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For almost a century Montreal was the industrial centre of Canada. Between 1847-1945, the area surrounding the Lachine Canal had the highest concentration of industrial buildings in the country. The variety of buildings included factories, elevators, warehouses, mills, and refineries which today provide a legacy of historic and architectural interest. Presently, plans are in development to remodel and transform the industrial districts of Montreal, particularly in the location of the Lachine Canal. Industrial Architecture of Montreal aims to collect, organize, and preserve textual and visual information on approximately 130 industrial buildings, before their transformations, and make this information available via a searchable database on the Web. Other organizations in cities in England and the United States have constructed websites aimed at providing information and promoting their industrial architectural heritage; nothing comparable exists presently in Canada. This database provides a unique index for the study of Montreal's architectural history and will be useful to urban planners, renovators, architectural historians, students, and members of the public.


Historical Overview: The Lachine Canal and Montreal’s Industrial Heritage

The building of the Lachine Canal, a waterway connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, was a significant event in the history of Montreal. The Canal literally changed the appearance and texture of the city, attracting industrial interests and both immigrants and the rural population of Quebec. The idea of constructing a canal originated in the earliest days of New France. The St. Lawrence River was the main artery of communication and transportation and in 1689, François Dollier de Casson, the Superior of the Sulpicians, who at the time owned the island of Montreal, planned and financed a canal which was to be two kilometres long. However, work on the canal ceased after only two months due to the discovery of a large body of rock in the path of construction and a surprise attack made by the Iroquois. Dollier de Casson made a second attempt in 1700 but upon his death a year later, work was again abandoned (From Steam, 4).

With the conquest of New France by the British and the enlargement of trade from the previous era, where canoe transportation was adequate for the movement of fur, the idea of building of a canal was resurrected. The transportation of timber and wheat, as well as military concerns, made the need for a reliable route around the Lachine rapids more acute. In 1781, the first operational canal was built between Lac Saint-Louis and Lac Saint-François. The growth of trade with Upper Canada and the construction of the Erie Canal in the United States soon demanded a faster route. In 1821, construction of the Lachine Canal commenced. The project was financed jointly by the governments of Lower Canada and England and some 500 Irish immigrants provided the bulk of the labour force (From Steam, 4). The canal was finished in 1825. As the demand for the transportation of goods increased and with the introduction of larger ships, the Lachine Canal was upgraded and enlarged in the period between 1843 – 1848 and again between 1873 and 1885.

It was this period of construction and modification of the Lachine Canal which was to have a dramatic effect on the city of Montreal. The canal not only increased shipping, making Montreal one of the largest ports in North America, but also attracted industrialists who were interested in locating along the canal. The canal and the later completion of the Grand Trunk Railway line in 1871, provided the opportunity for city authorities to actively encourage warehouse and factory Historical View of the Northern Electric The banks of the canal made prime locations for factories in need of water—either to provide power to drive their machines and for use in their production process. The government rented industrial lots along the canal and allowed factories to take a certain quantity of water directly from the canal through regulated intakes. The first industries to locate along the canal were flour mills, nail manufacturers, foundries and sawmills and by 1850 the canal was the site of the heaviest concentration of industry in Canada; employing a population of workers estimated to be around two thousand in 1856 (From Steam, 16).

As with other North American cities, the presence of newly introduced factories had affected the development and texture of everyday life. Factory owners were attracted to the city for its pool of both unskilled and skilled labour and, at the same time, attracted a large population of immigrants and workers from rural areas of the province. Areas such as Griffintown and Points-Saint-Charles in the Ste-Anne Ward, as well as the municipalities of Saint-Henry and Sainte-Cunegonde, were transformed into industrial and working-class neighborhoods. While providing work opportunities, the presence of factories in Montreal brought with them many social problems characteristic of the period. Child labour, poor working conditions, long work hours, unsanitary living conditions and high mortality rates were just some of the problems faced by residents of these neighborhoods causing Sir Herbert Brown Ames in 1897 to call Montrealers to pay attention to these growing problems: "… Montreal should, for a time, cease discussing the slums of London, the beggars of Paris and the tenement house evils of New York and endeavor to learn something about themselves and to understand more perfectly the conditions present in their very midst." (Ames, 7) This is why we decided that a website about industrial architecture in Montreal should also reflect the conditions of the working class, and so we have provided a section on the living conditions of these working-class neighborhoods.

The industrial boom lasted well into our own century until changes in industrial production caused many of the factories to relocate to larger and more modern facilties and other forms of transportation made business less reliant upon water and rail. The legacy of Montreal’s early industrial period can still be seen today and many of the original factories and warehouses are being converted for residential and other commercial uses or have or are slated for demolition. The purpose of this website, then, is to document many of the industrial sites along the Lachine Canal and other areas of Montreal; preserving this civic heritage through visual and textual documentation as the city of Montreal enters the new millenium.


Description of the records in the database

Entries in the database contain historical and contemporary images of the building, it’s name, address, building type and dates relating to its construction. Many entries also include information about the architect, historical images, building materials, present use, alterations and renovations.

Citations to books, periodicals and newspaper articles which include details about illustrations accompany the architectural information provided. An on-line database provides access to compiled information. This database is patterned after the Archindont project--the Architectural Index for Ontario--an initiative by the Metro Toronto Reference Library. Staff of the Blackader-Lauterman Library will maintain and update the database and website as new information becomes available.

The project also researched biographical information on several architects of Montreal’s industrial architecture. Prominent architects and firms from Montreal’s history such as Alexander Hutchison; John Ostell; Hopkins, Lawford & Nelson, and Ross & Macdonald are featured. It also includes information on engineering firms such as T. Pringle & Son and John Metcalfe & Co.


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