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Priority site

Molson Brewery complex

1670, Notre-Dame Street East

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History of the site

Published on : October 02 2020

Last modified on : April 04 2023

In 1786, John Molson became sole proprietor of the brewery that had been built a few years earlier on the corner of Notre-Dame and Papineau streets. He had a new stone building erected and purchased two lots to extend his property from Notre-Dame Street to the St. Lawrence River in 1788 and 1789. Many buildings and residences were built on these lots, including John Molson’s home. Over the course of the 19th century, the buildings on the brewery property were significantly expanded and modified. The surrounding districts rapidly developed and the Molson family seized the opportunity to erect, on the rest of their property, new buildings, including a church, a college and housing, including the Molson Terrace, one of the first examples of row houses. In 1852, a major fire ravaged Montreal, destroying many of the dwellings as well as the brewery. However, the stone walls remained intact, which allowed the brewery to be rebuilt and brewing operations to resume.

During the 20th century, the site underwent major development. In 1913, a large stone building was erected, helping to unify the façade of the industrial complex. As of 1922, warehouses, a boiler house, grain dryers and fermentation rooms were built, as the Jacques-Cartier Bridge was taking shape right beside the complex. After 1945, more expansion work was done and a new brewing house was built in 1985, endowing the site with its present-day aesthetic.

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Vue aérienne du complexe de la brasserie Molson

Source: Pierre Lahoud, s.d. (tirée du magazine Continuité)

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Complexe de la brasserie Molson

Source: François Roy, archives La Presse

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Plan d’intervention d’ensemble

Source: Consortium pour la Molson, 2022

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Élévation rue Notre-Dame du projet

Source: Consortium pour la Molson, 2022

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Porte cochère sur Notre-Dame Est

Source: Consortium pour la Molson, 2022

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Proposition pour l’arrière du site donnant sur le fleuve

Source: Consortium pour la Molson, 2022

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Specific characteristics

The Molson Brewery is an industrial complex composed of an eclectic ensemble of buildings of varying forms and materials that reflect the different periods of its construction. The neo-Classical cut-stone façade situated near Papineau Avenue is the oldest part of the complex. Further to the west, the style is typical of the industrial period, first in stone, then in brick and, finally, in concrete. Today, certain elements, like the smokestack, the clock and the “Molson” lettering, on the Notre-Dame Street façade, are important landmarks on Montreal’s landscape, particularly from the Jacques-Cartier Bridge approach to the city.

Threats

In 2017, the Molson Brewery announced that it was moving its operations to Longueuil and leaving its Montreal complex behind. Concerned about the future of this emblematic site, the City commissioned the OCPM to hold public consultations on the Faubourgs sector with a view to developing a Special Planning Program (SPP) for Centre-Sud. The Montoni Group, in partnership with Selection Group, acquired the site and plans to develop a mixed ensemble based on the live-work-play principle, with residential units of varying typologies for different clienteles, businesses, offices as well as recreational equipment. It was agreed from the outset that the purchasing consortium will cede some of the land to be used to build a school, a community centre, a park, a riverside walkway and social housing.

Current events

The consortium, composed of Groupe Sélection, Montoni and the Fonds immobilier FTQ, issued a press release on March 9, 2022 to “present the first orientations of the redevelopment project of the former Molson brewery site”, more specifically concerning the Voltigeurs block, which includes the oldest buildings of the brewery complex. In February 2022, it submitted the project to the Ville-Marie borough’s Comité consultatif en urbanisme (CCU), which issued a favorable opinion on the project with certain conditions; the CCU’s opinion can be consulted in the minutes of the Ville-Marie borough council of March 8, 2022, on pages 1247 to 1250. The consortium wishes to preserve and requalify 75% of the existing buildings, while the remaining 25% will be demolished to give the site a breath of fresh air through public spaces, visual openings and access to the river, as well as to improve links with neighbouring districts. Although the details concerning the new constructions in the Voltigeurs block will be known later, we already know that they will have a cascading profile around the Molson Tower in order to avoid an overly massive built environment.

As for the heritage component, two silos located in the eastern part of the site will be restored in order to be highlighted in the project. The clock and the Molson Tower sign will be removed, restored and stored for reinstallation in the new buildings. The chimney is also planned to remain intact, after being restored to its former glory. Finally, other heritage elements, such as the grey stone façade on Notre-Dame Street East, will be preserved, restored and integrated into the project.

In February 2023, new financial partners to the project are being considered. Indeed, Groupe Sélection, the main project holder, has been protected from its creditors since the fall of 2022. The project continues, but the controller of the file (PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)) seeks to solidify the consortium (Groupe Sélection, 40%; Groupe Montoni, 30% and Fonds immobilier FTQ, 30%).

Actions of Héritage Montréal

Heritage Montréal is very attached to the Molson brewery, which constitutes a formidable historical witness for the metropolis in addition to being an important landmark in the Montreal landscape.

While the project is still in its infancy, and the development of the site should be completed around 2035, we have already raised a few concerns about the Molson Brewery’s industrial heritage. Since the site was sold to the promoters as is, its emblematic features, such as the smokestack and illuminated sign, should ideally be integrated into the project to preserve the memory of its industrial past and the important role that the Molson Brewery played in the development of the sector.

In 2018, the Molson Brewery industrial complex is the subject of one of our annual resolutions (2018-02), calling for:

  • That the project to reallocate the former Molson brewery, this iconic heritage complex of the metropolis and its commercial and industrial history, be exemplary and inspiring for current and future generations in order to constitute, not only a real estate success but above all , a model and a legacy worthy of this great secular company and its place in the urban and riverside landscape, and that a process of consultation and reflection be put in place to this end;
  • That the City of Montreal, on the occasion of projects for the former Molson brewery, diligently adopt an effective strategy on industrial heritage, its enhancement and reallocation within the framework of the development of the city and its neighborhoods , taking into account the reflections carried out in Montreal since the 1983 international congress, of which Heritage Montreal was one of the organizers, but also achievements such as the conversion of Angus factories and foreign examples and international principles adopted by ICOMOS in 2011.

In 2019, as part of its annual ArchitecTours, Heritage Montréal presented the history of Montreal brewers to the public, highlighting in particular the importance of the Molson brewery in the economic and architectural landscape of the metropolis.

Heritage Montréal had the opportunity to talk to the Molson family about the importance of this industrial heritage and continues to put pressure on various actors so that the rehabilitation of this formidable site is worthy of the importance it is for the industrial memory of Montreal.

  • Municipality or borough

    Ville-Marie borough

  • Issues

    Mechanisms for protection

    Urban Development

    Urban landscape

  • Owner(s)

    Private: consortium (Montoni Group with Sélection Group and the Fonds immobilier de solidarité FTQ)

  • Threat(s)

    Lack of knowledge

    Demand for land, speculation

    Demolition

  • Manager(s)

    Owners

  • Categorie(s)

    Industrial

  • Construction year

    1786-1789 (first buildings); 1913 (new building and unified stone facade); 1945 and following years (expansion by McDougall, Smith et Flemming, architects); 1985 (new brewing room)

  • Recognition status

    Building of exceptional heritage value Located in an area of exceptional heritage value – Molson Brewery

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