Commercial property owners in Verdun will soon be able demolish heritage buildings in a bad state of repair or at the back of a property without a Site Planning and Architectural Integration (SPAI) review.
“Is this not an invitation to all landlords to stop maintaining their buildings so that they can develop the land for one project or another,” said Gilles Laberge. “There has not been an inventory of buildings in the back of lots, so I’m surprised that the city is so ready to purge them.”
The amendment to bylaw 1700-88 was initially presented to Verdun’s urban planning, housing and heritage committee. Ann Guy, Benoit Malette and Pascale Tremblay sit on the committee. Researcher David Lamontagne-Métivier was also present at the meeting.
The public heard about the change during a 15-minute public consultation prior to the last Borough Council Meeting, February 7. Ann Guy was the only elected official who heard resident comments. She and her colleagues passed the bylaw unanimously less than half an hour later. The change takes effect after the city of Montreal approves it, perhaps next month. (The issue doesn’t appear on March agendas for city council, the executive committee nor the agglomeration council.)
In addition to his comments about owners, Laberge, who is a historian, raised concerns about whether the bylaw amendment would allow the Douglas Institute to tear down an unused root cellar that is one of the last remaining agricultural buildings in Verdun. He didn’t get an answer.
In a later email to the Suburban, Verdun spokesperson Francine Morin wrote that the borough “has established that no 100% commercially used building on its territory has any heritage value.”
She also confirmed that the Douglas Institute applied for a permit to tear the root cellar down in 2010, but Verdun’s planning advisory committee refused the request.
Marie France Coutu, a communications officer with the Douglas Institute, says the organization no longer plans to demolish the circa-1920 building. “In our mandate, there is no money set aside for heritage buildings, but we are conscious that these buildings have value to the community,” she said. “Our intention is to leave it as it is. It’s locked and secured. We don’t want to get rid of it.”
Residents are relieved that an important Verdun landmark might still be saved, but some still complain about the way Verdun handled the public consultation.
“How can we have faith in our elected officials when they treat us like this,” said Fabiola Renaud. “They invite us for one subject and when we arrive, they present something different. The avis told us that the Mayor would explain the changes to the bylaw, but he wasn’t even there. Then after they made us work, M. Malette didn’t even have time to tell them what we said before they passed the amendment anyway. They’re laughing at us.”
(A version of this article appeared on March 14 on page 7 of The Suburban’s City Edition.)
Representatives from 20 companies—five from each of the Lachine, Lasalle, Sud-ouest and Verdun boroughs——will take home trophies from the Soirée Reconnaissance Unio 2012 next month.
Unio 2012 will be held at Salle Grimaldi on Lapierre Street in LaSalle on Thursday, February 16. A cocktail begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by the award presentation at 7 p.m. and a “Replay The Beatles” show at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $75.
“Unio is Latin for uniting our strengths to achieve a goal,” says Gilles Dubien, directeur-general of the Chamber of Commerce of South West Montreal (CCISOM), which organizes the event to recognize business excellence every two years. “We are not only awarding companies who are members of the chambers, we are awarding companies who have accomplished something important in their boroughs.”
While the CCISOM organizes the event every two years, it does not select the winners. That’s left to local partners: the Centre local de développement – CLD Lachine, the Centre local de développement de Verdun, Développement économique LaSalle and the Regroupement économique et social du Sud-Ouest (RESO).
In the past, the event was run as though it were a local version of the Quebec-wide Concours les Mercuriades, a contest operated by the Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce. To be considered, businesses in various categories had to submit proposals that registered how they achieved excellence in their field.
Dubien says that while this year’s version remained open to members and non-members alike, the process was “modified to make it more accessible for the enterprises.” Two key changes took place: the timing was changed from a traditional late November date to February and companies were nominated for particular achievement instead of within a particular category.
Then each local development council set up an internal selection process to choose seven or eight winners.
The final company submissions were turned over to a four-person jury: Jacques Fortin from Développement économique LaSalle, Marc Cloutier from the CLD Verdun, Marc Beausoleil from RESO and Ghislain Dufour from CLD Lachine. Winners could be selected based on providing employment, financial investments, sustainable development, protecting the environment or any other appropriate marker of excellence. Jury members met in a series of meetings between October and after the holidays. They handed in their selections in January.
“I’ve been involved from the beginning of this project and the format we had this year was much better than before,” said LaSalle’s Fortin. “It’s never perfect, of course, but in past years, we might have lots of companies that fit the same category and few entrants in another category. This time, we could be very flexible to choose the high performing enterprises in whatever categories we chose. We’re very satisfied that these winners reflect the best practices in each of our boroughs.”
(This story appeared on page 3 of the January 25, 2012 city edition of The Suburban.)
Just prior to the first public tour of Montreal’s oldest country house last August, someone splattered giant graffiti tags across two of its four 300-year-old stone walls.
Twenty days later—after many phone calls, advice from Montreal’s pre-eminent heritage art restorer, and 40 hours of careful nylon brushing by a blue collar employee—a pristine building greeted visitors for the archaeology week celebration.
The incident was the first time anyone has damaged Maison Nivard de Saint-Dizier, a two-storey stone cottage built by Gilbert Maillet for the Congregation of Notre Dame nuns in 1710. Yet similar vandalism occurs too often in Montreal, says Dinu Bumbaru, Policy Director at Heritage Montreal. “In the past, there’s been a general consensus that the graffiti guys wouldn’t damage historic monuments. This unsaid convention has broken down.”
All public institutions with property on the island of Montreal—including 19 boroughs, the STCUM, five school boards, and the municipal, provincial and federal governments—have different protocols for handling typical graffiti removal on their territories. When a designated heritage building or monument is tagged, however, an expert art restorer has to approve the removal to protect historic value and prevent permanent damage. The graffiti on Maison Dizier put extra pressure on Verdun’s arts and culture head Nancy Raymond, who was already busy finalizing plans for Maison Diziers’ anniversary celebration this month and next, and who normally wouldn’t deal with graffiti.
Verdun’s protocol calls for removing graffiti from all structures, whether publicly or privately-owned. A local bylaw, and a strong partnership with the Montreal police, enables graffiti-prevention experts to meet with parents and shopkeepers, visit schools, and recover costs from anyone convicted of defacing property. Fines go to parents of taggers younger than 18 years.
The three-pronged approach (education, prevention, control) was developed as a pilot project three years ago. It has since been deemed so successful, that the Montreal police are expanding it across the island. “If every borough could imitate what Verdun does here and could clean all the graffiti in all the public and private places, Montreal would be much better off,” says Commandant Eric Lalonde, chief of police for Verdun’s neighbourhood office 16, who also heads Project Graffiti. “They understand very well the “broken window theory” in that everyone feels safe when it’s clean.”
Removing graffiti as soon as it occurs is expensive, and can’t be handled solely by borough blue collars. At their September meeting, the borough awarded four contracts to three companies (Hydrotech NHP Inc., Solutions Graffiti, and S.R. Vapeur Inc.) to cover graffiti removal for the next five years at an estimated cost of $295,277.94, despite having already awarded a $220,423.89 contract to Hydrotech NHP Inc. last May. None of these contracts include removing graffiti from Maison Dizier or any other historic monument or sculpture.
“When it’s a historic building, they want to make sure that the removal won’t hurt the structure,” says Sebastien Pitre, from Solutions Graffiti in Lasalle. “I’m in charge of the projects for the Lachine Canal, and there are historic buildings there, but I don’t do historic buildings in Verdun.”
“Removing graffiti on this isn’t the same as taking it off an overpass built in the ‘70’s. It is a very precious and fragile monument,” said Bumbaru. “There are sections with mortar and sections with stone. When this house was built, they were taking rocks from the fields and they can be limestone, granite and sandstone mixed together.”
“When the house was restored a few years back, the outside of the house was repointed,” said Gina Garcia, the art restorer who consulted with Verdun on the project. “The old mortar between the stones was removed and replaced by a new historically-correct mortar using traditional lime based mortars, which are much more fragile than cement based mortars.”
To advise on how to clean off the graffiti, Garcia spent a day testing different solvent mixes and strippers which could be used without a high pressure water jet. Then she trained Verdun’s regular maintenance team to apply them properly, leave them rest for the ideal length of time and then rinse them without damaging the mortar or the stones. “The technique was gentle and time consuming but it was done using eco-friendly paint strippers, small plastic brushes and water rinsing at very low pressure. And more importantly, it didn’t attack the fragile lime mortars.”
Maison Nivard de Saint-Dizier was supposed to open fully next month, but the permanent exhibition won’t be ready until spring 2012. Instead, Verdun has arranged for costumed interpreters, story-tellers and simulated archaeology digs to occur every Saturday and Sunday from now until October 23 to commemorate the structure’s 300th anniversary.
(A version of this story published on Open File on September 11, 2011)