder of our colonial era is a system of roads laid down by surveyor Dollier de Casson back in the late-17th century.
In this book it discusses what would have been the oldest structures in the city back at the turn of the 20th century, and as you might imagine the aforementioned examples are included. However it also suggests that a building on Rue Saint-Vincent may have once belonged to Monsieur De Catalogne, contractor of the Lachine Canal of 1700. The building here in white may be that house. There’s another on Rue Saint-Louis which also looks quite old, an odd small single-family home on a comparatively large plot near the municipal courthouse.
Broadly defined, a former monument that, for whatever reason, no longer serves any real purpose. An ex-landmark, no longer on anyone’s horizon. A kind of de-facto folly. Broader still, the realm of monuments that never were, conceptualized and forgotten. I would consider such breadth of a term only because, even if never actualized they often left traces of themselves; shadows of what could have been.
I think you’d find nonuments in most cities – hell, some cities could be described as nonumental (such as Downtown Detroit – there’s a definite intersection between my idea of a nonument and urban decay, such as has been seen in the de-industrialization of the Great Lakes/Saint Lawrence/Hudson River conurbation; example). And of course, as you might imagine, I’ve compiled a list of sorts of notable local examples.
There’s something I find particularly sad about these nonuments – it’s the idea a close-knit social group, such as a city, would lose a bit of its prestige, of its demonstrable wealth, the built environment as tribute to local success. I suppose it’s the loss of something that once inspired many people, often simply by looking at it, or the idea that we’d forget the significance.
But perhaps I’m being overly sentimental. Most of these examples could be revived in one way or another.
Top spot goes to the Alcan Aquarium, operated from 1967 to 1991. The Aquarium was once considered to be among the very finest in the world, and it sported an extensive collection of species, in addition to performing dolphins and a colony of penguins in a reconstructed Antarctic habitat. Back in the day the city was far more directly implicated in the operation of local attractions and as a result of a city-workers strike in the early 1980s several dolphins perished due to neglect, their care-takers apparently unable to gain access to tend to these poor mammals. Attendance pretty much nose-dived after that.
Facilities of this type aren’t much in fashion anymore, and we’re not running short on exhibition space. The idea of having a large, public, interactive cultural space in this part of the city still seems attractive to me, perhaps as either a public market or museum of local natural and social history.
If we ever host another Olympiad, we should seriously consider purchasing an ocean liner and use it as a floating convention centre, hotel, resort and casino after the games. It would add a lot of life to the Old Port and, given that it would be a cruise ship or ocean liner, would of course come equipped with everything needed to begin operations, immediately. Not to mention it would look good too, and could give the Old Port and Old Montreal a year-round tourist-driven economic activity generator.
I’m still a fan of our mountain serving as the best view in our city; would love to see this space redeveloped into a vast parkland of sorts, it’s a nice place for a picnic. The amount of land dedicated to cars at Parc Jean-Drapeau and vehicular traffic is far too high, in my opinion. I can imagine an integrated, automated parc-centric mass transit system, such as the former Expo Express easing the dependency on automobiles at the park and, if suitably connected to the downtown, potentially serve to better unify the diverse collection of activities on the islands.
Our final entry, though i’m sure I’ll think of additional examples later on, is the saddest entertainment complex I can think of – the former Montreal Forum.
The winningest team in pro-hockey’s greatest shrine is an underused shopping mall, multiplex cinema and poorly conceived entertainment hub. It could have been transformed into anything and I’d argue it still can. The Pepsi Forum (or whatever it’s called today) doesn’t really work, and there’s an absolutely massive quantity of unused space within the building.
I’ve always felt that the location is ideally suited for a major performance venue. I think it’s all that’s missing from the Atwater/Cabot Square area – a socio-cultural anchor that draws in large quantities of locals on a regular basis for the purpose of seeing a show of one kind or another. Something that would help stimulate the development of a ‘Western Downtown’ entertainment hub centred on the new Forum, with ample bars, restaurants, bistros and the like.
Today the area has a bit of a ‘has-been/once-was’ reputation I think is directly attributed to the loss of the forum as our city’s principle sports and entertainment venue. Re-developing the building has certain advantages, in that there’s not much to preserve of the physical building aside from it’s shell, and there’s a vast amount of space within the current building which is completely unused. Ergo, it’s possible current tenants could be relocated within the building’s basement with a new performance space built on top. A major re-design of the faÃ§ade would be required because, quite frankly, it’s an eyesore as is.
I’ll admit, when I discovered there was an Instagram-branded digital camera I bemoaned the death of Polaroid, but hey, who am I to tell the free-market what to do?
Personally, I like the filters and the way by which the filters are able to ameliorate otherwise low-quality digital photos, but I’m sure that will change too as the technology improves. Regardless, here are some of my favourite snap-shots of people and places in our fair city.
An afterthought – both of these buildings have lost their anchor tenants. The tower was originally jointly owned by IBM and Marathon Realty, another 350th anniversary gift to the city from the private sector. It was built in competition with 1000 de la Gauchetiere West, and though both are icons of the city’s post-modern architecture, both lack anchor tenants. Odd considering how beautiful both are, how centrally located they are. Windsor Station was the corporate head office of Canadian Pacific Railways until 1997 when they consolidated their operations in Calgary. Today I believe CSIS maintains an office there. I wonder if new residential developments in the area will have any effect on their future significance in the urban tapestry.
A place where everyone can pass a long summer day thinking about tomorrow, pondering what could be. I think we’re lucky it’s considered an element of good design to include some type of balcony, front porch or rooftop terrace on urban residential construction here. In some places its quite the rarity, considered old-fashioned. Odd no?
Also gruesome are the many sturgeon floating around in the Great Lakes ecosystem fish tank, but I digress.
It had been twenty years since I had been to the Biodome and nothing had changed, it was remarkable – like stepping back in time to the early 1990s. The paint scheme was particularly glaring. The same can be said of the Olympic Tower, though it seemed to have not been aesthetically updated since 1987. Much of the Olympic complex had this vibe. Pie-IX station, for example, seems a bit of a relic to a bygone age. It’s massive size is overpowering given how few people actually use it, and the deep earth tones combined with the shape and size of the passageways and mezzanine make it seem more an ancient cave-temple than simple subway station. I find it to be a hauntingly beautiful station, topped off with a close access corridor used to stockpile old STM equipment. It was not so much like walking into the past, inasmuch as it felt like walking around something formerly significant.
The interior of the observation deck was hopelessly out-dated and as mentioned prior, offered nothing to do nor really anything to learn, which I also found surprising. The Eiffel Tower has plaques and posters that will tell you much of the city’s history by pointing to various locations. We by contrast have old and yellowing photographs of the city that list out the names of buildings. There was no one to tell you about why the tower was built, what purpose it serves nor any technical information about the world’s tallest inclined tower. Again, I found all this to be very, very odd.
And yet, I’d still recommend it to just about anyone – the Olympic Tower is an exercise in time travel, and you’ll no doubt delight in the late-1980s interior design. Also – Montreal Pro Tip; if the line to get into the Biodome is too long (when we got there we were told we had a 45 minute wait), you can buy a combo ticket to the Tower and Biodome at the tower’s ticket kiosk for an additional seven bucks. There’s typically no line to go up the tower.