Montreal’s Stone Bedrock
March 21, 2016 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator Oliver Marshall
Montreal’s Stone Bedrock
Our fast-paced lives do not always give us the time to admire the many architectural details that surround us. In Montreal, we have the chance to witness a very impressive array of materials, styles, volumes and textures which, as a whole, forge the city’s unique architectural identity. But out of all of these elements, you may have guessed that we are particularly interested in one of the most basic material: stone (OK, the article’s title might have given it away!) So, without further ado, here is a look back in time of Montreal’s choice construction materials!
Fieldstone is mined right from Montreal’s soil and has been used since the 18th century. Moreover, among the oldest buildings in Old Montreal, you can still find some today that have preserved sections where you can see the fieldstone: the former Saint-Sulpice seminary and the former Montreal general hospital. At the time, conditions made dressing this stone quite difficult and complex. This is why dressed stone was rather reserved for smaller surfaces such as door and window frames.
From former quarries to large green spaces
Did you know that the majority of green spaces were built on the sites of former quarries? Laurier park, Villeray park, Père-Marquette park and many more of your favorite green spaces all had another use in the past! Quarry mining began around 1780 at several sites on the island of Montreal. The city’s soil is composed of limestone, which is a lot better than dressed stone. Another hint from the past is the name of the rue des Carrières (French for quarries) which runs parallel to the railroad. This winding old road linked many quarries among each other in Montreal. Today, this gray stone is no longer mined in Montreal, but it is still mined in the Deschambault region neer Quebec City.
So how can we explain this great diversity in building materials? You have to look on the side of the Molson bank which is located on Saint-Jacques street and was built in 1866. The architects wanted their building to stand out so they took advantage of the development of the railroad to import buff sandstone from Ohio. The use of this new material marked the beginning on an era of diversification by contributing to creating a heterogeneous landscape of buildings that can still be admired today in Old Montreal and elsewhere in the city.
So whether it’s stone, granite, slate, copper or even brick, all materials contribute in enriching our vision of Montreal’s neighbourhoods and how we experience their historical value. Next time, take the time to admire them, they certainly a couple stories to tell!
Banner photo : Julien Lacroix ©