Montreal, March 19, 2014 - More than 40 years after the demolition of the Van Horne Mansion, the Redpath House will meet the same fate. Barely two weeks after Quebec Culture and Communications Minister Maka Kotto personally intervened to order that the demolition of the Redpath House be put on hold, in accordance with the Cultural Heritage Act, the Court intervened-at the owner’s request-to shorten the period granted in the minister’s order. Heritage Montreal regrets that the discussion was limited to the owner and the minister, despite the fact that this matter also concerns the community and municipal authorities.
The publication of the minister’s decision, on February 28th, and of the studies he commissioned, at least has the merit of bringing transparency that has been largely lacking in this file, particularly on the part of the municipal government, the basis of whose recent decisions are not supported by public documents. Heritage Montreal points out and emphasizes despite all claims to the contrary, the actual solidity of the house as conducted by an assessment performed at the minister’s request, in February 2014, by the same structural engineer hired by the City of Montreal in 2010. The assessment published by the minister reached the conclusion that the house is still as solid as it was back in 2010 and in no risk of collapse, except at the hands of a wrecker’s ball. This conclusion seriously calls into question the main argument put forward by the City and the Mayor to justify the demolition.
While the demolition of the Van Horne Mansion, in 1973, had demonstrated the weakness, even the absence, of laws and regulations to protect in any substantial way our built heritage, the loss of the Redpath House, in 2014, brings greater focus to the lack of vision and the laxity on the part of municipal authorities who, for nearly 30 years, have had the tools necessary to protect this heritage building and to ensure its revitalization. In fact, it is unclear how the City of Montreal could have let the owner neglect such a heritage building, especially since other property owners wishing to renovate their property are subject to strict rules and regulations. In addition to adopting a policy on heritage in 2005, the City has long had the required legislative powers to protect the Redpath House ranging from the power to demand that a property be kept in good condition to the power to expropriate.
The loss of the Redpath House and the ongoing losses of other heritage buildings poses a real danger of regression and of a return to an era which, while it may have left us the Montreal Metro and Expo 67, was marked by a wave of indiscriminate demolition. However, the massive efforts made by thousands of owners to maintain and renovate their heritage homes prove that Montrealers themselves have evolved. This disproportionate situation underlines the urgent need for a renewed commitment on the part of civic and provincial authorities, above and beyond good intentions, by helping deserving owners and by authorizing new quality construction that will enrich Montreal’s built heritage, and that of its neighbourhoods.
A 30 year battle
In 1986, just before Mayor Doré’s election, Heritage Montreal and Save Montreal obtained an injunction to halt the demolition of this historic house. Subsequently, Heritage Montreal met with the owner upon the latter’s request on several occasions, and encouraged him to hire imaginative architects in order to develop an acceptable proposal for Redpath House. Moreover, Heritage Montreal expressed its willingness to work with these professionals. In 2002, the Commission d’arbitrage de la Ville de Montréal refused the demolition permit granted by the Bourque administration to the owner in 2001, noting the solidity of the house and reminding the owner of his obligation to keep it in good condition. Heritage Montreal has been monitoring the situation for more than 25 years. Like organizations and residents of the Square Mile, Heritage Montreal hopes that this situation can be resolved by implementing an exemplary project that responds to both contemporary values and the public interest, instead of rewarding and promoting negligence by creating a dangerous precedent.
About the Redpath House
Built in 1886 by the noted Scottish-Canadian architect Sir Andrew Taylor (who designed many of the prominent buildings on McGill University’s lower campus), Redpath House is a hallmark of avenue du Musée, and is characterized by its red brick, its slate shingles, its many gables and its tall chimney. The house is a vestige of Montreal’s fabled Square Mile- that section bounded to the north by the mountain and to the south by Sherbrooke Street- that was once home to Canada’s business elite. Redpath House was built on land belonging to the family of John Redpath, for Professor Bovey, of McGill University, and his wife Emily Bonar Redpath, daughter of John Redpath, on the extensive John Redpath estate. The Redpath family was one of the most influential Montreal families of the 19th century. They are particularly associated with the construction of the Lachine Canal, the founding of the Redpath sugar refinery and the Redpath Library and Redpath Museum of Natural History at McGill University.