The belief that Anglophone capitalists were recklessly redeveloping the city and destroying an element of our cultural aesthetic was somewhat prevalent among the early urban preservation movement and sovereignist movement, and indeed there was a lot of overlap in terms of public demonstrations of the time. Sovereignists, favouring a more socially-conscious method of urban redevelopment that encouraged public repossession and conversion of heritage properties by the state, were quick to join demonstrations against the destruction of entire neighbourhoods and iconic mansions. It was somewhat ironic, given that the people of the Square Mile during it’s golden era (from 1880 to 1930) were often thought of as those who oppressed working class French Canadians. In many ways the excess of the Square Mile and its people (who controlled 70% of the nation’s wealth for a time) played a role in the development of the Quebec independence movement.
In his judgement as culture minister, Maka Kotto believes the Redpath House is of no *ahem* national heritage value.
I’ll grant that the home isn’t the actual house of John Redpath (but I’m fairly certain is the last of the Redpath family’s Square Mile homes), and I agree with the minister for deploring that nothing was done back when the house was in better shape.
But the minister simply asked that the owner do something to remind passers-by that the home once stood there and should be recognized.
Like a plaque. Or maybe the Sochaczevski’s will call their new condo building ‘Le Redpath’.
Oooh! Sounds historical!
I just don’t understand why the province wouldn’t mandate that the new building incorporate part of the old. I’m not keen on this generally speaking but when it’s the only option in lieu of total demolition I’d go for it. Clearly the walls aren’t in that bad a shape – they’re still standing after thirty years of abandonment. At least if the few remaining Queen Anne style architectural details were preserved it wouldn’t be a total loss.
Either way, very disappointing. Pretty much everyone loses with the exception of the family who was jerked around for a generation by an incompetent heritage preservation bureaucracy.
And they’ve been on the losing end for thirty years. It’s hard to feel bad for rich people who find themselves unable to make more money, or feel good for them when they finally get some justice and can proceed to tear down some history to put up another god forsaken condominium in a high-density neighbourhood.
So I’m all kinds of conflicted on this one.
Ultimately I can agree with the minister – something should have been done long ago and shame on those responsible thirty years ago for not reacting as people today would have preferred.
You can understand why this really doesn’t make me feel any better. Blaming people from long ago for making poor decisions does nothing to protect the past from future development.
Good news in the world of architectural heritage preservation (boy I like writing that) as culture minister Maka Kotto announced a thirty-day moratorium on the planned demolition of the historic Redpath Mansion.
The culture ministry used a law stipulating that if the government feels there’s a ‘real threat of significant degradation of a property that may have heritage value’ it can stop work for about a month during which time it would (drum roll) produce a study concerning the building and it’s architectural and/or historic value.
*Note – come to think of it, I’ve seen this building named after Frederick Redpath as wellm so this will need to be cleared up.
So there’s the short answer as to whether the house has any historic value. Montreal simply wouldn’t have become the metropolis it is today without the Lachine Canal. Mr. Redpath is as good an example as any of the kinds of wealthy industrialists that once drove the economy of this city (and province, and country) and who populated the Square Mile district over one hundred years ago (note – it was never actually referred to as the Golden Square Mile).
Also, the home was the site of the grisly murder of two Redpaths, a murder unsolved to this day – see more here.
As to the architecture, the building is significant in that it’s one of the few remaining examples of Queen Anne style architecture, and was designed by the noted architect Sir Andrew Taylor (who also designed the Redpath and Osler libraries at McGill) and constructed circa. 1885-1886.
Unfortunately, the building has been left to crumble, an excellent case of ‘demolition via neglect’.
It’s significant in that respect too, and this is why, despite the building’s poor shape, I’m glad this injunction will prevent it’s demolition.
In sum, I want it to continue standing forevermore, and I want nothing to be done to it to save it.
I’d very much like for this city to have a permanent ruin, a once gorgeous, impressive, ludicrously well-appointed Gilded Age mansion destroyed by greed and political incompetence.
Let it stand, a testament to itself.
Plus, I’m curious to see how long it will stand if we just let nature take its course.
It’s been vacant for more than thirty years, and a portion of the home was demolished prior to the previous injunction filed against the rightful owners of the home, the Sochaczevski family, also the proprietors of The Suburban.
How the situation unfolded works something like this. First, the Sochaczevski’s purchased the house with the intention of having it demolished so that a condo tower could be built on the site. Apparently there was no problem until Heritage Montreal/Sauvons Montreal caught wind of it and had a last-minute injunction filed with the provincial authorities. this was done, but not before part of the house had already been demolished. Then there was a lot of legal wrangling in which nothing was done for many years, the building left to crumble.
Now the owners are making yet another attempt to develop a new building on the site – though this time it’ll be for ‘student housing’ (though not actually affiliated with any known university, nor offering the coziness of sleeping in something which is designed buy the same companies who build prisons…) i.e. really expensive flop houses for wealthy foreign students.
And once again someone has stepped in to prevent the demolition from taking place.
We’re literally back to square one.
From what I know the Sochaczevski’s haven’t been compensated one iota for all this dicking around.
And it’s not like Heritage Montreal or the Quebec government has any idea what to do with the building either. In fact, no one does, and because of the poor condition it’s in, no one wants to front the cash to fix it up.
The owners can be blamed for letting it go to waste, but at the same time, it’s ridiculous for us to have heritage preservation laws on the books if there’s no compensation nor any follow through.
It’s quite the penalty to the owners but it also demands that the city and province have a plan and a better way to deal with problems such as these. And you’d think we’d have figured out that solution quite some time ago, given architectural preservation drives our tourism industry.
So all to say I’m encouraged by the government’s decision but would love to get a little further than simply delaying demolition. We need a plan and I don’t think the PQ is going to start dishing out money to renovate a Gilded Age mansion with no plan regarding its use after the job is complete. And the Redpath House is just the tip of the iceberg.
What about the Lafontaine House, crumbling away as the last piece of the forgotten Overdale neighbourhood. Louis-Hyppolyte Lafontaine was arguably more important than even John Redpath and his house is in slightly better condition and there’s no plan at all to save it from being demolished.
Then there’s the Notman House, also historically significant. Last I heard it was being used for local start-ups but that was a while ago and so the project may have fizzled. The old Dandurand Wines office on Sherbrooke (the Forget House?) has been empty for some time, but at the very least is being maintained.
Long story short, the city, province and federal government need to coordinate to save these homes and repurpose them for the public’s use. The same can and should be said for our city’s many churches, which have become exceptionally important not for religious and spiritual reasons, but because they provide vitally necessary space to community groups. As neat as it might be to convert one or two old churches into condominiums and/or spas, we need to remember that these buildings fundamentally belong to the public and not the highest bidder.
But again, without any kind of organization in place to transition these buildings into new roles and secure funding, we’re at as much of a risk of losing significant amounts of our architectural heritage inasmuch as the physical realms of community and civic engagement.
Which in turn begs the question – what is the point of architectural preservation advocacy groups if they’re limited to simply pointing out dangers and cataloguing what has been lost and what might be lost in the future?
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.
So a recent article on Coolopolis piqued my curiosity. It features an interview Kristian Gravenor did with a man by the name of Billy Georgette, who has been doggedly pursuing local officials, politicians and people of influence to do something about the former Victoria Rink.
So what? It’s an old rink, what’s so special? you might be asking. Well, it is at the Victoria Rink that the first organized game of modern ice hickey was played, in 1875.
That, and it set the dimensions for the modern ice-hockey surface – roughly the distance between Stanley and Drummond.
Oh, and it was also the location of the first Stanley Cup game (which we won).
And it was the first building in Canada to be electrified.
Then Edison and Tesla showed up.
Not to mention Lord Stanley, who took in his first hockey game (which we won) at the rink, and was reported to have been thoroughly delighted with the spirited game.
And it sucks that it has survived for no other reason than the fact that people need a place to park. Oh well, at least its still with us. And it deserves better. This building ought to be a shrine, and there’s a movement afoot to do just that. The word is that certain people may be interested in seeing this building converted into a new facility, though the question remains as to what exactly it ought to be.
In addition to recreating the ice surface, a portion of the building, or perhaps an adjoining structure (there’s a big empty lot immediately to the North), could feature a ‘Montreal Hockey Museum’, though I can imagine the main draw would be simply to skate around a beautifully restored antique skating rink. A similar idea has been applied to the design of modern baseball stadiums in the States, and there are specially designed ballparks for the modern deadball leagues becoming popular down South (in essence, its baseball played the way it was when originally created, in the Antebellum Period). I have a feeling it wouldn’t be long before ‘old-time-hockey’ leagues were formed here – what a draw that would be!
The Empress Theatre is back in the hands of the Borough of Cote-des-Neiges/ Notre-Dame-de-Grace, and the City is calling on the public for suggestions on what to do with the 84 year-old theatre.
CTV Montreal reports that after a 12-year effort to develop the former theatre into a community cultural centre, the borough has decided to reclaim the building and the reigns as to the project’s direction. This Fall they’ll be hearing new and revised proposals for the site, which has been abandoned since an electrical fire gutted much of the interior back in 1992.
I’ve had the chance to correspond with several people involved with the revitalization project over the years, and have even had the chance to go inside and see the potential of this building. It’s unreal. It has that warm fuzzy feeling large empty buildings slowly being reclaimed by nature give off.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the damage, and there is a dearth of investment capital for theatre renovation these days, as one might imagine. Back last August renovation work was estimated at $11 million and the City was inclined to support some of the work, but the project otherwise had to finance itself.
This in turn leads me to one of the major sticking points of the project: how will it generate revenue? It would seem as though this is not just a sticking point for myself, but for the project as a whole. No one knows how to come up with the capital if not for government grants and private donations. What I found curious was that there didn’t seem to be a plan for use of the space as a performance venue. While it was hoped that the site would become a permanent home to a theatre company, there were no other plans to generate revenue through performance, which is exactly what this kind of a theatre was designed to do.
The Empress was built in 1927 as an Egyptian-styled ‘atmospheric theatre’ with a comparatively high seating capacity, featuring a balcony and boxes. The ornate interiors were designed by world-renowned theatre designer Emmanuel Briffa, who had also designed the interiors of a host of other Montreal theatres – almost none of which survive today. There isn’t much to salvage, and indeed any revitalization of this space, if it were to be done to resurrect the aesthetic of Briffa so as to do tribute to him, would necessitate additional costs to incorporate what remains of the original design into a cohesive reproduction of the original, something which may be possible thanks to the rather large qualities of media collected for just such a reconstruction. But more to the spirit of the theatre, the Empress was designed to be used with vaudeville in mind, and was thus inherently designed to be multi-functional, providing a wide spectrum of performance entertainment possibilities. It was well known in this respect.
Click here for an ultra high-resolution picture of the former Cinema V from back in 1982.
Today, the Empress is a hollow shell of its former self. It has been abandoned since the fire in 1992 and is slowly being eroded by time and the elements. If nothing is done, it will go the way of the Seville and York Theatres. The City has been described as having seized the Empress from the non-profit Empress Cultural Centre which up until recently was in-charge of finding a developer interested in revitalizing the dilapidated theatre.
Seize sounds overly dramatic, given that no one has the capital to redevelop the theatre, ownership of a semi-abandoned too-dangerous-for-admittance building seems tenuous for all parties concerned. It’s a miracle the building is at least structurally sound – for the moment.
The interior is dark, stark, and filled with all the goodies an urban explorer goes looking for. As you can imagine, the people in charge of the revitalization effort aren’t too pleased with the explorers, who inadvertently drive up insurance costs.
And so it is, back to the public for calls and considerations. What to do with an old theatre that could be saved and put to good use for the community by providing a much-needed performing arts venue, if only someone was prepared to put between 10 and 15 million dollars into an obstinately altruistic endeavour? What to do indeed!
It’s profoundly naive to think someone’s going to come up with this kind of capital if the project has no hope of generating revenue. This is a double-penalty to the initial investor, as there would remain the issue of financing the yearly operating costs of whatever cultural activities going on inside. None of this would be cheap.
Therefore, it seems profoundly irresponsible to me to go forward on this project without knowing exactly how, we as members of the community, intend to generate the capital necessary for completion. If the community can’t figure out how to pay for this project, then the city will turn around, condemn the building and raze it, partially or thoroughly, and allow a developer to do with the site as he or she sees fit. And if this happens, everybody loses, city and citizens together. The citizens will lose a vital cultural space located in the centre of the community, while the city loses the potential indirect economic benefits of having just such an institution in our backyard.
NDG lacks a proper performing arts venue, and Sherbrooke Street West lacks a cultural institution to anchor the street and serve as an intellectual and cultural focal point of the community. The Empress could be all these things, in addition to an economic generator if there was an organization in place whose goal it was to generate a ‘self-sustaining’ level of revenue through regularly scheduled performances and other entertainment activities. I can imagine a seat of community activity, all day, every day, right across from the jewel that is Girouard Park. Moving forward it is imperative that revenue-creation be taken into consideration as an element of the renovation/revitalization of the site.
But what about the community? We need something more than just a performance venue, we need a community cultural centre, which is another vital community component lacking from NDG. An architect was brought in to make a recommendation as to what to do with the space back in 2005. Among other things, he indicated there was enough space inside to have one or two stages, a gallery space, between two and three storefronts, offices, rehearsal and construction facilities in addition to a dance studio and rooftop terrace. It was ambitious to say the least, but it’s still feasible. And the bigger the redevelopment, the greater the possibilities for potential revenue creation. To handicap the project prematurely by not seeking a thorough renovation and maximization of the space inside would be regrettable, as this may only prolong the demise rather than stimulate new growth.
One final point: one of the greatest concerns of the people I spoke with, various local residents and members of the ECC, was that the city would repossess the building and sell it to an unscrupulous real estate developer who in turn would gut the interior and resort to banal faÃ§adism, providing a limited number of excessively expensive ‘theatre-themed’ condo units within. I thought the nightmare to be a bit over the top, but I suppose that danger isn’t completely irrational. Still, the Borough hasn’t yet made a call, and they in all sincerity think another public pitch for tenders may present new investors and opportunities.
Now consider this: there’s a parking lot adjacent to the Empress, roughly half the area of the theatre. The other half of the adjacent lot features a nondescript two floor building with restaurants and small shops.
A condominium project on this theatre-adjacent site, possibly a condo tower with a multi-floor underground parking lot and a commercial rental-property base, may provide the initial investment capital for the Empress’ rehabilitation. I can’t imagine a more solid investment than one in Montreal’s as-yet un-satiated condo market, especially if this particular condo project would a) be in a neighbourhood where condos are still a rarity, b) have a commanding view of Girouard Park, the Oratory, the Mountain, the City (and just about everything else!) and c) be adjacent to a newly revitalized performing arts venue and community cultural centre. The Seville sold out in a half hour, do you think we could beat that record? I can imagine the owner of the adjacent building and parking lot could be motivated to sell or invest, especially if the resulting commercial base offered his tenants more modern and efficient facilities. At least three revenue streams could be generated from such a development, and this in turn could provide the capital necessary to execute the renovations of the Empress and provide start-up funds for the performing arts venue and community cultural centre. These costs could be incorporated into the cost and value of the condominium units. I can imagine once the theatre is financially self-sustaining, they may be able to pay off this investment back to the condo developers.
In any event I digress, that’s just one unorthodox proposal. It should be an interesting few months and I’ll definitely be following this story.