The Square des Frères-Charon
September 22, 2017 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator
To admire a city’s heritage and history is to curiously and gleefully contemplate the architectural expression of its buildings in all their form and lyricism. In doing so, you’ll also learn how to appreciate the value of the equally fascinating green areas which pepper the urban landscape.
The Square des Frères-Charon, located on the junction of McGill and Wellington Streets, is a great example of a feat of urban planning which bleeds both symbolism and history. It has been constantly evolving to meet the escapist needs of urbanites who may seek out time alone, exploratory walks or friendly encounters. This contemporary layout in Old Montreal is the result of a great collaboration led by a team of multidisciplinary professionals who have succeeded in ingeniously representing the historical evolution of the site in a manner that is sober, albeit quite significant.
The site was originally located on swampy grounds outside the walls of Ville-Marie. The Square now owes its name to the community founded by Jean-François Charon de la Barre who also founded the Montreal General Hospital. For his charitable endeavour, Charon was given large amounts of land, on which had been erected several buildings. One of these buildings was a 17th century windmill — the vestiges of which were discovered in archeological digs in 2004. Today, this windmill is represented symbolically by the circular layout of the area, the granite markings of the area’s south-east corner and the pedestrian walkways which form the mill’s sails. The planting design composed of tall grasses and shrubs is evocative of its former environment, and serves to perpetuate a fertile dialogue between past and present — between urban effervescence and natural symbiosis.
A cylindrical pavilion — another homage to the windmill of ages past — towers over the park and houses a drainage facility with an underground stairwell which leads to the Saint-Jacques water collector, one of Montréal’s most important water purification and sewage collection facilities. Another stairwell leads upwards to a modest terrace-cum-belvedere. This high perch offers people a beautiful view on the surrounding buildings, including the majestuous Customs House, built in beaux-arts style, overlooking McGill Street, and other red-brick-adorned stores and warehouses which are emblematic of the industrial period catalysed by the inauguration of the Lachine Canal in 1825. You can also observe the inception new urban developments which have characterized the sector in these past years.
The Square des Frères Charon is the starting point of one of the 8 guided ArchitecTours offered by Héritage Montréal with a mission to decode the city’s past, present and future. The tours are offered until October 8.