This is all you need to know about how important St. Catherine Street is - when the Montreal Canadians win the Stanley Cup, as they have done more than any other National Hockey League franchise, this is the street the team uses for its parade route. The emergence of St. Catherine Street can be more or less traced back to 1891 and a decision by Henry Morgan to move “uptown” and away from the financial houses of “Old Montreal.”
In short order six large department stores had lined up along St. Catherine Street and Montreal had a retail artery the equal of any town in North America. The move coincided with the development of new transportation options as the city began to spread out. Many of Canada’s business and industrial leaders settled nearby under the slopes of Mount Royal that came to be known as the Golden Square Mile.
It was said that 70% of all the wealth in Canada could be found behind the gates of the resplendent mansions on the blocks on either side of Sherbrooke Street. A Who’s Who of North American architects was busy on residential commissions and on retail work two blocks south on St. Catherine Street.
But times change. There was a Great Depression, a major world war and shifting attitudes. In 1977 the passage of the Charter of the French Language made French the mandatory language when dealing with companies with French-speaking staff. Many English-oriented businesses decamped from Montreal to Toronto. It was the culmination of an era that saw the decline of Anglo-Canadian influence in the province. Those elegant mansions were regarded as a nagging symbol of decades of French Canadian oppression and the wrecking balls flew with abandon.
These days only a fraction of the opulence of the Golden Square Mile remains, almost nothing south of Sherbrooke Street. In the place of the historic mansions are mostly faceless steel and concrete high rise towers. The Canadians have not paraded down St. Catherine Street since 1993 and probably would not recognize much of what they would ride past today. We will take a look along St. Catherine Street and Sherbrooke Street and see what heritage buildings still stand and we will begin our explorations where Henry Morgan set up shop 125 years ago...
In 1842 Thomas Phillips, a local builder, died and his widow set out to create a memorial to his life by giving this land to the newly chartered city, then on the fringes of downtown. The monument in the middle of the square is not of Phillips, however, but King Edward VII who didn’t have much connection to Montreal other than visiting in 1860 to dedicate the Victoria Bridge when he was Prince of Wales. Louis-Philippe Hébert, who contributed some 40 such monuments around eastern Canada, finished this one in 1914. The base is adorned with four allegorical figures representing peace, the four nationalities of Montreal, liberty and Canadian prosperity.
WALK TO THE SOUTH SIDE OF PHILLIPS SQUARE AND THE LARGE BUILDING THAT IS...
Canada Cement Company Building
606 Cathcart Street
Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, became one of the great media moguls of the 20th century in England but never loosened his ties to Canada, having grown up in his beloved New Brunswick. In 1910, the 31-year old Aitken began buying up small cement plants across the dominion, eventually welding the businesses into Canada Cement. Aitken controlled an estimated 80 percent of the cement business in the country before selling his stake and sailing to Great Britain where he built the Daily Express into the biggest mass circulation newspaper in the world and served in Winston Churchill’s government. Concrete, naturally, was used in the creation of the company’s headquarters in 1921. The esteemed architectural firm of Ernest Isbell Barott, Gordon Home Blackader and Daniel T. Webster provided the stately Neoclassical design. Blackader was the promising junior partner when he was killed in action in Belgium during world War I in 1916; the Blackader Library at McGill University is named in his honour. This is the first high-rise tower in Montreal to sport its own underground parking garage.
TURN AND WALK BACK THROUGH PHILLIPS SQUARE TO THE NORTH SIDE. ACROSS THE STREET IS... ‘
585 St. Catherine Street West
Henry Morgan hailed from a humble village in rural Scotland and went to work as a boy in Glasgow with a wholesale dry goods firm. By the age of 25 in 1845 Morgan had saved enough money to sail to Montreal and open a store with fellow Scot David Smith. The two parted ways in 1850 and Morgan energetically scoured European merchandisers to begin Canada’s first department store in 1866. In 1891 Morgan moved from Victoria Square into this monumental emporium that triggered the retail rush to St. Catherine Street. Scottish architect John Pierce Hill tapped the burly Richardsonian Romanesque style for the four-storey confection, executed in red sandstone. Morgan and his nephews running the company spent $400,000 in the construction of Canada’s largest retail building. Morgan died two years later but his department store continued expanding. In the 1960s the Hudson’s Bay Company purchased the century-old company and the Morgan’s nameplate came down forever in 1972.
FACING THE BAY, TURN LEFT AND BEGIN WALKING WEST ON ST. CATHERINE STREET.
620 St. Catherine Street West along east side of Phillips Square
The first retailer to follow Henry Morgan to St. Catherine Street was Henry Birks. The 39-year old Birks had started a jewellery business on St. James Street in 1879 after apprenticing as a watchmaker and going to work with the city’s leading jeweller, Savage & Lyman. In 1894, with his three sons in tow, Birks set up shop in this Italian Renaissance retail palace designed by Edward Maxwell. Maxwell was working with Boston’s leading Gilded Age architectural firm, Shepley Rutan and Coolidge when he began to land significant Montreal commissions like this one to enable him to put out his own shingle. Maxwell’s vision was altered by Birks who favoured a rounded corner and the heavily ornamented main entrance was slid opposite the public square. It was said to have the most selling space on a single floor of any store in the world. This is still the company headquarters - the board room was intended to resemble that in the Bank of England - and base for the firm’s expansion across Canada and into the United States..
Christ Church Cathedral
635 St. Catherine’s Street West
The Anglican Diocese of Montreal, a splinter group from Quebec, built its first meeting house near the spirtitual center of the city on Notre Dame Street in 1814. After a disastrous fire in 1856 John Wills, who had helped with the definitive expression of Gothic Revival Anglican ecclesiastical architecture at Christ Church Cathedral in Fredericton, drew up similar plans for the new sanctuary. Wills died suddenly while working on the building at the age of 34 and Thomas Seaton Scott, barely into his thirties, took over on his one of his first major works. He would shortly be overseeing new construction on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The architects were long gone when it was discovered that the soft ground did not support the soaring stone tower. New foundations and a lighter aluminum steeple came along in the 1930s.
705 St. Catherine’s Street West
Timothy Eaton planted the seeds for Canada’s greatest retailing empire in 1869 in a small dry goods shop in St. Marys, Ontario. By 1896 Eaton’s was ensconced in Toronto and calling itself “Canada’s Greatest Store.” It was said there was an Eaton’s catalogue in every rural Canadian home. By 1910 Eaton’s employed almost 9,000 workers to churn out its own branded products in 17 factories. Te retailer came to Montreal in 1925 by buying up the Goodwin’s department store on this location. By 1927 there was a new six-storey Eaton’s on this corner and three more storeys were added in 1930. The iconic retailer fell into bankruptcy in 1999 and its name was gone by 2002; the building has been incorporated into the Eaton Centre which comprises a full block of mall shopping.
Bank of Montreal
730 St. Catherine’s Street West
The Bank of Montreal was the city’s first bank, organized in 1817. As one of Canada’s most powerful financial institutions the company constructed a number of classical banking temples as branches in the early 20th century. This branch came along in 1936, a decidedly more sombre time during the Great Depression and the seven-story building is appropriately restrained. You need to look up above the rusticated base to see the see a single storey of decorative stone carvings.
1253 McGill College Avenue at southeast corner of St. Catherine’s Street West
George Allen Ross and Robert Henry Macdonald were the go-to architects for big, important projects in Canada in the first half of the 20th century. Here they created a Neoclassical commercial structure, nearing the end of that style’s popularity. Rising to 11 stories, the burly building is clad in limestone. It was finished in 1927 and is one of the last remnants of monumental office space on Mc Gill College Avenue.
777 St. Catherine’s Street West at northeast corner of McGlll College Avenue
This stylish Italian Renaissance vault was built for the Montreal City and District Savings Bank in 1920. If features full three-storey high arched openings and a modillion cornice. The bank formed to “assist the little people” in 1846 and this branch was one of 16 in the city at the time. It would later be known as Laurentian Trust but its days of taking deposits are over; it is currently a Banana Republic.
Bank of Montreal
950 St. Catherine Street West at southwest corner of Mansfield Street
This souvenir from the 19th century Montreal banking world was constructed in 1889. The three-storey corner ornament adapted the Richardsonian Romanesque style pioneered by master Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Key elements include multi-coloured stone, polished stone entry columns, arched windows, turret and front-facing gables at the roofline. Andrew Taylor drew up the lively design.
La Maison Simons
977 St. Catherine Street West at northwest corner of Mansfield Street
The genesis of this iconic family business traces back to Scottish immigrant John Simons and a dry goods store he started in 1840 in Quebec. The fashion retailer made its mark by selling private labels designed in Quebec and has spread to stores across Canada. No two stores are alike as the company commissions local artists to interpret the particular culture of the site. This splash of Art Deco architecture from 1930 began life as a Robert Simpson department store. Simpson arrived in Ontario from Inverness, Scotland in 1856 and started a dry goods store in Newmarket. After moving to Toronto Simpson battled Timothy Eaton for retailing supremacy on fabled Yonge Street until his death in 1897 at the age of 63. Like Eaton’s, Simpsons was absorbed by the Hudson Bay Company and disappeared in the 1970s.
980 St. Catherine Street West
Charles Duquette opened the first drug store to be open 24 hours a day at 916 St. Catherine Street West in 1932. His Art Deco pharmacy was “the largest and most luxuriously appointed drug store in the world.” In the 1940s the Pharmacie Montreal was the first in Canada to have automatic doors. Jean Coutu came along in 1969, introducing the concept of discount pharmacies. The company would eventually have some 2,200 outlets and one of Coutu’s first franchises was the iconic Pharmaice Montreal. That building is now gone but Coutu has taken up in a different Art Deco home here, raised in 1928.
Dominion Square Building
1010 St. Catherine Street West at southwest corner of Metcalfe Street
The architectural firm of Ross and Macdonald dipped into it classical repetoire for this Beaux Arts colossus that doubled as commercial space and a two-level shopping arcade. Shoppers traveled between the two floors on the city’s first wooden escalators. When the builders were finished in 1929 Montreal had the largest office building in Canada. The 12 storeys of Alabama Rockwood limestone are liberally adorned with touches of the Italian Renaissance. Of the many prestigious tenants holed up in the Dominion Square Building on the top shelf is the Montreal Gazette, the province’s premiere English-language daily newspaper. The paper was founded by printer Fleury Mesplet in 1778 and is considered Quebec’s oldest newspaper. Although Mesplet was French he published works in the languages of French, English, Latin and Iroquois. The southern facade looks out over Dorchester Square which was once named Dominion Square, hence the building’s name.
TURN LEFT ON METCALFE STREET TO WALK TO THAT PUBLIC SPACE.
This open space was an informal gathering spot and came in handy as a makeshift graveyard during a cholera outbreak in 1851. One of Montreal’s leafiest downtown squares started to take shape in 1872 with the dawning of the nation of Canada. As such it was called Dominion Square and remained so until the international fair of 1967. The square boasts four monuments, arranged in the form of the British Union Jack: Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first French-Canadian prime minister and an early free-trader; a Boer War Memorial that is Montreal’s only equestrian statue; the Lion of Belfort who casts a calming eye towards Great Britain and France; and a tribute to the Scottish bard Robert Burns. Dorchester Square is a pedestrian hub for Underground Montreal.
Sun Life Building
1155 Metcalfe Street on east side of Dorchester Square
Leslie Gault was a prosperous Irish merchant who was driven to British North America in 1842 after he lost three ships at sea in 1842. Gault’s wife Mary became sick almost immediately in Montreal and sailed home; nine months later Leslie was dead after a bout with cholera. Eldest son Matthew, then 20, and his two younger brothers attempted to start a farm but failed miserably. Gault went into the grocery business but earned most of his money as an agent for the Mutual Life Assurance Company of New York. In 1865 he founded Sun Life Financial and over the final 22 years of his life, while not serving in the Canadian House of Commons, worked to expand the company’s international reach. Within a half-century Sun Life had become one of the world’s largest insurers. The Sun Life Building reflects that standing. Frank Darling, one of Canada’s leading cheerleaders for the classically flavoured Beaux Arts style, and partner John A. Pearson of Toronto designed the original seven stories of this headquarters in 1913. That work became a base for two expansions that by 1931 made the Sun Life Building the largest in the British Empire. In his memoirs, American president Harry S. Truman declared this his favourite building in the world.
CONTINUE TO THE END OF DORCHESTER SQUARE. CROSS THE STREET TO...
Place du Canada
This urban square was developed at the same time as Dominion Square. The focal point is a monument to John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, that was erected by the citizens of Montreal in 1895. It is the work of English sculptor George Edward Wade. The Montreal Cenotaph, one of 76 memorials to the fallen troops of World War I across Canada, was dedicated in 1924 on the sixth anniversary of the armistice.
Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral (Saint James Cathedral)
1085 Cathedral Street at southeast corner of René Lévesque Boulevard
This seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Montreal is the third largest church in Quebec. After a fire destroyed his church in 1852 Bishop Ignace Bourget rejected the current fervor for Gothic Revival sanctuaries and sought instead a small scale replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It took twenty years to convince architects it could be done and another twenty to build. Saint James Cathedral was consecrated in 1894; it was the largest church in the province at the time even though it was only 1/5 the size of St. Peter’s. A monument to Bishop Bourget stands next to the church he did not live to see finished. Topping the facade are statues of the patron saints of 13 Montreal parishes that donated them.
LOOKING OVER THE CATHEDRAL IS...
Queen Elizabeth Hotel
900 René Lévesque Boulevard
The Canadian National Railway completed the largest hotel in Quebec in 1958 with 1039 rooms. The massive guest house was going to be named for the founder of Montreal, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, but was named instead for Queen Elizabeth who was just coming onto the throne and would eventually check in four times. Many other heads of state signed the guest book but the most famous stay was by John Lennon and Yoko Ono who took refuge here after being denied entry into the United States in 1969. The couple staged a “Bed-In” in Room 1742 for a week, recording Lennon’s first solo single, “Give Peace a Chance.”
1000 De la Gauchetière
1000 De la Gauchetière Street
Montreal’s tallest building came online in 1992. At 205 metres (673 feet) the roof sits at the maximum height allowed by Montreal law. Architectural elements were added to reflect the qualities of its neighbors around Place du Canada.
TURN RIGHT ON DE LA GAUCHETIERE STREET.
1100 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montréal at southwestern corner of De la Gauchetière Street
The Canadian Pacific Railway turned to its go-to architect, Bruce Price of New York, for this rail hub in 1887. Price submitted four plans and the final version is a pure expression of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture fashioned from Montreal gray limestone. Key elements include monumental arched entranceways, round-topped windows grouped in threes, rooftop gables, corner turrets and rough-faced stone. The price tag for the 13-track facility was $300,000. An expansion by brothers Edward and William Maxwell dominated the Montreal skyline when it was added in 1916. The last passengers boarded in 1996 and the landmark train station managed to dodge the wrecking ball to be repurposed for offices, restaurants and a hotel.
TURN RIGHT ON PEEL STREET.
St. George’s Anglican Church
northeast corner of De la Gauchetière Street and Peel Street
This English Gothic heritage church stands as the earliest structure built on Place du Canada. Montreal architect William Tutin Thomas drew up plans for the main sanctuary in 1869 for the congregation that had started on Notre Dame Street in 1843. Alexander Francis Dunlop added the bell tower in 1894.
FOLLOW PEEL STREET BACK TO DORCHESTER SQUARE.
west side of Dorchester Square
A cadre of Montreal investors, including famous 19th century photographer William Notman, bankrolled this guest house that was envisioned as “the best in all the Dominion.” Half a million dollars was raised to make the vision a reality. Chicago architect William Warren Boyington designed a nine-storey French Second Empire confection, built with sandstone and granite. The gilded lobby provided access to six restaurants, a pair of ballrooms, a concert hall and 382 guest rooms. The opening ceremonies in 1878, highlighted by the St. Andrew’s Society Ball, were like nothing the city had ever witnessed. After a fire in 1906, a North Annex doubled the room capacity. A steady flow of the world’s high society walked down the famous hallway of stained glass windows known as Peacock Alley and signed the Windsor Hotel guest book. In 1916, over a meal in the Dining Room, the National Hockey League was founded here. A December 1957 fire led to the demolition of the South wing and what remained of the famous guest house was eventually shuttered in 1982. It does office duty today.
1117 St. Catherine Street West at northeast corner of Peel Street
In 1901 the City of Montreal passed an ordinance to cap commercial skyscrapers at ten floors or 130 feet. This 1913 tower took it right to the limit. Although not overly ornate, the Drummond Building displays the tripartite form that saw high-rise buildings reach for the sky like a classical column with a base (distinct lower storeys), a shaft (plain middle stories) and a capital (an ornate cornice and decorative upper floors). Howard Colton Stone, who built a long Montreal resume, was the architect.
1171 St. Catherine Street as northeast corner of Stanley Street
Only the New York City store on Herald Square is larger than this Victoria’s Secret. It replaced a popular branch of Chapters bookstore in this space.
Bank of Montreal
1205 St. Catherine Street as northwest corner of Drummond Street
Andrew Taylor opened his own architectural practice in London in 1879; he was 29 years old. Four years later he opened an office in Montreal where his uncle, George Alexander Drummond, was a prime mover and shaker in business and politics. Taylor won many commissions from McGill University and also the Bank of Montreal. After designing a string of Victorian vaults for the bank, Taylor retired in 1904. By the time this Neoclassical vault came along the bank could just about pull plans out of a drawer they were so common.
1220 St. Catherine Street at southeast corner of Drummond Street
Alexander Parker Willis grew up on a subsistence farm in Nova Scotia in the mid-1800s. He had no middle name then but after working his way through school and becoming an educator he adopted one, borrowed from American writer of no relation, Nathaniel Parker Willis. Willis left teaching after a spell and pursued a commercial career, selling religious portraits door to door. After settling in Montreal he won the rights to market Richard Mott Wanzer’s popular “Little Wanzer” sewing machine. In the 1880s Willis switch his product line to another 19th century middle class house staple - the piano. His trade thrived and he moved into progressively more impressive showrooms until he landed in his own eight-storey Beaux Arts tower in 1911. Willis, who was building almost 2,000 pianos a year at the time, was able to show off his instruments in his own concert hall here. Alexander Willis continued to helm his company until his death in 1934 at the age of 89.
1307 St. Catherine Street northeast corner of and Mountain Street
Scottish immigrant James Angus Ogilvy opened his first retail store in Montreal in 1866, selling from a single counter on Mountain Street. Slowly he added to his line of “fancy and staple dry goods,” especially Rob Roy Linen Fire Hose. In 1896 Ogilvy unveiled its newest store, a three-storey stone emporium on this corner designed by his son, David. In 1912, the firm moved into a grand million-dollar retail castle designed in the Romanesque Revival style by David Ogilvy. The family business sold out to Home Bank in the 1920s and after the financial business collapsed in the Great Depression all the assets were sold to Arthur Nesbitt. Nesbitt turned the Ogilvy operation over to his 19-year old son James who turned the store into an institution over the next 54 years. A born showman, Nesbitt introduced tartan shopping bags and a resident bagpiper, paying homage to the store’s heritage. Ogilvy’s window displays, especially at Christmastime, were legendary. After James Nesbitt retired in the 1980s the store evolved from a general merchandise department store - 66 departments - into a collection of boutique retailers.
1307 St. Catherine Street
A modern ground level addition and a stone facade from the 1980s effectively obscure this street souvenir from the 1860s but you can still look up and see some fenestration details and dormers on the roof.
Post Office Station H
1420 St. Catherine Street West at southeast corner of Bishop Street
In the early 1900s the post office was most likely the only direct contact the average Canadian citizen had with the federal government. So it is no surprise that these buildings were among the most extravagant on the government’s building inventory. The national architecture office delivered this monumental Beaux Arts post office to St. Catherine Street in 1914. Three-storey high engaged Ionic columns dominate both street facades and a stepped parapet caps a denticulated cornice.
St. Jax Montreal
1439 St. Catherine Street West at northeast corner of Bishop Street
The St. James Anglican congregation began in 1864 and was known as St. Crickets in the Fields because a British army regiment stationed in Montreal spent many hours playing cricket in the field across the street from the newly erected Gothic Revival church.
TURN RIGHT ON BISHOP STREET.
1424 Bishop Street
Quebec native Frank Richardson England graduated from Bishop’s College in 1885 at the age of 23, taking with him the school’s Wood and Nelson gold medals. He became a distinguished professor of medicine and skilled surgeon, eventually being chosen as president of the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society. After losing his first wife, England married Octavia Grace Ritchie, six years his junior. Ritchie was the Valectorian of the first class of women to graduate from McGill University in 1888 and became the first woman to receive a medical degree in Quebec. The Englands’ richly decorated Jacobean-style house was designed by Robert Findlay, a go-to architect of residential palaces in Montreal’s fabled Golden Square Mile.
Bishop Court Apartments
1463 Bishop Street
Charles Jewett Saxe was the lead architect in designing this Tudor Revival apartment complex in 1904. He would later come back to Bishop Street to work on the entry tower and east transept of St. Jax. Saxe used polychromatic sandstone imported from Scotland to dress his eye-catching building. The three-storeys now house office workers and not apartment dwellers.
Church of Andrew and St. Paul
3415 Redpath Street at at northwest corner of Sherbrooke Street
The first Presbyterian services in Montreal were held in 1787; St. Andrews congregation was founded in 1803 where City Hall stands now on Notre Dame Street. St. Paul’s organized in 1843. The congregations melded in 1918 and moved into this Norman-inspired sanctuary in 1932. The design came from the offices of Harold Lea Fetherstonhaugh and his draftsman H. Ross Wiggs.
TURN RIGHT ON SHERBROOKE STREET WEST.
Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal’s largest museum sprawls across four pavilions on both sides of Sherbrooke Street. The Anglican Bishop of Montreal from 1850 until 1868, Francis Fulford, planted the seeds for the collection “to encourage the appreciation of fine arts among the people of the city.” In 1879 the first building ever erected in Canada to house only art was built for the Art Gallery of the Art Association of Montreal that was small but grew in wealth over the years. Beaux Arts architects Edward and William Maxwell won a design competition in 1910 that resulted in the French Renaissance gallery on the north side of the street. Canadian architect Fred Lebensold added a pavilion in 1976 and Moshe Safdie designed a modernistic gallery on the south side of the street; an underground gallery links the building complex. The Erskine and American United Church building, a grand stone edifice created in the Richardsonian Romanesque style in the 1890s, joined the museum team in 2007.
1321 Sherbrooke Street West
This apartment complex has the sort of pedigree one would expect in the heart of the Golden Square Mile. The project was bankrolled in the 1920s by Pamphile Réal Blaise Nugent Du Tremblay, a member of the Canadian Senate and owner of the dominant French language Montreal newspaper, La Presse. The architects were the best in Canada at the time, George Allen Ross and David MacFarlane; their design is intended to evoke French castles and Scottish baronial houses. The materials used were the finest Indiana limestone and copper on the roof, in the style of the government buildings found on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill. It is no surprise that the 136 apartments in the 14-storey building have attracted some of city’s most prominent residents over the years.
1227 Sherbrooke Street West
The Acadia Apartments was the first residence on Sherbrooke street to leap on the new laws in the 1920s to allow commercial buildings to exceed 10 storeys. Montreal architect David Robertson Brown purposely limited decoration on the facade of the 12-storey complex so the money could be spent on jazzing up the apartments. Finished in 1925, the Acadia still demonstrates the tripartite assembly that had been the convention in building high-rises for almost 40 years and would shortly fall out of favour.
1228 Sherbrooke street West
The Carleton Hotel Company organized in Montreal in the early 1900s to develop a luxury guest house in the image of London’s fabled Carlton Hotel. The Carlton was operated by César Ritz who was world renowned for his own branded luxury hotels and referred to as the “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings.” One of the Montreal investors was a personal friend of Ritz, who was nearing retirement, in 1912. For $25,000 Ritz agreed to allow his name to be stamped on the marquee. There were conditions to be met, however. Each floor had to have its own kitchen so room service meals could delivered course by course. Valets and concierge service had to be on-call 24 hours a day. And each room had to have its own bathroom, a true luxury at the time. New York architects Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, specialists in classical architecture, juggled the $2 million building budget. The first Ritz Carlton opened on New Year’s Eve 1912. Many of the high society guests ended up living in the hotel. Unlike many of its contemporaries (most notably the Mount Royal Hotel that is now an upscale shopping center on De Maisonneuve Boulevard), the Ritz Carleton is still a hotel after a century, named Canada’s top luxury hotel in 2016.
Reid Wilson House
1201 Sherbrooke Street West at northeast corner of Drummond Street
The Golden Square Mile used to sport block after block of audacious, showy mansions and this is a rare survivor, constructed for Thomas Craig, a banker, in 1882. Montreal architect John James Browne designed the original house but after James Reid Wilson bought the property in 1901 he hired American architect Richard A. Waite to perform a makeover. Waite emptied his Victorian toolbox to tie a variety of styles into a harmonious composition. After the property, which included a conservatory and coach house, passed out of the Reid family in 1936 it was acquired as office space by Corby Distilleries Limited.
1188 Sherbrooke Street West
Developers have been so far far thwarted on this block. This old-style high-rise, with trappings of Neo-Georgian architecture delivered by Harold Lawson, began life in 1928 as the Hermitage Apartments and is now a boutique hotel.
Sherbrooke Street West at the head of McGill College Avenue
James McGill, a Scottish immigrant in 1766, built his fortune on fur trading and was one of Montreal’s richest men when he died in 1813 at the age of 69. One of his bequests was £10,000 and his extensive summer home known as Burnside Place to the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning. The money funded the English language McGill University in 1821 and the summer home became the campus. The classically-themed gates were donated by Amy Redpath Roddick in memory of her husband Sir Thomas George Roddick in 1924. The Newfoundland-born Roddick was a celebrated surgeon who pioneered the practice of antiseptic treatment and served as dean of the Faculty of Medicince at McGill from 1901 and 1908; he was knighted in 1912.
McCord Museum of Canadian History
690 Sherbrooke Street West at southeast corner of Victoria Street
By vocation David Ross McCord was a lawyer, by avocation he was devoted to preserving the heritage of Canada. As early as 1878 McCord agitated for a national museum of Canadian history. While he waited he was building his own collection which eventually numbered 15,000 artifacts which he kept in his house. In 1921 McCord opened his collection to the public, inside this Arts and Crafts-influenced building designed by Percy Erskine Nobbs. The museum is now administered by McGill University and numbers 1.5 million items.
Pollack Concert Hall
555 Sherbrooke Street West
Royal Victoria College was McGill’s college for women and this was their Assembly Hall. It was courtesy of Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, one of Montreal’s greatest benefactors. Smith was a principal shareholder in the Hudson’s Bay Company, a co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway and a president of the Bank of Montreal. In a life that began in 1820 and stretched to 1914 he is estimated to have given away over $7.5 million. In 1899 Smith became chancellor of McGill University and one of his first acts was to buy this land, tear down a slew of mansions and provide $50,000 for a new centre for Royal Victoria College. Bruce Price was brought in from New York to deliver a building in the grand British chateau style. In 1973 a transformation began to convert the regal space into a modern concert hall.
TURN RIGHT ON ALYMER STREET AND WALK TWO BLOCKS TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT PHILLIPS SQUARE.