Changes in Griffintown, 2011-2014
February 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
I got an email from Dave Flavell the other day. I’ve known Dave for a few years; he contacted me awhile back for some help on a project he was doing on Griffintown. He was collecting oral histories of the community and its diaspora, with a view towards publishing a book. Last time we talked about it, he said the book was on its way to publication. This email contained photos of Griff, in particular of the Horse Palace on Ottawa street, taken in 2011, 2013, and 2014. The changes are stunning.
In the first photo, we look down Eleanor street at the Horse Palace, built in 1862, standing at the end of the block on Ottawa, surrounded by huge trees. Time was these were amongst the only trees in Griffintown a hundred years ago. The old St. Ann’s Kindergarten is on the left, now the headquarters of King’s Transfer, a moving company that’s been based in the neighbourhood for almost a century. It’s also where I conducted the majority of the oral history interviews for House of the Irish, thanks to the generosity of Bill O’Donell, the president of King’s. In this picture, the Horse Palace looks much as it has for the past thirty-forty years. But a closer look shows that it’s already under transformation. Leo Leonard, the legendary proprietor of the Horse Palace, and his wife Hugeuette, had already sold and moved to a retirement home. Leo, though, did not get much of an opportunity to enjoy retirement, he died in in July 2012 at the age of 87. Already, the building is under renovation, new windows have been put in on the second floor. But the actual stable, which is just out of sight, behind those moving trucks, was still in full working order.
The next picture was taken last year. From the exact same spot. Now the Horse Palace residence is dwarfed by an 8-story condo built next door and behind it, fronting on rue de la Montagne. This building was under construction in 2011, but had not yet risen to dwarf the Horse Palace. The Horse Palace building looks tiny and insignificant in the shadow of the condo, which stretches across at least three lots on de la Montagne.
The final picture was taken a couple of weeks ago, from the corner of Ottawa and de la Montagne, looking east. The shop fronts on Ottawa in the new building remain empty, but looking down the block, after the Horse Palace residence is the old paddock of the stable, which was bought last year by the Ville de Montréal for purposes of turning it into a park to provide access to the actual stables, which the Griffintown Horse Palace Foundation has done yeoman’s work to preserve and save. (Full disclosure: I was a board member of the GHPF from 2008 until I left Montréal in 2012). Continuing on past the paddock, another mid-19th century residence still stands. And then, at the corner of Ottawa and Murray, another, shorter, 4-story condo stands. It was built in 2011. The crane is on the site of Devimco’s massive “District Griffin” development on Peel street.
Even though I have seen this view down Ottawa from de la Montagne, I was still shocked by Dave’s photo. The entire landscape of Griffintown is massively changed. The condo at the corner of de la Montagne and Ottawa is representative of the redevelopment. The streets of Griffintown are narrow, the buildings have always been hard up against the sidewalk. This has contributed to a somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere, at least on those blocks where enough buildings still remain. But these old buildings were 2 floors, at most 3. The stacking of 4, 6, 8, 10-story condos, lining these narrow streets only enhances this claustrophobia. It devastates the urban environment.