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..
Whether it’s a store-warehouse, a factory or a bank, a building is always put up to serve a specific purpose. But what happens to the building when that purpose has run its course? For many years now, heritage buildings in Old Montreal have been undergoing conversions, or repurposing—that is, the properties are adapted to new uses different from those they were originally designed for. This month, we’re featuring two examples.
When Andrew Frederick Gault bought a lot from the estate of Olivier Théophile Bruneau in the fall of 1870, he decided to tear down the stone building that stood there and build a store-warehouse for his business, Gault Brothers & Co. The following year, architect John James Browne, whose prior work included the Molson’s Bank building on Saint-Jacques (St. James) Street, was hired to design a five-storey building faced with Montreal greystone. Built in the Second Empire architectural style, it features a main entrance on the street corner that perfectly reflects the image Gault sought for his company: luxury and sumptuousness. Browne gave the building some eclectic touches including multiple styles of dormer window: gabled, arched, and triangular. It also sports a false mansard roof; that is, the roofline imitates a mansard roof, with the characteristic break where it joins the building, but the actual roof is flat.
From 1999 to 2002, Montreal architecture firm Fournier, Gersovitz, Moss et Associés (now known as EVOQ) undertook major work to renovate and transform the building, including enhancements to the façade. In June 2002, the former Gault Brothers store-warehouse officially became Hôtel Gault. With its 19th-century Montreal greystone façade intact, it welcomes guests in a contemporary, refined décor.
In a far less ornate style than the preceding store-warehouse, this store was built in 1836 for merchant Harrison Stephens. Less than a year later, he bought the adjacent lot on the northeast corner of Saint-Paul and Saint-Nicolas streets and contracted noted architect John Ostell (whose designs included the old Montreal courthouse and the Grand Séminaire de Montréal) to design and supervise construction of a new building. Eventually, in the spring of 1848, Stephens hired architect George Browne (John James Browne’s father) to remodel the buildings and combine them into a single property, also taking the opportunity to add an inner courtyard to the east of the property.
In the 20th century, the building was occupied by various companies, including Acme Supply Limited and Caya and Co, both active in the fur trade. At the turn of the present century, the building was bought and restored by Georges Coulombe, who specializes in the restoration and redesign of heritage buildings. His company subsequently established his offices in the former Harrison Stephens store.