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InspirAction

InspirAction #9: Redpath Mansion

3466 du Musée Avenue, Montréal

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Finding meaning in demolition

Published on : October 03 2015

Last modified on : November 21 2020

Transforming the loss of a heritage jewel into an opportunity to elevate discourse around development and enhance the effectiveness of existing rules and procedures.

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Maison Redpath

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“As Montrealers, we have a responsibility to put things in the open. There are tools available to you, there are a set of bylaws and procedures that the City is obliged to make you aware of. To the extent that things are left in the dark or in the backroom, decisions are not subject to the same discipline that public scrutiny gives it.” Bruce McNiven

27

Number of years during which the Redpath Mansion stood abandoned and partially demolished

2

Number of years the land has been left vacant since demolition

33

Percentage of the extent of the building’s demolition according to a 2001 report by a City of Montreal engineer; the promoter had claimed in the media in 2014 that it was 80% demolished

History and issues of the site

The Redpath Mansion was one of the rare remaining homes in the Queen Anne style in Montreal. It stood out with its red brick, slate shingles, many gables and tall chimney. As its name suggests, it was built for members of the family of John Redpath, the wealthy industrialist who helped build the Lachine Canal and founded the sugar refinery that bears his name. It was purchased from a religious community in the 1980s by a businessman, who secured a demolition permit that was not compliant with regulations.

Aware of this irregularity and lack of transparency, Heritage Montreal and Save Montreal obtained an injunction in 1986 to save the mansion from the wrecking ball. In spite of the terms of an out-of-court settlement that he signed with Heritage Montreal and Save Montreal, the owner failed to implement any project on the site that would conform to the character of the neighbourhood and incorporate the mansion (of which only some annexes had been demolished), instead leaving it exposed to the elements, while municipal authorities maintained a degree of indifference.

Context and intervention

The Redpath Mansion was finally demolished on March 19, 2014, rewarding a property owner who displayed neglect and failed to respect his obligations. The reasoning for the demolition was the same demagogic argument par excellence used in so many cases over the past 40 years: the building was supposedly a threat to public safety. In this case, that assertion had been proven false by a 2010 study conducted by an engineer mandated by the City of Montreal, and verified at the request of Quebec Culture Minister Maka Kotto in 2014, which concluded that the masonry structure was in good condition. That same engineer stated that the study results were still valid in 2014.

Fortunately, the destruction of the Redpath Mansion will not have been in vain, because it has generated more acute awareness on the part of residents of the Golden Square Mile neighbourhood of its history and heritage; a clearer understanding by Montrealers of what tools for action are at their disposal with regard to the current regulations; and greater collective appreciation for the need for transparency and rigour in decision-making processes so as to ensure development that is more respectful of Montreal’s heritage and subject to intense public scrutiny. In addition, the case of vulnerable heritage buildings was the subject of a unanimous resolution by City Council calling on the City to implement a credible strategy on the matter.

Impact

The H-MTL collaborative Web platform created by Heritage Montreal along with a database of threatened heritage sites across the island currently being developed by the City of Montreal are two of the concrete actions that have been put in place to ensure that nothing like the case of the Redpath Mansion ever occurs again.

Lessons

A more transparent development process leading to increased public involvement in the evolution of Montreal’s urban landscapes is the only antidote to demolition by neglect founded on misleading arguments.

  • Municipality or borough

    Ville-Marie

  • Owner(s)

    Private

  • Conception

    Andrew T. Taylor, architect

  • Manager(s)

    Individual

  • Categorie(s)

    Residential

  • Construction year

    1886

  • Recognition status

    Located in an area of exceptional heritage value – Les Impasses (Côte-des-Neiges and Sherbrooke West)

Join the discussion

How do you see this Montreal site? What legacy has it left us? What future can we create for it? Where to start to get there? Who wants to participate in the project?

You have questions? Want to do more, but lack the information? Consult our toolkit to learn more about the heritage of the Montreal metropolitan area, the preservation mechanisms in place and possible actions.