Montreal Architecture

A Guide to Styles and Buildings

ISBN 2-92364401-8

François Rémillard and Brian Merrett

Foreword to the 1990 edition

An illustrated guide to the architecture of Montreal can be a source of pleasure for everyone who enjoys exploring buildings and speculating upon their meaning. It can also serve an important purpose in drawing attention to buildings of quality that need to be conserved, and the names of architects that need to be remembered.

To recognise architectural intention is the beginning of the pleasure buildings offer. The potential of architecture lies in the fact that whatever is built gives impression, the significance of which is the measure of architectural achievement. The scope of architecture arises from the desire of patrons that their buildings be appropriate and expressive. Good materials, craftsmanship and harmonious relations, showing an awareness of public opinion, can appeal intuitively as anything well-made; but symbolic forms and expressive details in buildings offer actual signs that can be read. The analogy of architecture with music or poetry appears to be irrespective of time, yet the time a building was built opens other dimensions of expression: it recalls current ideas, economic and social conditions, and technology. Buildings both intentionally and accidentally are recorders of periods of development and of prevailing concerns.

All our buildings show steps in technological development from fieldstone and lime mortar, to polished steel and plate glass. In relation to the extent of their exposure to the eye, nearly all our buildings display varying degrees of awareness to public opinion. Comparing fronts, sides and backs of buildings illustrates this fact and occasionally turns up buildings that are intentionally unified with presence. Following up this simple exercise will disclose the names of Ostell, Bourgeau, Hutchison, Perrault, Price, Taylor, McKim, Payette, Marchand, the Maxwells, Nobbs, Cormier, Barott, Pei, and Affleck to be among those who have designed important buildings in Montreal. Our religious and public buildings, as such buildings everywhere, display symbolic forms and expressive details in their appeal. Our cathedrals spare no architectural means in declaring their allegiance. Our hôtel de ville leaves no doubt about its purpose and poetically recalls Paris. The head offices of our principal banks obtain much of their apparent worthiness through splendid materials and conspicuous spaciousness.

Enthusiasm for styles or unified systems of architectural treatment can be found in Montreal, such as the mid-nineteenth-century Classical Revival or work related to the Beaux-Arts School of the early twentieth century. Representations of nearly all the phases of the Gothic Revival can be found here, as well as examples of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Deco and Modernism. We have one precious late seventeenth-century building that displays baroque principles of centrality and balance. A few eighteenth-century houses record the times of the fur trade. Many early nineteenth-century warehouses express the importance of Montreal’s merchant importers and their need for protection from fire and thieves. Many buildings show the nearly exclusive influence of Britain in the days communication depended entirely on ships. The commercial buildings of the late nineteenth century are the first to show the effect of railway connections with Boston, New York and Chicago. Periods of prosperity have left monumental works to record the aspirations and technological developments of such times. Periods of depression have been marked by mean and economical buildings, sometimes introducing periods of architectural severity outliving the hard times that brought them about.

Inside and out, Montreal buildings have stories to tell. The more they are known, the more pleasure they can give and the more likely they are to be admired and cared for. Montrealers are fortunate to have the benefit of François Rémillard’s skilful observations and Brian Merrett’s trained eye in recording them in this welcome publication.

John Bland (1911-2002)
Emeritus Professor of Architecture, 1941-1972

McGill University, Montreal

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