Blanche Lemco-van Ginkel : The Woman Who Saved Old Montreal

January 12, 2016 / Posted by   Heritage Montreal - Collaborator 

Blanche Lemco-van Ginkel :  The woman who saved Old Montreal




The history of Old Montreal is detailed with tales featuring inspiring women, and Blanche Lemco-van Ginkel is one of them. If you have never heard this name before, this article is for you ! In fact, few Montrealers know how important of a role Ms. Lemco-van Ginkel, along with her husband, fellow architect H.P. Daniel (known commonly as Sandy) van Ginkel, played in the preservation of Old Montreal’s historical integrity.

Blanche, key architect and urban planner of the district, was born in London in 1923 and lived in Montreal for more than twenty years. She graduated from both McGill and Harvard, two institutional pillars of education, then had a brilliant career during which she made a real name for herself in an essentially male-dominated profession, and eventually returned to teach architecture at these two universities.

To the Rescue of Old Montreal

The van Ginkels were fascinated by Montreal, a city that was being completely reshaped at the time, and settled there to found an architecture and planning practice in 1957. As partisans of harmonious urban planning, they were very worried by the invasive presence of the automobile which, at the time, was a menace to the historical integrity of Old Montreal.

Do you remember when we wrote about the elevated highway that was to be built along de la Commune street ? Check it out here. Well, it was none other than the van Ginkels that orchestrated the civil movement, leading to protests to save Old Montreal ! In fact, they did what they do best : They elaborated a report which contained recommendations that were so convincing that the highway project was never realized, and Old Montreal’s history and heritage were finally praised.

This victory was not Blanche Lemco-van Ginkel’s only career highlight ; she helped shape the Order of Urban Planners and contributed to planning the 1967 Universal Exposition. Héritage Montréal Policy Director Dinu Bumbaru believes that the legacy of this couple should live on through the construction of a bronze monument honoring their work in defending Montreal’s heritage. Now wouldn’t that be a nice project for Montreal’s 375th anniversary ?

The van Ginkels then moved to Toronto in 1977 after spending more than twenty years in Montreal in the pursuit of new challenges. That same year, Blanche became the first woman in Canadian history to chair as dean of an architecture faculty. She stills lives in the Ontarian metropolis to this day, though her husband sadly passed away in 2009.

Now that you know a bit more about this exceptional woman, have a small thought for her during your next walk in the neighborhood !


Heritage Montreal - Collaborator

Heritage Montreal has worked to promote and to protect the architectural, historic, natural and cultural heritage of Greater Montreal, its neighbourhoods and communities. This private non-profit organization is at the heart of an extensive network of partners, working through education and representation to celebrate, develop and preserve Montreal’s identity and uniqueness.

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