February 6, 2014 § 3 Comments
The Gazette this morning reports news that the Keegan House just around the corner on rue de la Montagne from Wellington, and across from where St. Ann’s Church once stood, is under threat of demolition from Maitre-Carré, the developer responsible for the condo tower at the corner of de la Montagne and Ottawa. The Keegan House was built sometime between 1825 and 1835 on Murray Street, a block over. In 1865, it was moved to its current site.
The house was moved because of the development around Griff. Unlike many other urban neighbourhoods, and unlike the current redevelopment, Griffintown was developed on a lot-by-lot basis. There were not block long, or multi-lot developments as a rule. So as Murray Street was developed, Andrew Keegan, a school teacher, moved his house to a more prestigious locale, across the street from St. Ann’s Church. As David Hanna, an urban studies professor at UQÀM, notes, the block across the street from St. Ann’s was where the nicest housing in Griff was. But that is still a relative statement. Even the nicest homes in Griffintown could not compare with even the swankier locales across the canal in Pointe-Saint-Charles.
In recent years, the Keegan House has fallen into disrepair. I was in the building 7 or 8 years ago, and it was in rough shape. Maitre-Carré have bought the lots from 161-75 de la Montagne for redevelopment. Also slated to be demolished is the building that housed what used to be the Coffee Pot, a hangout for Griffintowners across the street from the Church. After the Coffee Pot closed in the early 1960s, the building was split in two, with a dépanneur and a tavern operating there. The tavern limped to its death about a decade ago. Both the Coffee Pot building and the Keegan House were given an unfortunate renovation in the 1950s or 60s, with their outer walls encased in concrete, which greatly diminished their aesthetic appeal.
Now what makes this story interesting and oh-so Montréal is that Hugo Girard-Beauchamp, the president of Maitre-Carré, claims that his company has no intention of destroying the Keegan House and, in fact, wishes to incorporate it into the new development. You know what? I believe him. Maitre-Carré and Girard-Beauchamp are the ones were worked with through the Griffintown Horse Palace Foundation. And while he remains a businessman, Girard-Beauchamp was also more than willing to listen to us and even help us preserve the Horse Palace. In fact, I would go so far as to say, at least when I was on the Board of the GHPF, that we would not have succeeded without his help.
However. This is Montréal. The borough isn’t sharing the plans for this development. Julie Nadon, the chief of planning for the borough, says they’re “confidential.” They shouldn’t be. Too much of the redevelopment of Griffintown has been done this way. The Ville de Montréal has operated in Star Chamber secrecy, refusing to divulge its plans to anyone other than the developers until it’s too late. A couple of years ago, the Ville de Montréal held a public session at the ÉTS to show off its plans for Griff. It’s plans had already been made with 0 public input. None. At all.
Montréal’s Star Chamber secrecy violates the very principles of democracy and the things that Montréal likes to pride itself on, which is an open city, with a creative class proud of its civic engagement. In Griffintown, the Ville de Montréal stonewalls civic engagement at each and every turn. It’s embarrassing and it’s no way to run a city. #fail
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.
September 4, 2010 § Leave a comment
I am pleased to announce that the Griffintown Horse Palace Foundation will be hosting a shared benefit soirée on Thursday, 14 October from 6-9pm with the Darling Foundry. The event will be held at the Darling, which is located at 745, rue Ottawa, in Griffntown. The poster is below.
Tickets cost 125$, per person and are tax deductible. They can be procured either by contacting me, or on the Horse Palace Foundation’s website.