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  • Heritage Montreal priority sites12
    Vulnerable sites identified by the public
    Vulnerable sites identified by Heritage Montreal
    Actions from the past to inspire tomorrow’s actions.
  • Citizens alerts56
    Vulnerable sites identified by the public
    Vulnerable sites identified by Heritage Montreal
    Actions from the past to inspire tomorrow’s actions.
  • InspirActions13
    Vulnerable sites identified by the public
    Vulnerable sites identified by Heritage Montreal
    Actions from the past to inspire tomorrow’s actions.
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      • Commercial12
      • Cultural13
      • Industrial15
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      • Civic8
      • Religious5
      • Residential22
      • Sports1
      • Public spaces / Parks / green space7
      • Landscape view2
      • Archeological zone2
    • Challenge(s)
      • Mechanisms for protection37
      • Urban Development32
      • Urban landscape11
      • Civic Heritage14
      • Interior spaces8
    • Recognition and/or protective status
      • National Historic Sites (NHS)1
      • Federal Heritage Buildings (FHB)1
      • Situated in a protection area7
      • Recognized heritage building6
      • Heritage object1
      • Situated on a recognized heritage site (municipal jurisdiction)3
      • Situated in an area declared a heritage site5
      • Located in an area of exceptional heritage value36
      • Located in an area of significant heritage interest2
      • Building of exceptional heritage value17
      • Classified heritage building5
    • Threat(s)
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      • No upkeep:27
      • Lack of knowledge:19
      • Demand for land, speculation:19
      • Inappropriate/incompatible use:16
      • Demolition:28
      • Vandalism:11
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Vulnerable sites identified by the public
Vulnerable sites identified by Heritage Montreal
Actions from the past to inspire tomorrow’s actions.
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© Keven Lavoie | The K Projekt | flickr.com/photos/kproduxions
© Keven Lavoie | The K Projekt | flickr.com/photos/kproduxions
© Keven Lavoie | The K Projekt | flickr.com/photos/kproduxions

This building is one of the last remaining examples in Montreal of Second World War–era military-industrial heritage. Known as the Montreal Works, this munitions factory established by Defence industries Limited (DIL) produced 9mm rounds for Sten submachine guns. Construction of the building, not far from the Youville Shops, began in the fall of 1942, and by spring 1943 the Montreal Works was producing at full capacity. Until 1945, the factory also made components of other types of munitions for another DIL factory, located in Verdun. A streetcar terminus was also built specifically for the factory workers, as an extension of the Youville Shops.

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    Established to assist the war effort by supplying small-arms ammunition to British forces, the Montreal Works was one of several similar factories run by DIL in the metropolitan area. There were facilities in Verdun, Beloeil and Sainte-Thérèse, and another in Villeray at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Laurent and Rue de Liège, not far from the Montreal Works. Of these munitions plants, only the Verdun facility and the Montreal Works survive today (the Verdun factory had originally been built for the First World War, and was converted in the early 1940s).

    At the end of the war, the complex was taken over by Crown Industrial Building. By 1946, it had been converted into 22 separate spaces, for all manner of industrial production including chemicals, plastic and textiles. The building is in many ways a witness to the industrial evolution of this Montreal district.

    The area around Rue Chabanel eventually became a prime site for a booming industry: textile production. As a result, in the early 1970s the former Montreal Works began to be literally surrounded on all sides by newly constructed concrete buildings. From that moment, 9500 Boulevard Saint-Laurent disappeared from collective memory. Today, its façade on Boulevard Saint-Laurent is visible only through a narrow space between two of those more recent buildings.

    With the growth of the Chabanel textile district, the former Montreal Works munitions factory, the very first building in the area, has been largely forgotten. But its surviving original architectural features, including the façade, help make it a significant reminder of Montreal’s role in the war effort.

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  • Industrial


  • Urban Development

    : A case that highlights the challenges of reconciliation between economy, real estate development and heritage.


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  • Demolition:

    There is a threat of demolition, or a demolition process has begun.


What is your view of this Montreal site? What heritage has it left for us? What future can we build for it? Where do we start? Who wants to get involved?

If you have any questions, or you would like to do more to help but feel you lack information, see our toolkit to learn more about Montreal’s heritage, existing preservation mechanisms, and possible actions.

H-MTL - A Heritage for the future

Many great strides have been made in heritage management since Heritage Montreal was founded 40 years ago—a time when entire neighbourhoods were disappearing. You can help us continue to make progress, and to that end we’ve developed this interactive map-based toolkit that profiles vulnerable heritage sites. It’s designed to evolve thanks to the vigilance and collaboration of users like you. Inspired by the actions taken over the past 40 years to better integrate Montreal’s DNA into the city’s evolving heritage, this platform makes available a range of tools we can use to create—together—positive, well-equipped and inspiring grassroots movements to build a meaningful heritage for the future.


Be part of the actions that will forge the heritage of tomorrow: urban landscapes that are simultaneously natural, community-focused and well developed, and that continually convey and regenerate our “Montreality.” The places that make the heart of the city beat—over there, on the corner of the street, behind the parking lot, downtown, right in the middle of our history. A heritage—our heritage—deeply rooted in the past and promising a bright future. Most important, a future rich in heritage: a powerful source of inspiration and renewable energy prompting us to write the next chapters of that history and ensure its sustainability.

How to Use This Site

H-MTL is designed to paint the evolving picture of vulnerable sites on the Island of Montreal, while facilitating sustained collective engagement in the protection of each individual site.

Use the map to explore the three types of site, which include buildings, landscapes, public squares, views and works of art:

  • Heritage Montreal priority sites:
    A non-exhaustive list of vulnerable sites that Heritage Montreal currently views as a priority.
  • Citizens alerts:
    Sites that have been deemed vulnerable by various communities because they are abandoned or under threat of demolition. Do you know of a vulnerable site that isn’t listed on the map? Suggest it by selecting the orange Suggest a site button, and then completing the information requested.
  • InspirActions:
    10 sites, 10 actions: a diverse and complementary collection of initiatives taken by Heritage Montreal over the past 40 years, to serve as inspiration for the actions of tomorrow.

You can filter your search for sites by category, protective status, or type of threat, to see what they have in common.

Click on a site to access an interactive backgrounder with several sections:

  • Discover and learn:
    Discover Montreal’s vulnerable sites, their history and why they are valuable. Use the informative backgrounders and toolbox to learn about the challenges as well as mechanisms and tools that can aid in the redevelopment, conservation and restoration of sites.
  • Endorse:
    Show your concern for a vulnerable site and invite your friends or acquaintances to do the same by sharing the information via e-mail or on social media.
  • Collaborate:
    Express your concerns and your vision, and initiate and actions and coalitions by contributing to our public discussion forum.
  • Stay informed:
    Subscribe to our RSS feed to stay up to date on discussions and developments related to the sites you care about.


The Role of Heritage Montreal

Sometimes our actions are direct, and very public. Other times they are more discreet. Heritage, though, is everyone’s concern. With this platform, Heritage Montreal seeks to provide you with better support and guidance, and help catalyze your ambitions, ideas and actions. Whether our roles are to explore, to reveal, to protect, to generate ideas or to invest, this platform will help us all maintain cohesive, consistent and informed action to create a heritage for the future.

Contact Us

Do you have ideas for improving this platform? Questions?

Write to us!


Standard Life | Major Partner

Our warmest thanks to Standard Life for its commitment to the conservation of Montreal’s heritage. Its generous contribution provides you with new ways to engage with your city and its architecture.


This project was made possible with financial support from the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications.


We also thank Pomerleau for its support.

Credits and acknowledgements


Project Lead: Jonathan Lapalme, consultant
Co-ordination and logistics: Amélie Renouf – Heritage Montreal
Strategic guidelines and scientific validation: Dinu Bumbaru
Web design and programming: DPT
Written and filmed content: Marie-Hélène Roch, intern
Research and writing: Andréanne Jalbert-Laramée, Heritage Montreal and Vincent Lefebvre, Madeleine Grégoire, Philémon Gravel, volunteers
InspirActions videos directed by: Jonathan Lapalme
French copy-editing: Mireille Pilotto
English translation: Daly-Dallaire, Translation Services
Translation of videos: Courtesy Fasken Martineau, Law firm


Our thanks to Moment Factory for the loan of production resources for the InspirActions videos.

Our thanks to à Claudine Déom, Luce Lafontaine, Marie Lessard and Marie-Odile Trépanier for reviewing the Toolkit and 40 years of actions sections.

Thanks to Nord Ouvert, Lande and the Office de consultation publique de Montréal for their invaluable advice during the development phase.

We are also grateful to 596 Acres for their Living Lots platform, from which we drew inspiration.

  • Heritage is everyone’s concern

    • Understanding and appreciation; continuous care or monitoring; and thoughtful action
    • What is heritage?
  • Montreal’s Heritage

    • Montreal’s Heritage
    • Traces of the past
    • Religious heritage
    • The Victorians
    • Industrial heritage
    • Parks and urban landscape
    • Residential heritage and neighbourhoods
    • Recent heritage
  • The tools of heritage conservation

    • Tools
    • Provincial protection
    • Municipal protection
    • Federal protection
  • Heritage conservation in Montreal

    • Introduction
    • Developing a heritage consciousness
    • Montreal as a modern city
    • Collective action
    • Heritage as a local responsibility
    • Broader horizons
  • Taking strategic action

    • Where to start?
    • Understand the issues and clarify your goals
    • Assessing a project – Five principles of excellence in urban development
    • Understand the mechanisms, rules of the game, and deadlines
    • Get organized
    • Communicate your ideas effectively
  • Letter-writing Guide

    • Letter-writing Guide
    • Letter requesting protection or intervention addressed to a minister, to a mayor or to a property owner
    • Letter to protest a request for a demolition permit
    • Make sure to follow up
  • Useful Links

    • Associations, foundations and organizations
    • City of Montréal
    • Faculties and Chairs
    • Gouvernement du Québec
    • Governement of Canada

Heritage is everyone’s concern

Understanding and appreciation; continuous care or monitoring; and thoughtful action

these are the basic principles of conservation. [. . .] Understanding, knowledge and appreciation come as we discover places, buildings, parks, neighbourhoods, and the ideas and forces that shaped them historically or transform them today. There is also a certain joy in understanding their significance and sharing it with family, neighbours and friends, or even visitors. To properly care for and safeguard significant places, some understanding of the regulations in place to protect and recognize this heritage is also necessary. It is in the public interest to prevent the impoverishment or trivialization of our heritage and to ensure that we pass it on to the next generation, if not intact, at least properly used and even enriched. This often requires forming alliances and strategies to communicate a focused and consistent plan over months. What may sound like an ordeal can actually turn out to prove a stimulating opportunity to co-operate with neighbours, interested citizens, experts and organizations.

(Excerpt from the preface by Gérard Beaudet, A Handbook for Montreal’s Heritage: To Discover and to Protect, Heritage Montreal, 1998.)

What is heritage?

It’s difficult to formulate an exact definition of heritage because it comprises so many different things, so many different aspects of our collective memory. Our heritage is much more than just objects from the past. It is a very present part of our everyday lives, whether we are aware of it or not. Our heritage can be seen in tangible objects such as commemorative plaques and inscriptions, buildings, neighbourhoods, parks and archeological remains, both obvious and hidden. But in Montreal, as elsewhere, our heritage is also intangible. It includes our traditions and the ways in which we celebrate our culture.

Think, for example, of the building techniques and traditions unique to Montreal. Equally, try to imagine what Montreal would be without bagels or smoked meat!

Here, though, we will concentrate solely on urban heritage. While architecture is necessarily a component, urban heritage also refers to landscapes, neighbourhoods, natural features and archeological sites. While many things serve as a reminder of the past, some are more significant than others and must be treated differently. To properly conserve built heritage, one has to understand the significance of a building or site and act in a way that is appropriate. In that light, one thing becomes very clear: the heritage interest of a site or object is a result of the value we attach to it, collectively or individually. Knowledge and recognition of value are inextricably linked in heritage conservation.

What we recognize as heritage evolves, however, on a daily basis. The definition of heritage is changing continually, and growing increasingly broad with time. What was considered uninteresting a generation ago can suddenly be important. The best example of this is modern or recent heritage. Place Ville Marie (1962) and Habitat 67 (1967), for example, are now part of Montreal’s heritage. “Old” does not automatically equal heritage interest and value—nor, incidentally, does “monumental”; witness Montrealers’ interest in the duplexes and triplexes of the Plateau Mont-Royal.

Finally, it is important to remember that all too often we recognize our heritage only when it is threatened with demolition or disfigurement. Heritage is a precious, non-renewable resource—we only lose it once—that lends remarkable quality to our surroundings, most often without our realizing it.

Montreal’s Heritage

Montreal’s Heritage

Montreal is one of North America’s oldest cities, and its heritage is among the richest and most diverse of any of them. Few urban centres on the continent bear as many traces of different societies and periods: prehistory, French Regime, British era, industrial and financial metropolis, modern city. Montreal’s heritage expresses itself in many different ways. Squares and parks, industrial areas, residential neighbourhoods and commercial streets are only some examples of the diversity that is very much Montreal’s.

This richness is not restricted to the city centre; it is also very evident on the sites of the original villages scattered across the island, and in places where built heritage is located near water.

Places like Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Rivière-des-Prairies, Sainte-Geneviève, Lachine and Sault-au-Récollet mark different eras of the island’s development. The same holds true for towns on the South Shore, the old villages of Île-Jésus (Laval), and the Northern Crown.

Traces of the past

In the simplest terms, prehistory in the Americas is that which precedes the arrival of the Europeans and their written records. Prehistory is also the turf of the researchers and archeologists who interpret its artifacts. The Montreal region has many Amerindian sites, about which we are learning more and more.

Montreal still has some buildings dating from the French Regime, notably the old Sulpician Seminary on Place d’Armes, completed in 1685, and the Saint-Gabriel farmhouse in Pointe-Saint-Charles (1668 to 1698). Archeological vestiges, meanwhile, testify to the successive eras of settlement in Montreal. This may be most evident in Old Montreal, but is in fact the case across the island; some vestiges are even the subjects of interpretive sites, such as the old church of Saints-Anges in LaSalle. Lastly, the cadastral system of subdivision is one of the most lasting legacies of French rule, though it is a less recognized element of heritage than buildings and archeological sites.

Religious heritage

“This is the first time I ever was in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window,” Mark Twain famously wrote about his stay in Montreal in 1881. Though Notre-Dame Church retained its place as the most important of the Catholic houses of worship, the 19th century was a period of intense activity that saw the creation of many parishes and the construction of many churches. Often constructed in a more modest architectural style, but no less remarkable, are the Protestant churches and the synagogues that have shaped Montreal’s cityscape. Our many churches, monasteries and convents remain a dominant characteristic of the urban fabric, evidence of a way of life and a system of values that prevailed in Montreal for more than three and a half centuries. Over time, the churches became the focal points of their neighbourhoods and a repository of sacred art of great value. Montreal’s religious heritage also includes vast monastery and convent complexes built by communities of priests and nuns. Often spread over large tracts of land in what are now considered prime locations—on Mount Royal, for example—they are reminders of the city in its embryonic stages.

The Victorians

A significant part of Montreal’s urban fabric results from the intense period of development that marked the second half of the 19th century. The city’s economic activity was controlled by the English-Scottish elite, whose great houses sprang up on the south-facing slopes of Mount Royal in the area known as the Golden Square Mile. The architecture of these mansions is evidence of the opulence and variety that characterized the Victorian era. With the arrival of the railway, these wealthy families could escape the pressures of city life in their summer houses in nearby rural Senneville. Their philanthropic legacy to Montreal remains to this day in great institutions like McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital.

This era also saw the construction of significant buildings in strategic locations: from the financial institutions of Rue Saint-Jacques to the civic buildings on Rue Notre-Dame and the office buildings on present-day Square Dorchester, Rue Sainte-Catherine and Boulevard Saint-Laurent.

Industrial heritage

From 1850 onward, Montreal firmly took its place as the economic heart of Canada. The city was transformed by the extensive infrastructure and many buildings needed to support its role as a railway and shipping hub. Montreal’s industrial heritage includes not only the major industrial complexes such as the Lachine Canal or the Angus Shops, but also the railway lines, as well as the canals and their system of locks.

Parks and urban landscape

At the height of industrialization, trees were also planted along streets throughout the city and large parks, and squares laid out based on British and American planning principles. Some of these green spaces were intended for workers, while others were built for the privileged classes. The parks on Île Sainte-Hélène and Mount Royal, Parc La Fontaine and the parks of Westmount and Outremont created oases of tranquillity for the rapidly growing population. With their rural feeling, the cemeteries on Mount Royal, built in the middle of the century, became favoured destinations for Sunday strolls. They also served as models for many of the parks that followed.

Residential heritage and neighbourhoods

Though generally modest and unpretentious, the architecture of Montreal’s neighbourhoods contributes to the richness of the city’s built heritage. Districts in most of the municipalities annexed by the City of Montreal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries still bear witness to their autonomous beginnings and the activities that went on there. It is in our neighbourhoods that life in Montreal can be best understood and appreciated; in the long lines of row houses, in the green spaces that fringe the houses, in the commercial arteries that were developed nearby, and in the alleyways where so much of everyday life plays out.

Recent heritage

The final vital component in Montreal’s heritage is 20th-century architecture. Proximity to the United States undeniably influenced our built environment, as seen notably in the railway stations and skyscrapers that began appearing at the end of the 19th century. All building types, heights and architectural styles considered, Montreal’s skyscrapers, including Place Ville Marie and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building, perhaps best represent the modern phase of the city’s development. Modern development continues, of course, and some buildings completed in more recent years will join the list of emblematic sites in Montreal.

French, English, American, Québécois—Montreal’s architecture bears evidence of each of the city’s historical eras. The appeal of the built heritage of Montreal lies in its seemingly disparate character; that mix of many eras and traditions that makes it uniquely Montreal’s.

The tools of heritage conservation


It has become increasingly obvious, in practice that official heritage protection mechanisms no longer suffice. The public bodies mandated to enforce legislation have failed in their obligation to ensure the protection of our built heritage. Heritage is everyone’s concern. Often, though, the good intentions of groups or individuals are not enough. A broad strategic vision of necessary actions, combined with knowledge of the laws and mechanisms of heritage conservation, is essential to saving significant buildings or sites. The following pages provide an outline of the official tools of heritage conservation at the provincial, municipal and federal levels. We must not forget, however, that the comfort these legal tools may provide is often accompanied by a degree of concern when one sees that in reality, their enforcement leaves much to be desired.

Provincial protection

As one might expect, the Canadian Constitution of 1867 does not have a lot to say about culture and heritage conservation. Traditionally, culture has been part of provincial jurisdiction. In Quebec, heritage conservation has been an official concern of the government since 1922. The Cultural Property Act, enacted in 1972, gave the government powers to protect built heritage, for example by exerting a degree of control over private property.

A major review of this legislation came into effect in 2012, when the Cultural Heritage Act replaced the 1972 Cultural Property Act. The substantial changes include a broadened definition of heritage, which now includes heritage cultural landscapes, intangible heritage, and persons, events and sites of historical importance. Municipalities have greater powers, as they are seen to play an increasingly greater role in the protection and enhancement of heritage. See here (in French).

The Cultural Heritage Act provides for several protective statuses with various degrees of action relative to buildings or complexes. Those statuses are summarized on the website of the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications.

The Act defines various categories of heritage property, as follows:


  • “Heritage immovable: an immovable property that has archeological, architectural, artistic, emblematic, ethnological, historical, landscape, scientific or technological value, in particular a building, a structure, vestiges or land;”
  • In addition, a classified heritage immovable may have a protection area, defined as “an area surrounding a classified heritage immovable, defined by the Minister to protect the immovable;”
  • “Heritage site: a place, a group of immovables or, in the case of a heritage site referred to in Section 58, a land area that is of interest for its archeological, architectural, artistic, emblematic, ethnological, historical, identity, landscape, scientific, urbanistic or technological value;”
  • “Archeological property” and “archeological site”: “any property or site indicating prehistoric or historic human occupation;”
  • “Heritage cultural landscape: a land area recognized by a community for its remarkable landscape features, which are the result of the interaction of natural and human factors and are worth conserving and, if applicable, enhancing because of their historical or emblematic interest, or their value as a source of identity.”


Some aspects of the workings of this legislation are of particular interest. For instance, any citizen, owner, group or municipality may make a classification or designation request by writing to the Minister of Culture and Communications in Quebec City (see Letter-writing Guide, below).

Following publication of the Minister’s notice stating its intention to classify, a heritage evaluation is undertaken by the regional office concerned.

The Minister may seek advice from the Conseil du patrimoine culturel du Québec, which has replaced the former Commission des biens culturels. The Conseil has the power to hold public hearings. The Minister has one year following the publication of the notice of intent in which to make a decision.

Once a property or site has been classified, its owner is required to preserve the heritage value (Section 26 of the Act). The Act grants to the Ministry various powers to monitor actions and work planned for such properties. Since 2012, the Act has required that a conservation plan be established for every classified heritage property and site, to ensure its preservation, rehabilitation and enhancement (Section 37).

The Ministry has created an online training module to help better understand the Cultural Heritage Act, available here (in French).


Municipal protection

In Quebec, municipalities rely mainly on two distinct types of tool for heritage conservation: the Cultural Heritage Act and the Act Respecting Land-Use Planning and Development.

In 1985, under the Cultural Property Act, which became the Cultural Heritage Act in 2012, municipalities were also accorded specific powers to manage their built heritage. They may cite heritage properties (referred to as historic monuments before the 2012 Act) or declare heritage sites. The first historic monument citation in the Greater Montreal Area was Ville Saint-Laurent Church in 1986; the first heritage site declaration in Montreal was Mount Royal in 1987 (note that in 2005, the Government of Quebec decreed a historic and natural district on Mount Royal. Under the 2012 Act, the mountain is now a declared national heritage site).

As is the case with provincial protection, any citizen, owner or group can request that a building be cited (designated) by writing to their mayor, with copies to the district’s city or borough councillor and the urban planning advisory committee. The committee—Montreal’s is called the Conseil du patrimoine de Montréal (heritage council)—then gives its opinion on the request. Note that, as of 2012, a municipal bylaw recognizing a heritage property can specify that the building’s interior is also protected.

Municipal recognition of a heritage property or site requires that the owner ensure its conservation. It allows the municipality to more tightly control work planned on the property, and to support its enhancement through technical or financial assistance. It does not require establishment of a conservation plan, but the recognized site must be identified in the municipality’s planning program as being part of a zone to be protected.

Throughout Quebec, the Act Respecting Land-Use Planning and Development governs municipal plans and bylaws, including the construction, demolition and maintenance bylaws whereby municipalities wield control over changes to their land areas.

Montreal and Quebec City are subject to a number of specific requirements and have additional powers under their respective charters. Bylaws are framed by the master plan, a long-term land-use planning tool that covers areas to be developed and facilities to be built, as well as heritage and natural sites to be preserved. Montreal’s Master Plan, for example, was enacted in 1992, and updated in 2004. The 2004 Plan includes a specific objective to “preserve and enhance the built and archeological heritage” (Objective 15). A map accompanying the Plan identifies (Map 2.6.1) identifies areas of heritage value. Requests for permits concerning these areas are subject to specific study by municipal departments.

In the case of Jean-Talon Station, although the Master Plan called for public use both for the building and the site, the city administration allowed a significant exemption, and sold them for commercial use.

Every municipality is required to adopt planning bylaws covering zoning, subdivision and building, to specify permitted uses, dimensions and development of land, and building rules. The municipality decides what to include in those bylaws. They may specify that existing buildings be maintained, and therefore serve to conserve heritage. Likewise, via its zoning bylaw, a municipality can control the planting and cutting of trees.

Section 145.15 of the Act Respecting Land-Use Planning and Development also authorizes municipalities to adopt bylaws requiring that developers submit for approval plans and drawings for a proposed project that show the architecture of the building, how it is laid out, and how it will integrate into the surrounding neighbourhood. These are known as plans d’implantation et d’intégration architecturale (PIIAs). The by-law determines the objectives and criteria for approval of projects, and the land area where the PIIA applies. A PIIA allows for more rigorous study of a project, and can be used to ensure that heritage components of an existing site or building are taken into consideration. That study is undertaken by the urban planning advisory committee, prior to the decision being made by city council.

For example, the entire land areas of the Borough of Outremont and the City of Westmount have been subject to the PIIA requirement since 1992 and 1995 respectively.

Sections 148.01 to 148.0.25 govern municipalities’ jurisdiction over demolition of buildings on their territories. It is important to understand the process leading to the awarding of a demolition permit, which differs from that for a construction permit.

In Montreal, for example, the demolition bylaw (No. CA-24-007) calls for a notice period so that citizens can contest a proposed demolition before a decision committee, as well as an arbitration process whereby anyone who is not satisfied—either the person who applied for the permit or someone who contested it—can appeal the committee’s decision before the borough or city council.

Note as well that since 2004, municipalities have had increased powers to demand maintenance of and repairs to decrepit or dilapidated buildings (Act Respecting Land-Use Planning and Development, Section 145.41; e.g., City of Montreal, Bylaw 07-034 – Bylaw Concerning Building Maintenance), in addition to their existing powers over building sanitation and maintenance (e.g., City of Montreal, Bylaw 03-096 – Bylaw Concerning the Sanitation and Maintenance of Dwelling Units).

Municipalities often lack the financial, technical and professional resources to properly monitor heritage conservation. As the case of the Saint-lsidore convent—a historic monument cited by the City of Montreal in 1990 and demolished on June 6, 1996, against the recommendation of its advisory committee—demonstrates, public authorities are not obligated to accept committee advice.

Due to a lack of political will, property owners’ rights supersede the collective interest. Furthermore, the absence of planning measures and of public consultation mechanisms is harmful to heritage, because proposals are examined piecemeal. Despite all of this, the local level is still the place where citizens can have the greatest effect—by, for example, asking their city or borough councillor to intervene. The heritage conservation tools described above, city and borough councillors, community groups and local newspapers are all powerful means for building engagement.

Federal protection

The federal government does not exert control over private property as part of its heritage conservation mandate. The Department of Canadian Heritage is chiefly involved with commemoration of places and buildings of significant value in Canadian history. The Department takes advice from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC), which was formed in 1919 and includes heritage experts representing Canada’s provinces and territories (Ontario and Quebec each have two representatives).

Commemorated buildings, sites, historic canals and natural areas (National Parks) are signified by a bronze plaque. Federal commemoration does not, however, ensure legal protection against demolition or dereliction.

As the only body empowered to oversee the property of the large railway companies, the federal government in 1990 adopted the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. Train stations designated as heritage by the HSMBC are protected from unauthorized modification, demolition, dereliction and changes in ownership. Only stations still owned by railway companies can be designated.

The federal government owns many heritage properties and sites across the country. Parks Canada, founded in 1911 to administer natural parks, is the body tasked with administering government-owned historic sites such as the Fur Trading Museum in Lachine or the Sir George Étienne Cartier house in Old Montreal. The development and management of the Lachine Canal is also the responsibility of Parks Canada. The Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO), which is also under the aegis of the Department of Canadian Heritage, is an advisory body responsible for the heritage evaluation of federal buildings and, in collaboration with other federal government departments, for ensuring enforcement of the 1982 Federal Heritage Building Policy. With the exception of Crown Corporation buildings such as post offices, all office buildings, armouries, prisons, customs houses, lighthouses and other federal buildings more than 40 years old are assessed for their heritage value.

Finally, the Government of Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage maintain official links with the international heritage conservation movement. Among other agreements, Canada subscribes to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, which it helped draft in 1972.

Heritage conservation in Montreal


In Montreal, we have always tried to care for our buildings, gardens and monuments. However, organized efforts to preserve heritage are relatively recent. Some say that the first major heritage conservation issue in the city was one involving Mount Royal in the latter half of the 19th century, when citizens reacted angrily to the clear-cutting of a private forest on its south slope. As a consequence, the City acquired land on the mountain and created a park in 1874–76. Heritage conservation became an official concern of the Quebec government in 1922 with the passing of the Bill Concerning the Conservation of Monuments and Art Objects having an Historic or Artistic Interest. The first historic monument in Montreal was the Château de Ramezay, classified in 1929.

Developing a heritage consciousness

The 1920s brought the first discussions of heritage to Montreal (and Quebec in general). Pioneers like E.Z. Massicotte and Ramsay Traquair developed an early notion of heritage focusing on the French Regime. This idea was most evident in 1942, when Montreal celebrated its tercentenary with the reconstruction of buildings in the typical French style on île Sainte-Hélène, complete with staff dressed in period costume. This renewed interest in French Regime architecture influenced new construction of the period, notably in Westmount and Outremont.

Montreal as a modern city

The 1950s and 1960s were synonymous with extensive expropriation and demolition to allow for the construction of high-rises and expressways. It is estimated that nearly 35,000 dwellings were demolished between 1960 and 1975. In the early 1950s, an expressway beside Rue de la Commune in Old Montreal and an elevated expressway along Boulevard Saint-Laurent were proposed. The rush to modernize increased people’s awareness of Old Montreal’s heritage value.

Early conservation efforts focused on buildings such as Notre-Dame Church, Bonsecours Market, Bonsecours Chapel and a few old houses. Buildings tended to be considered on an individual basis, for their architectural qualities. As a result, conservation often took the form of restoration to the original architectural style.

On August 10, 1962, Mayor Jean Drapeau’s administration created the Jacques-Viger Commission as an advisory body on the development of Old Montreal.

On January 8, 1964, the provincial government declared Old Montreal a historic district bounded by Rue Berri to the east, Rue McGill to the west, Rue de la Commune to the south and Rue Notre-Dame to the north. The boundaries of the historic district were enlarged in 1995.

Collective action

Only since the 1970s, however, has heritage conservation in Montreal been a public concern. On September 8, 1973, despite numerous citizen protests to the city, the Van Horne Mansion, a Golden Square Mile residence at the corner of Stanley and Sherbrooke streets, was demolished. This protest movement led to the emergence of non-profit organizations and, later, citizens’ groups fighting for heritage conservation. First Save Montreal and then Heritage Montreal were organized for the purpose of raising Montrealers’ awareness of their rich architectural heritage and convincing public authorities to take action to protect it.

Heritage as a local responsibility

In 1985, the Cultural Property Act of 1972 was amended to give municipalities the power to act and protect buildings or sites on their land area. In 1987, the City of Montreal formed the Comité consultatif de Montréal pour la protection des biens culturels (advisory committee for the protection of cultural properties). In addition to the Mount Royal heritage site, Montreal has five heritage sites and some 21 cited (designated) heritage properties. Other municipalities such as Boucherville and Longueuil have also assumed responsibility for their heritage by citing their original villages, in 1989 and 1993 respectively. In 2012, the Cultural Property Act was superseded by the Cultural Heritage Act, which gives municipalities the power to protect building interiors and moveable assets that they own. A municipality may also “identify elements of intangible heritage, deceased persons of historical importance and historic events and sites as such” (Section 121).

Broader horizons

Since the birth of heritage consciousness in the 1970s, great strides have continued to be made. The culture of heritage has grown a great deal, to include neighbourhoods and landscapes. Efforts to increase awareness have multiplied since 1990. For example, every year the City of Montreal organizes, in co-operation with Heritage Montreal and other heritage groups, Opération Patrimoine Architectural de Montréal (the Montreal Architectural Heritage Campaign), rewarding work by homeowners to maintain and preserve their properties. Over time, the concept of what constitutes heritage has changed to include not just the architecture of the French Regime but built form from all periods.

Education and conservation remain Heritage Montreal’s primary objectives. Through the years, walking tours, home renovation courses and lecture series have enabled broader awareness and understanding of heritage. Most important, for the past 40 years, Heritage Montreal has, in collaboration with many other groups, individuals and different levels of government, maintained unceasing vigilance. Heritage Montreal remains an indispensable voice for the preservation of heritage and the city we know and love.

Taking strategic action

Where to start?

Reading, visiting or going to lectures is a great way to appreciate the heritage that is all around us. But enjoying our heritage is not enough: we must be able to act when it is threatened by destruction or disfigurement. Such actions are an impoverishment of our common heritage, which must be denounced and thwarted. This requires individuals, whether they are members of Heritage Montreal or not, to act appropriately, with some degree of strategy and organization. Must often, that means embracing one’s role as a citizen and calling on public authorities do their jobs properly.

Here are some of the key steps in such an approach.

Understand the issues and clarify your goals


  • Do you want to prevent demolition of a historic building or the cutting of old trees?
  • Do you want to protect a site from a development that would remove its distinct qualities?
  • Do you want authorities to intervene to stop a heritage building or site from deteriorating?
  • Do you want to play a role in helping rehabilitate a heritage building or site?


In seeking to understand the various issues and aspects of a case, it is important to set clear objectives. This is even more important when many people, who may have very different ways of working and backgrounds, rally together around a common cause.

Assessing a project – Five principles of excellence in urban development

In assessing whether a project represents a real contribution to the heritage in the city, Heritage Montreal relies on five principles.

Relevance and validity of the project:

Response to collective needs: carrying capacity of the site from a symbolic, heritage, physical, social and functional perspective.

  1. Respect for heritage and urban context:
    Five types of heritage: built, urban landscape, archeological, historical and natural; character and scale; compatibility of uses; contribution to “walkability” and urbanity.
  2. Exemplary nature and credibility of the consultation and project development processes:
    Relations with residents and other stakeholders; preliminary studies; independence and effectiveness of consultations.
  3. Innovative aspects in concept and its implementation:
    An innovative or creative solution to urban or heritage issues, potential to constitute an inspiring model for other sites;
  4. Sustainable contribution to Montreal’s heritage both now and in the future:
  5. Anticipated impact of the project 25 years after completion and thereafter;
    contribution to heritage and quality of life in the city for future generations.

Understand the mechanisms, rules of the game, and deadlines


  • Where, when and how can you communicate your concerns?
  • What are the regulations that protect your urban environment?
  • Who is in charge of enforcing those regulations?


Question periods at city council meetings or, in Montreal, at borough council meetings, are opportunities to voice opinions or questions to elected officials.

Also, some laws and bylaws in individual municipalities or boroughs—for example those dealing with heritage designation, demolition requests or cutting of trees—include provisions and timeframes for notifying the public and receiving comments from citizens as part of the decision-making process. Your municipal planning or permits departments or the city clerk can provide information on the procedures and deadlines to ensure that you react in a timely manner and that your comments are officially recorded.

Different types of public consultation and how they work

Major decisions are submitted to public consultation. The process for decisions governed by the Act Respecting Land-Use Planning and Development is fairly light, consisting of a special session in which the mayor or a representative explains the project and hears reactions from citizens. This barely leaves room for citizens to study the project and prepare a response. Some municipalities have developed informal alternative processes that resemble consultation. For projects in Old Montreal and on Mount Royal, for example, the City of Montreal has even created permanent tables de concertation (issue tables). For certain zoning changes, the Act allows for residents in adjacent zones to contest the changes via referendum. The procedure, however, is quite cumbersome and complex.

Montreal has a specialized advisory organization called the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, in French (OCPM). OCPM consultations are a two-phase process, comprising an information period and the filing of briefs. All documentation is made public and posted on the OCPM website. Commissioners produce a consultation report summarizing the opinions heard, followed by their own analysis and recommendations.


Get organized


  • What skills and expertise are available to you?
  • Who are your potential allies?
  • What resources can you rely on (time, money, places to meet, secretarial work, etc.)?
  • What is the best way to put all this together to get the most impact?


To achieve something and make the most effective use of volunteers’ time and resources, and to keep the momentum up in battles, some basic organization is necessary. Getting organized can be as simple as meeting with neighbours to compare viewpoints or to launch a petition. Your overall strategy should include defining and/or assigning tasks, and appointing a spokesperson. Hold regular meetings to share information and maintain focus as a case or project evolves; this is crucial to avoid being marginalized or ridiculed in public. Organizing also helps you gain and maintain credibility: authorities and developers tend to look for a sole spokesperson or to exploit internal divisions amongst opponents. Sometimes, a citizens’ committee meeting on a regular basis will suffice. Other cases will lead to the forming of “rainbow” coalitions of local citizens and larger, existing groups or celebrities, as in the case of the Hôtel-Dieu, Précieux Sang / Villa-Maria and Jean-Talon Station battles.

Communicate your ideas effectively


  • To whom should you communicate your concerns and requests?
  • When should you do so, to get the best results?
  • How can you avoid being marginalized or ridiculed in public?
  • How can you keep your partners well informed?
  • How should you deal with the media?


Communication is much more than media relations. It’s really a matter of clarifying one’s message and finding the best means to convey it to the public, decision-makers or your allies. In general, you’ll have one or many different messages to communicate to a wide range of people at the local, provincial or federal level. Communication is also a way to involve stakeholders—Members of the National Assembly, for example—who may otherwise remain silent on issues of local concern. A news conference may be useful to communicate information and issues to the media. Sometimes, a campaign of letters to the editor may prove more beneficial. Public meetings can do both: helping communicate information to the public and creating an event for the media to cover. Finally, remember that you cannot fight your battle solely through the media, and that they will always make editorial decisions when covering urban-planning and heritage stories.

Letter-writing Guide

Letter-writing Guide

We are all able to write to whomever we want, from the Prime Minister to the municipal inspector. However, if you want your message to have real impact and achieve concrete results, you must be able to tailor it for the person you are addressing, understand their role and responsibilities in the debate, and word your message accordingly.

Letter requesting protection or intervention addressed to a minister, to a mayor or to a property owner

Letter requesting protection or intervention addressed to a minister, to a mayor or to a property owner

Following are some suggested “ingredients” for use in your letter; the final wording is up to you, depending on the specific case and your knowledge of its various facets. The tone should always remain dignified and respectful—insulting the addressee will not help at all—and you should be clear, informed and concise in your demands. After all, when you write to a minister or mayor, you are addressing a person elected to represent the population. It is also useful to request a meeting with the elected officials to clarify with them the details of your request and to examine them in depth. Finally, it is important to send copies of your letter to others, so that the as many key people as possible are advised of the situation.

Here are the “ingredients”, in a suggested order:


  • State the importance of the property in question as a building, structure, vestige or land area of architectural, artistic, archeological, emblematic, ethnological, historical, landscape, scientific (e.g., ecological, botanical, biological) or technological value. Because each government has different powers and mandates, you’ll need to express the site’s value differently depending on whether you are writing to your municipality or to the Minister of Culture and Communications; for example, by underlining its local, regional or national interest, as the case may be.
  • Describe the state of the site and how it is threatened (demolition by neglect, risk of fire, deterioration of the structure, loss or sale of architectural or sculptural features, disfigurement, etc.)
  • Make a clear and precise request to the decision-maker according to their power and responsibilities (it is useful to remind them of those responsibilities, incidentally). Then request, according to what you feel is necessary, a time limit for a decision or a meeting to discuss the matter in more detail (you can also write a separate letter making a formal request for a meeting. If you are writing to the Minister of Culture and Communications, request that the property be classified for protection under Section 29 of the Cultural Heritage Act (see Appendix 1 for relevant excerpts from the legislation). When writing to the mayor of your municipality, request citation (designation) under Chapter 4 of the Cultural Heritage Act (see Appendix 1). When writing to either of the above, ask for immediate intervention to prevent the deterioration of the property in question. When writing to either of the above or to Parks Canada, you can ask for technical assistance in the case and a meeting to this end.


When writing to the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, request recognition of the historical value of the site or building. When writing to the property owner, request a meeting to discuss the future of the property.

  • Where applicable, send copies to other appropriate decision-makers (e.g., MPs, MNAs, city/borough councillors, the heads of permits and urban planning departments, local, regional or national heritage groups, universities, chambers of commerce).

Letter to protest a request for a demolition permit

Generally, where demolition bylaws exist, they state that any objections must be sent to the municipal clerk for technical reasons. There may also be a special committee in charge of receiving citizens’ opinions on the subject. Nothing stops you from sending separate letters to elected officials—the mayor or councillors—but you must not ignore or neglect the procedures and deadlines set out in the municipal bylaws. Otherwise, you risk losing your right to speak on the record about the issue. Those requesting a demolition permit generally make the following arguments, to which you should respond (or not, as you see fit) in your letter:


  • The state of the building (e.g., vacant, dangerous, run-down);
  • The high cost of renovating it;
  • The benefits of a new project (e.g., jobs, taxes, new services);
  • The idea that heritage is solely the purview of lawmakers, not property owners.


Your municipality’s demolition bylaws will sometimes include criteria for public servants and elected officials to use as a guide when authorizing demolitions. It’s important to be familiar with those criteria to better plan your opposition. In Montreal, for example, a building’s architectural value is taken into consideration, but so is its value as part of the streetscape or neighbourhood of interest (whether homogenous or not). Elsewhere, the effect that demolition would have on the urban landscape is taken into account.

That being said, the following points should be part of your letter of opposition to a demolition permit request:


  1. State the name and address of the building in question (ideally the one used by the city).
  2. Explain the heritage value of the building (date of construction; esthetic or architectural value; historical or artistic interest; importance of the building’s site or annexes; its architectural setting or the land it sits on, etc.).
  3. Bring up the municipality’s obligation to safeguard the components, including heritage elements, that enhance the quality of what is referred to as the “living environment;” not only for us, but also for generations to come (in a way, it is a question of reminding public officials that they must avoid making decisions based only on the short term, which they tend to do).
  4. Address certain points in the arguments presented by the property owner (e.g., point out that the poor state of the building may be the result of inadequate upkeep on the owner’s part and, if so, that this is a case of demolition by neglect).
  5. Remind them that the demolition of a building is an irreversible act that obliterates a part of our collective memory, and that many similar cases exist to prove that there are alternatives.
  6. Comment on the redevelopment plans (if there are no credible plans, you should insist on the fact that demolition will constitute a total loss from every point of view).
  7. Sum up your arguments by stating “In light of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, object to a permit for demolition being issued for this building.”
  8. Offer your help in seeking other solutions, as long as it doesn’t let the municipality off the hook in terms of its own responsibilities.


Here again, it would be useful to send copies of your letter of protest to other people—decision-makers, elected officials or organizations—to formally declare your concerned reasoning and stance on the issue. This may help ensure that it is followed up on by the municipality and other stakeholders.

Make sure to follow up


  • How can you sustain pressure or energy?
  • Should you be satisfied with the official answers?
  • What can you do to ensure that decision-makers follow through on their commitments?


Continuity of action is an essential part of an effective strategy. Just as maintenance helps keep your property in good shape, it’s important to maintain contacts with and keep up pressure on the decision-makers. Such follow-up action can be as simple as checking by phone whether a letter to a minister or mayor has reached them properly, or that commitments made by elected officials are in fact being honoured. Following up is also a way to remind decision-makers that somebody is still interested in seeing them do their jobs properly when it comes to heritage. Finally, it also ensures that you keep on top of things, adapting your strategies with flexibility and imagination as circumstances evolve.

Useful Links

Governement of Canada

Canada’s Historic Places


40 years of actions for Montreal's heritage

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