Montréal’s courthouses are the place to be if you need to defend your rights, state your case, receive judgements and, at times, appear under subpoena… Inside and out, you can see flocks of lawyers running around in their robes, but also waves of other courthouse employees and citizens, all there for a purpose. These courthouses were built according to a somewhat classical architecture design, except for the most recent courthouse, which was inaugurated in 1971, that features a modern design with blind walls. Héritage Montréal invites you to come discover three of Old Montreal’s past and present judicial branch buildings, all of which have monumental and austere architectural elements that recall their sensitive, serious and institutional power.
The “Vieux palais”
Let’s start with the granddaddy of courthouses! The “Vieux palais” is located on 155, Notre-Dame East Street, and was built between 1851 and 1857, and renovated between 1890 and 1894. During the latter period, the CIty added a magnificent dome reminiscent of the one revealed in the 1899 Paris World’s Fair. Architects John Ostell and Henri-Maurice Perrault planned the construction of this dressed-stone edifice. Since this courthouse, also called the Lucien-Saulnier Building, is located atop a small hill and conveniently towers over the street below, it gives passersby a clear view of its classically designed façade which features a portico with Ionic columns that can be recognized by their capitals, which curiously resemble cinnamon buns! To meet increasing needs for space, a western annex was added to the building between 1903 and 1905, but it was still too small to house the entire justice system. So, in 1920, another courthouse was built right across the street, which now houses the Court of Appeal of Quebec.
The Ernest-Cormier Building
The Ernest-Cormier Building’s welcomes visitors with 14 large Doric columns that command respect. This “Nouveau palais”, designed by architects Louis-Auguste Amos, Charles Jewett Saxe and Ernest Cormier, features a classic façade with a sober appearance that is reminiscent of the Greco-Roman Era, both civilizations associated with the birth of justice and democracy. Bas-reliefs adorning the bronze doors of the main entrance illustrate the principles of Truth, Justice, Judgement, the Criminal Code, Pardon and Punishment. The part on the Criminal Code displays the Latin maxim DURA LEX, SED LEX, which translates to “The law is harsh but it is the law” – an edict that inspires both wisdom and authority.
The Municipal Courthouse
If you walk beside City Hall, you’ll see a build a buff-sandstone building, on 775, Gosford Street, with a Doric colonnade laid on a massive pedestal towering over three arches. The classical façade, without a pediment, is yet again reminiscent of Greco-Roman architecture. This building, inaugurated in 1910, stands beside a second part built between 1957 and 1960 to house police facilities. It was formerly used as an architectural complement to Montréal’s City Hall, but is now its municipal courthouse. It was designed by a firm belonging to architects Jean‑Omer Marchand and Samuel-Steven Haskell, and its oldest section has a beaux-arts influence – and this is no coincidence! Jean-Omer Marchand was the first Canadian architect from the École des beaux-arts in Paris, where he began his studies in 1893.
So go discover these three buildings where justice is served! See you in court!