8 Facts You Didn't Know About Montreal's Oldest Buildings

Some of the stories behind our skyline.
8 Facts You Didn't Know About Montreal's Oldest Buildings

Montreal is a beautiful city and one of the things that's most striking about it is the architecture. A mixture of diverse European design, as well as later art-deco influences create a unique skyline to the city. It's the intact architecture of the city that gives it that old-world touch, making it one of the most visually stunning places in North America. Everyone has their favourites, but do you know the stories behind them? Certainly, every building has a tale to tell, and here are a bunch of them for you to enjoy.

Photo cred- Jim Royal

1. Notre-Dame Basilica

Arguably the crown jewel of Montreal's architecture, the grand old cathedral dates all the way back to the 1820's. Part of that era's Gothic revival, it was the first church of this style to be built in Canada. The Basilica has survived almost two hundred years, but not without a great deal of effort from the city, which views it as one of our defining religious monuments. A fire decimated the church in the seventies, and it took several years to restore it to its former glory. Over 100 weddings are performed there every year.

2. The Empress

One of the first movie theaters built in Montreal, the Empress dates all the way back to 1927. Why the Egyptian decor? The Egyptian style was all the rage in the twenties, thanks to the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. While it's been inactive since the nineties thanks to fire damage which decimated much of the interior, shreds of the old Empress still remain. Years ago I was part of a documentary crew allowed to film inside the building, and some of the stuff we found was remarkable. Back in the sixties, the Empress was actually a Burlesque house, and some wallpaper and artifacts from that time remain on the second floor. Most recently it was a repertory cinema called the Cinema V, and for years various groups have been trying to re-open it as a theater. Hopefully it'll happen one day.

Photo cred - kolapublic

3. The Rialto

The Rialto is another former movie palace, dating back to early in the silent era, 1924. As the Egyptian motif was popular in the late twenties, in the earlier twenties Neo-baroque was more in vogue. As gorgeous as it looks outside, that's nothing compared to the Paris Opera house-style in the interior. While the theater stopped showing movies in 1990, up until a few years ago it was the regular home for Montreal's Rocky Horror Picture Show Halloween Ball. While it's sad that the Rialto is no longer a movie theater, the current owners have kept it as a centre for performing arts, with tons of shows happening every month (see the schedule here).

Photo cred- Deanna Reesor

4. Meldrum

The Meldrum sign has been an intrinsic part of Montreal's skyline since 1932, but did you know that it's actually part of a still active and thriving moving/storage company? Truthfully, I had no idea before looking it up for this article. Meldrum specializes in long-distance moves, so if you're looking to switch provinces give them a call!

Photo - Denis-Carl Robidoux

5. Farine 5 Roses

One of the most famous aspects of the Montreal skyline, Farine 5 Roses is also a lightning rod for controversy. For one thing, the former flour refinery's sign used to read "Farine 5 Roses Flour" but Bill 101 put an end to that. According to this website, despite being around since the forties, its continued presence in the city is in constant jeopardy.

6. The Aldred Building

A few weeks ago, in my article about St. Henri, I wrote about the old art-deco firehouse. For more art-deco, look no further than The Aldred Building, dating back to 1931. Montreal's first skyscraper, the Aldred, along with much of the Old Port's financial sector, is a remnant of Montreal's former status as the center of Canada's economy. Notice how it resembles the Empire State Bulding? They both date back to the same year.

7. Heritage du Vieux-Port

A long-time part of the Old-Port, since its re-christening as a condo project in 1999, Heritage du Vieux Port has become one of Montreal's priciest addresses. Home to hockey players and more, with the five rooftop villas being particularly impressive. Of course, carrying such a hefty price tag, it tends only to attract the extremely wealthy, with some of the residents being more controversial than others, with many former residents allegedly being linked to organized crime. Read more about its more controversial history here.

Photo cred - Therev 1969

8. St. Joseph's Oratory

Canada's largest church, St. Joseph's Oratory has been around - in its present form - since 1967. It's still a pilgrimage site, with believers often climbing the (283) steps of the Oratory on their knees. That said, you don't have to be religious to appreciate its staggering beauty, and a trip to the Oratory is a must. Also, check out these historical pictures of the oratory being built, they're pretty awesome.

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