Sherbrooke Street

A major urban artery with a motley character 

A body of water, this is what could be found bordering Sherbrooke Street 10, 000 years ago. Today, the site is marked by many years of development and densification of the city of Montreal. Far from its past as a riverbed, Sherbrooke Street now winds its way across the city and overlooks the whole of the southern portion of the island. 

At one end a provincial highway, Sherbrooke Street crosses the entire metropolitan area of Montreal from East to West. Starting at Westminster Avenue (West), it continues 32 KM to Notre Dame East (Eastern tip of the Island). Beginning in the 19th century, it was considered a major artery whose placement guided the cities development. Indicative of its importance and placement, it has retained this vertebral function over time. Sherbrooke Street developed into Montreal’s most prestigious road-way, housing stately mansions of the Golden Square mile, the country’s richest neighbourhood at one time. Today its character has transformed. No less impressive, its residential character has largely been replaced by commercial and cultural functions. Today, extraordinary century old mansions and imposing churches are juxtaposed by prestige department stores, elite private clubs, apartment complexes and even the internationally renowned McGill University. 

But how well do we know its story ? How can we read the buildings that occupy it? How can we explain its character, at once unique and assorted ?

As part of MTL Heritage Fest, we will take you along a section of this fascinating founding road with the help of our guides: Natalie C. Smith, senior architect at NCS Architecture, and Istvan Kovacs, senior architect at DFS Architecture and Design. Take a moment to discover Sherbrooke through the eyes of a conservation architect – from University Street to Notre-Dame West – we will forget about asphalt, traffic congestion and pedestrians lights (well, for a short moment) and look UP at the richness of the our built heritage! 

Here are a few of the sights we will see along the way:

The McCord Museum of Canadian History (original construction: 1906, museum: 1921)

In the autumn of 1921, visionary and collector, David Ross McCord created Montreal’s first National History Museum when the collection he’d begun in 1878 was moved to a larger space; the McGill Student’s Union building. Built in 1906, by renowned architect Percy Erskine Nobbs. Today, it is a private museum devoted to Canadian History. 

Holt Renfrew (1937)

Built in the Art Deco style, this luxury department store is an excellent example of how “architectural modernity was a great success in Quebec in the 1920s and 30s”. Holt Renfrew bears witness to a culturally effervescent moment in time, to a place where material acquisition, innovation, brash and appearance are paramount. Still standing today, Holt Renfrew is one of the last surviving examples of the rush to build luxury department stores in Montreal. However, it is due to close in 2017, having announced a merger with former rival Ogilvy’s department store, south on Ste Catherine Street. Its prestige remains however, in our view, inseparable from its location and its architecture.

Erskine and American United Church (construction: 1893 – rehabilitation: 2006-2011) 

Designated a Canadian National Historic Site in 1998, this neo-roman style church is a veritable landmark.  Recently restored and rehabilitated into a concert hall by the architecture firm Provencher-Roy; the architects used a contemporary addition to highlight in a respectful and sensible manner the rich heritage the church unassumingly conveys.

The Mount Royal Club (1904-1906)

This legendary “elite” club has garnered its image throughout time, giving it an almost mythical status. Closed to the larger public, a private place for a more “fortunate” class, the façade of this building remains of simple neo-classical design. A sober and severe exterior to dissuade ordinary observers from becoming too curious about what is ostensibly a luxurious interior. 

Louis Joseph Forget House (1882-1884)

Built for Montreal business man Louis Joseph Forget and his family, this luxurious residence sits at the crossroads of Sherbrooke and Drummond. Inspired by Second-Empire architecture, it bears witness to the desire to lead both a fulfilling professional and family life; both of which were united under this roof. Its principal façade is divided into two distinct parts, horizontally separating the executive and domestic functions.

Want to learn more ? Register for MTL Heritage Fest here

Further reading :

  • “La rue Sherbrooke et ses intersections », Les grandes rues de Montréal[en ligne], consulté en juin 2015
  • Le Grand répertoire du patrimoine bâti de Montréal, [en ligne], consulté en juin 2015
  • DOCOMOMO Québec, Magasin Holt Renfrew, Montréal, 1937, [en ligne], consulté en juin 2015
  • DOYON, Frédérique, «Patrimoine montréalais – Le sort incertain de l’édifice Holt Renfrew suscite l’inquiétude », Le Devoir, 26 novembre 2013, [en ligne], consulté en juin 2015
  • POITRAS, Jean-Claude, «Holt Renefrew: je me souviens», Le Devoir, 29 septembre 2012, [en ligne], consulté en juin 2015
  • Culture et communications Québec, Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec[en ligne], consulté en juin 2015

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