The amazing architecture of Montreal is constantly under threat. Despite the rich history told through the city's buildings, Montreal's architectural heritage is often placed second in importance to modern innovations and construction projects.
Case in point: the Mount Stephen Club, a mansion in downtown Montreal that is over 100 years old, now threatened by recent actions to "improve" the historical landmark.
Completed in 1883, what is now known as the Mount Stephen Club was originally the home of George Stephen. Otherwise known as Lord Mount Stephen, the Scotland-born Stephen played a major role in Montreal and Canadian history as a financier and entrepreneur.
President of the Bank of Montreal and creator of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Stephen shaped the economy of Canada, but never forgot to give back to his city, having funded the construction of an entire wing at the Montreal General Hospital.
Wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of Montreal's commercial core, Stephen built his luxurious home on streets that would overlook the city. Stephen chose Drummond street, just above Saint Catherine, in line with the cultural elite of Montreal who also constructed lavish townhouses and villas within the area for much the same reason.
That's actually where we get the name "Golden Mile" for the downtown sector.
Architect William Titus Thomas (whose list of credits include the Strathearn House, the Shaughnessy House, and more) designed Stephen's home, utilizing a neo-Renaissance style that is often described as "opulent" and "sumptuous."
Borrowing elements from Italian Renaissance urban palaces, Thomas's design featured an ornate interior decor including a gigantic main staircase that centers the home, stained glass windows, an array of rare woods crafted with intricate designs, gold-plated door handles, and a marble fireplace, to name but a few features.
In total, the home Stephen spent $600,000 to build the home (around $13 million today) which was a marvel in its day and is still recognized as a veritable architectural wonder.
But Stephen would eventually leave Montreal to begin a new chapter of his life in England.
Then, in 1926, the residence would be revitalized with inhabitants when it was acquired by a group of Anglophone businessmen to serve as the new home for an elite cabal of socialites, the Mount Stephen Club.
In operation for over 80 years, and regularly holding high-profile, but altogether private, social events, the list of notable members of the Mount Stephen Club was not limited to those living in Montreal.
Brian Mulroney, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowden, and Pierre Trudeau were all seen at the Mount Stephen Club at some point or another, thus illustrating the exclusive nature of the social club. Only the cream of the crop were invited inside the Mount Stephen Club.
But as time passed, the iconic grey limestone entrance to the Mount Stephen Club would be opened to more than just the elite.
Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1971 (deemed the best example of a Renaissance Revival house in Canada) and a Patrimoine culturel du Québec in 1975, regular members of the public could step inside the palatial home of George Stephen and experience it splendor.
Years later, ownership of George Stephen's House would change hands once more in 2006, when Tidan Hospitality and Real Estate Group purchased the property, which leads up to our current predicament.
With an approved plan to recreate the Mount Stephen Club property into a 12-story hotel with eighty rooms, an added annex, and underground parking, the ongoing construction work has put the integrity of what is a literally a historic piece of Canadian architecture into peril.
Due to the ongoing construction work on the Mount Stephen Club mansion, major cracks have appeared on the exterior facade. The damage is so serious that experts have said the facade can't simply be repaired, but needs to be entirely deconstructed and reinserted.
As reported by various news outlets (the Gazette has a rather in-depth feature), the mutilation of the mansion's exterior could ruin its ornate and lavish interior as well.
From the cracks, water could seep into the mansion, thus ruining the Mount Stephen Club's exquisite Victorian decor. Worries from experts are compounded by the fact that the building is set on clay soil, which can shift during excavations and construction, which could further damage the mansion.
Somewhat fortunately, the Quebec Culture Ministry is now stepping in to ensure any and all further "improvements" to the Mount Stephen Club mansion will not damage the integrity of the building itself.
And yet, given what has already happened, namely the need to remove and rebuild entire section of the exterior, we can't help but be worried about the future of one of Montreal's architectural wonders.
Maybe we're being pessimistic, but Montreal needs to respect its heritage and history. So do its citizens, otherwise we'll lose our connection to the city's past, and thus our culture.
*Photos courtesy of McCord Museum & Wikimedia