The Darling Foundry

Place of production and place of creation, a continuous symbolism

© Melissa Mars
© Melissa Mars
© Mardjane Amin
© Mardjane Amin

The building now housing the contemporary art centre known as The Darling Foundry, has a story rife with innovation and initiative. It is a hub for the development of the neighbourhood in which it’s found. In the beginning, it housed the Darling Brothers Foundry, a company which greatly contributed to the industrial growth of the sector, slowly forging its blue collar, metal working character. At the turn of the 20th century, the site was rehabilitated into a space for creation, production, and artistic pursuit by the collective Quartier Éphémère who initiated the idea of renewal favoring an up and coming sector. By focusing largely on its rich and symbolic history, an industrial wasteland was transformed into a sector for art; with an emphasis on Heritage.

From the 19th century to 1971, the metalworkers :

When Thomas Darling founded the Darling Brothers foundry in 1888, the lot had known four decades of metal workers. The modest foundry Yves and Allen, previously housed there, left behind a partially constructed lot. To this first advantage, the Brothers could add its strategic location, in the heart of the Faubourg des Récollets. The neighbourhood housed many companies specializing in the transformation of metals and all the required infrastructure for developing and selling a quality substrate.

The Darling Brothers was housed in one of the first buildings of its kind, modified over time as was required. In the beginning, it mainly produced industrial equipment, like steam pumps, assembled on site from imported pieces. The production of which would continuously be diversified throughout the 20th century, culminating with the period following the Second World War, noted as one of great growth for the company. A new building, made of concrete, was built to respond to constant demand for expansion. This is the building we know today, with the large openings in the façade and spacious interior. Because of the construction of a new oven at the same time, from then on the company ensured proprietary production of the pieces it assembled. Throughout the 20th century, the company was prosperous and contributed to the development of the sector’s reputation for metallurgy.

However, the wave of de-industrialisation that was to come, and which would impact every one of Montreal’s manufacturing sectors, would not leave this stone unturned. The factory relocated to Dorval in 1971, a final attempt at survival before closing its doors forever in 1991.

A culturally sensitive rehabilitation :

Without a purpose since its closing, the site of the Foundry had slowly degraded. The years were apparent on its structure, inexorably, highlighting a lack of maintenance or attention. Yet, in the early 2000s an opportunity came along which would change the future of this place. The Societé du 5 avril (5th of April society), an artist’s collective who imagined the conversion of the building into an art space, and the collective Quartier Éphémère (created in 1993), who hoped to exploit the potential of the former industrial wasteland, turned their attention on the building. With its attractive layout purpose built for production, the groups were seduced by the site, the industrial architecture and its location combining functionality with opportunity.

From then on, the foundry had a new face, built from its untouched remains. For budgetary reasons, the rehabilitation of the site would proceed in two phases. The first was completed in 2001-2002, designed by the then young architecture firm Atelier in Situ, and consisted of the transformation of the concrete building along rue Queen into a gallery space. The second, from 2003 – 2006, was designed by the architecture firm L’OEUF, and concentrated on the transformation of the building on the corner of rue Prince into 12 studios and an artist’s workshop. In total, 3500 square metres have been rehabilitated using the heritage dictum of “minimal intervention”.

Since its re-opening as an art centre the Darling Foundry has once again found remarkable success, adding to the sector a certain visual quality inherent to its revitalisation. Constantly renewing its programming, open all year round, it has become a hive for artists in the area. Notably, they initiated turning Rue Ottawa into a pedestrian zone which now houses a “public space”. During the last two years artistic performances of all sorts have interspersed the festive summer nights.

Revitalisation or gentrification ?

Progressively, the sector has been revitalized, bringing with it a dynamism which is certainly new and necessary, but sometimes irregular and often controversial when it lacks sensitivity, creativity, and frankly, care. Thus, like all good projects, the rehabilitation of the Darling Brothers knows both sides of the coin, a situation sometimes difficult to manage. The same cultural and artistic initiatives that make urban heritage the starting point for urban renewal (Horse Palace, Tour Wellington, New City Gas, Montreal Art Center, etc.), arouse ill-planned condominium towers and mass demolitions. Here lays the complex and ambiguous line between revitalisation and gentrification. A precarious edge which sometimes sees the transformation of the character of whole neighbourhoods; leaving them cold, fragmented, and maybe even unlivable. We can only hope the Darling Foundry’s site, somewhere between Griffintown and Faubourg des Récollets, can keep face when confronted with this sad reality by continuing with a sensitive and sensible approach to heritage conservation and the community that lives within it.

To read more :

  • BÉLANGER, M., Vestiges industriels montréalais : appropriation, rôles et enjeux sociaux, mémoire de maîtrise, Montréal, Université de Montréal, Département histoire de l’art et d’études cinématographiques, juillet 2011.
  • DELGADO, J., « 10 ans d’art à la Fonderie Darling »Le Devoir, 13 juin 2012, en ligne,
  • ISSOULÉ, G., « La Fonderie Darling réhabilité : de l’indutrie aux arts visuels », Bulletin de l’Association Québécoise pour le Patrimoine Industriel, 18, n°2, automne 2007, p. 8-10.
  • JANSSEN, S., Reclaiming the Darling Foundry from Post-Industrial Landscape to Quartier Ephemere, mémoire de maîtrise, Montréal, Université de Concordia, 2009, 121 p.
  • LEMIEUX, L.-P., Étude de pré-faisabilité . La société du 5 avril. 735-745 Ottawa, 23 février 1995, Archives de la Fonderie Darling, 745 rue Ottawa, Montréal.
  • LUCCHINI, F. (dir), De la friche industrielle au lieu culturel, actes de colloque international pluridisciplinaire (Sotteville-lès-Rouen, Atelier 231, 14 juin 2012, 270 p., ill., en ligne, document PDF,
  • Quartier Éphémère, « La rue Ottawa, couloir culturel et axe stratégique de redéveloppement de Griffintown », mémoire présente à l’OCPM sur l’avenir de Griffintown, 12 p., en ligne, document PDF,
  • Les nouveaux lieux de l’art, actes de colloque (Montréal, Usine C, 2-3-4 octobre 1996), Montréal, Studio multimédia, 1997, 153 p., ill.

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