John Ostell: The Architect Who Shaped Old Montreal
October 11, 2016 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator Oliver Marshall
Now that you know more about the grand aspirations behind the construction of the Marché Bonsecours in the mid-nineteenth century, feast your eyes on these buildings which were built during the same period. While they may be more modest, we assure you that they are just as striking. They are the work of one of the city’s most talented architects at the time, John Ostell ; his name is worth remembering because he made the development of Old Montreal his life’s work.
So without further ado, here are three of Ostell’s important architectural achievements which can still be admired to this day during a walk through the district.
In 1836, Ostell drew up plans for the Custom House: It would be a neo-classically influenced building and would be built right beside the port. Its elegant architectural elements and smooth freestone finish were reminiscent of the illustrious Italian villas half a world away. At the time, commercial activity and port operations were booming, and the Custom House is in its own way a symbol of the emergence of Montréal as an important portside city.
While the Custom House was being built, John Ostell drew up plans to renovate the façade of a multifunctional building: the Cuvillier-Ostell house-cum-store. This edifice is an amalgamation of a store on its ground floor and many living spaces on the upper floors and boasts many of Ostell’s signature-style features from one floor to another. The ground floor’s store front windows invite customers to peek in for a look. The large windows installed under impressive archways on the second floor are equally imposing. The third-story windows are a lot more subtle as there are fewer of them, thus leaving room for a series of sober decorative elements.
An architecture competition was announced in 1844 to determine who would have the honour of building the city’s new courthouse due to that the fact the first one was razed by a fire. John Ostell and his partner Henri-Maurice Perrault won and would then undergo construction of a classically shaped courthouse. One of this building’s most impressive elements is without a doubt its immense central portico neighboured by its imposing ionic columns. Not even fifty years later, in 1890, it was renovated to add an extra floor as well as a monumental dome.
John Ostell is not only known for his many accomplishments in Old Montreal, he was also an important player in the many parts of the city’s development. Among other projects over the course of his influential career, he participated in the industrial development of the Lachine Canal. He also contributed to the development of the railroad network and was the general manager of the New City Gas factory. He built many churches as well McGill University’s first building, the Arts Pavilion. Conclusively, we are all in debt to John Ostell’s service as he dedicated his life to leaving us a rich and diverse architectural heritage which has proven to withstand the test of time.