Old Montreal’s heritage is far from frozen in time; it is diverse, alive, and can be experienced every day. Discover portraits of timeless buildings, each one a page of history proposed by Heritage Montreal as part of a special collaboration with the SDC Old Montreal.
In the January 31, 1896, issue of the weekly newspaper Le prix courant, Old Montreal storekeepers listed the various wares they had available for sale to Montrealers. The foodstuffs on offer included luxury items like rare spices, chocolate and roast coffee beans. Coffee, and cafés, in Old Montreal have come a long way since then, with many heritage buildings repurposed into spaces where one can relax and enjoy a latte amid breathtaking interior décor. Here are two examples that are well worth a visit.
Henry Stroud Building, 296 Saint-Paul Street West
Built in 1904, this store-warehouse was home to the coffee and tea wholesaler W.D. Stroud & Sons until 1930. The company, founded in the 1890s, had its storefront on the Place d’Youville side of the building. The upper floors were used for coffee and tea storage, grinding and handling operations. The space was shared with other wholesalers, manufacturers and importers. The four-storey building, designed by architects with the firm John James Browne & Son, features an elegant façade on Saint-Paul, restored in 2016, with alternating rusticated and smooth-cut stones. The ground-floor openings are framed by three arches, while the main entrance is flanked by twin columns with richly ornamented, classically inspired capitals. Since 1982, the building at 296 Saint-Paul has housed offices and stores. It was the first one purchased in 1976 by Gestion Georges Coulombe, a key property owner and manager in Montreal also behind the creation of a café space in the former Royal Bank Building.
Crew Collective and Café, 360 Saint-Jacques Street West
Built in 1928 in the heart of the financial district, the Royal Bank skyscraper was the work of the New York architecture firm York & Sawyer in collaboration with the bank’s own architects. At the time, the 22-storey building was a symbol of prestige and a landmark in the city’s skyline. Its massive-looking masonry walls notwithstanding, it has a steel structure clad in grey limestone. While the exterior is relatively plain, the interior décor is sumptuous. A grand marble staircase leads to the banking hall, with its marble counters and bronze-gilt wicket grilles. From the marble-mosaic and travertine floor to the ornate, Renaissance-inspired coffered ceiling, the interior spaces reflect the status of a prestigious financial institution and call to mind the palazzos of Florence. After the bank permanently vacated the premises in 2012, the space was repurposed for the start-up Crew Collective & Café, housing its administrative offices, a café, and co-working spaces. The retrofit design and layout, by architect Henri Cleinge, maintained the priceless original décor elements, including the teller counters and wickets.