28 Mar 2019
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 Vieux-Montréal.
Montreal’s printers’ district, known as Paper Hill, sprang up in the early 20th century, meeting the functional requirements of the printing and publishing industry then expanding in the former Faubourg Saint-Laurent. Its builders drew inspiration from the technical and design improvements seen in Chicago’s earliest skyscrapers. Those borrowings included a functionalist architectural style, use of novel materials like reinforced concrete, steel and glass, as well as metal framing. Many publishing companies set up shop along Rue Saint-Antoine, among them the Montreal Herald (1913) and La Presse (1959). Inaugurated in 1961, the former Montreal Gazette headquarters is a late example of this type of building, which at the time housed all of a newspaper’s departments.
Founded in 1778 by Fleury de Mesplet, the newspaper was located at 250 Rue Saint-Antoine West from 1979 to 2003. The building, designed by the Montreal firm Barott, Marshall and Merrett, is part of a complex of three properties originally built for the daily Montreal Star: the first, on Rue Saint-Jacques, dates from 1899; the second was an Art Deco extension completed in 1929. The main façade, designed by the New York architectural consulting firm of Ballard, Todd and Snibbe, is in appearance quite simple, but employs noble materials in an arrangement rarely seen in Montreal: a checkerboard pattern of alternating picture windows, aprons in green glazed brick, and tympana in white Italian marble.
The old "The Gazette" & Hôtel Westin © Héritage Montréal
The ground floor, with its full-height windows, allowed passersby to watch the presses as they ran—an aspect representative of architectural functionalism, but that also symbolized transparency and openness to the outside world. Constructed over the bed of the former Saint-Martin river, the building rests on a 1.5-metre-thick concrete slab positioned five metres below ground level. This concrete base had to support presses and folding machines weighing 600 tonnes. Quite the technical feat!
Renovated in 2008–2009 by the firm Geiger et Huot Architectes as part of its repurposing into a hotel for the Westin chain, the building retains its original façades along Rue Saint-Antoine. The hotel restaurant, named The Gazette, pays tribute to the history of the building, which also houses offices, including those of Ubisoft, one of the world’s leading creators, publishers and distributors of videogames and interactive entertainment services.