Priority site

McGill and Golden Square Mile houses

Located between the Montréal General Hospital, the mount Royal and the McGill University

1505

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Identified houses
  • Davis House : 3653, de la Montagne Street
  • Duggan House : 3724, McTavish Street
  • Hosmer House : 3630, Sir-William-Osler Promenade
  • Charles Meredith House : 1130, Pine Avenue
  • Martlet House : 1430, Peel Street
  • Meredith Dependencies : 3706, Peel Street
  • Purvis Hall : 1020, Pine Avenue
  • Rabinovitch House : 3640, de la Montagne Street
  • 3605, de la Montagne Street
  • 3465, Durocher Street
  • 546, Pine Avenue
  • 1140, Pine Avenue
  • 3661, University Street
  • 3437, 3704, 3710, 3712/14 and 3715, Peel Street

History of the site

Between 1840 and 1930, the Square Mile was in its golden age. It was a time of great prosperity for the Anglophone bourgeoisie, who had left the overpopulated and noisy fortified old city for the fresh air higher up around Mount Royal. This commercial aristocracy controlled the country’s destiny and two-thirds of its wealth. The Anglophone upper society residents of this quadrilateral of approximately one square mile engaged in fox hunting, and dined on gourmet meals in villas inspired by Florence and the Scottish Highlands. But the serenity of the area was disrupted by the construction of Windsor Station and the department stores along Sainte-Catherine Street. Starting in 1900, the future downtown Montreal was gradually taking shape. With the 1929 crash, ostentatious tastes were on the wane and it became a challenge to pay for the staff needed to maintain the mansions. The Golden Square Mile princes migrated westward, toward Town of Mount Royal and Westmount. In their wake, streets were laid and apartments and office buildings erected in the neighbourhood, opening the door to real estate speculation.

In a mere 50 years, the Square Mile transitioned from its golden age to urban decay. The wave of industrialization at the turn of the 20th century led to the transformation of bourgeois homes. With little regard for the urban environment, the ‘50s and ‘60s saw the destruction of architectural heritage and shaped a different urban space. Dozens of mansions disappeared, replaced by housing units, rooming houses and apartment buildings of varying degrees of attractiveness. Only about 30% of the bourgeois homes survived, north of Sherbrooke Street.

Specific characteristics of the site

In terms of heritage, the Square Mile still features a unique concentration of mostly residential buildings that reflect an exceptional bounty of architecture and craftsmanship. Lavish Victorian houses, remarkable institutions, unique hotels, major arteries and shaded streets, parks and monuments define the face of this residential neighbourhood of Canada’s Anglophone upper class. Primarily built between 1850 and 1930, the buildings in this sector are of varied Victorian styles representing what was fashionable at the time, including Neoclassical, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Roman and, to a lesser extent, Art Nouveau.

Threats

Many of the mansions in the sector were, until recently, preserved through their institutional use. They are now in the midst of reclassification or will likely be put up for sale as part of a real estate development. This is particularly the case of the large residences that McGill University owns and plans to shut down soon as part of the Master Plan approved by the University’s Board of Governors in 2019. The Plan states that several of these residences are no longer suitable for the University’s institutional needs.

Despite its importance, the Square Mile heritage ensemble does not have a designation or specific strategy to protect and promote its heritage over current urban development considerations, such as urban planning parameters or building standards. Moreover, the interior decors of the buildings in the Square Mile, often of exceptional value, do not enjoy any official recognition or protective measures, including most of the buildings that have been classified, cited or included in the Mount Royal heritage site, which applies to the portion of the Square Mile north of Docteur-Penfield Avenue. The interior decors, gardens and ancillary buildings are of particular concern because many of the new owners are using their considerable means to embark on major expansion projects.

Current status

Currently under close watch

  • Municipality or borough

    Ville-Marie borough

  • Issues

    Urban Development

    Interior spaces

  • Owner(s)

    Private: McGill University

  • Threat(s)

    No upkeep

    Demand for land, speculation

    Inappropriate/incompatible use

  • Conception

    Edward et William Maxwell (1867 – 1923; 1874 – 1952), David Jerome Spence (1873-1955), Robert Findlay (1859 – 1951), John James Brown (1837-1893) and Andrew B. Taft (1816-1885)

  • Manager(s)

    McGill University

  • Categorie(s)

    Institutional

    Residential

  • Construction year

    Between 1840 and 1930

  • Recognition status

    Located in an area declared as a heritage site – Mount Royal Located in an area of exceptional heritage value – Golden Square Mile

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