December 15th, 2007

The Evolution of McGill College Avenue

Posted in Canada, History by Christopher DeWolf

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Yesterday, on Spacing Montreal, I wrote about several elegant synagogues that once graced the streets of downtown Montreal. One of them is the old Shaar Hashomayim synagogue*, built in 1886 and destroyed sometime in the 1920s, which stood on McGill College Avenue near Sherbrooke. At the time, the surrounding neighbourhood, near the corner of McGill College and Sherbrooke, right next to McGill University, was an affluent mix of rowhouses and apartment buildings, not unlike Boston’s Back Bay.

In the 1960s, though, most of the area’s old urban fabric was destroyed by new development. Parking lots and office towers eliminated what little residential texture was left. You can see the process underway in the photos below, which were taken on Victoria Street in 1973 and 2007. The two remaining rowhouses on this downtown sidestreet had already been converted into commercial use; a parking lot stands in between them. Office towers, which were built as part of the business district’s post-Place Ville Marie expansion, loom behind.

In the early 1990s, the building housing Café André was replaced by an expanded McCord Museum. Not long before, in the late 1980s, the site of the former Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue was redeveloped with a glass office tower, part of an ambitious renovation that turned McGill College Avenue into something resembling a cross between a boulevard and an office park. It’s pleasant enough, especially on a warm day when outdoor cafés line its sidewalks, but it’s still one of the more anonymous parts of Montreal. Aside from a few lonely rowhouses, little remains in the area around McGill College that would suggest it was ever anything but a humdrum office district.

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Photos by Guillaume St-Jean

*CORRECTION: This post originally misidentified the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue as the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. Thanks to Shawn for pointing out the error.


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2 comments

  1. Shawn says:

    As pointed out in the comments at Chris’ related Spacing Montreal post, the McCord Museum’s own photo tag, which is based on the Notman Archives, does NOT identify it as the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, but a different congregation entirely. Until Chris shows otherwise, I think we should assume that McCord is right and Chris is wrong… he hasn’t replied at Spacing, either.

    January 7th, 2012 at 1:21 pm

  2. Christopher DeWolf says:

    Five years late! You’re right, it seems it is the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue and not the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue.

    January 8th, 2012 at 2:58 am

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