Griffintown: Keegan House Saved. Really?

April 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

Montreal is a strange place.  The city basically works in completely counter-intuitive ways.  Last week, the Comité consultatif d’urbanisme (CCU) of the arrondissement sud-ouest of the Ville de Montréal denied permission to developer, Maitre-Carré, to tear down the oldest building in Griffintown, a grotty old house that stands at 175, rue de la Montagne.  The Keegan House, as it is now known, was built sometime between 1825 and 1835, on Murray Street, a block over from its present state.  It was moved to what was then McCord Street in 1865, around the same time that the handsome row of townhouses was constructed up the block.

When Maitre Carré’s plans were first made public, I was apprehensive, but also thought that perhaps the developer deserved our benefit of the doubt, insofar as it had, at least, made some nod to heritage in Griff when Hugo Girard-Beauchamp, the company’s president, bought the Horse Palace and has at least nodded to the idea of maintaining the Palace as a working stable going forward (whether this will happen in practice is a whole different kettle of fish).  Indeed, as my friend, G. Scott MacLeod, a film-maker interested in Griff, said, Maitre-Carré is the only developer that has at least acknowledged the history and heritage of the neighbourhood.  Indeed, other condo developers, most notably Devimco and Préval have been more interested in stuffing ugly, neo-brutalist blocks of condos down on the Griffintown landscape, completely destroying the streetscape (such as it existed) and dwarfing the original buildings.

Having said all that, at this point anyway (because one never knows in Montreal), this is an optimistic sign.  Anne-Marie Sigouin, the city councillor for Saint-Paul/Émard, and the chair of the CCU, said (according to The Gazette) “We have sent the architects back to the drawing board.  We want to send a clear message on heritage protection.”  This is rather surprising, since the CCU and the Ville de Montréal as a whole have not demonstrated much in the way of leadership up to now in Griff.

Montréal’s Griffintown Redevelopment #FAIL

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

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