As fire continues to burn at historic Montreal monastery, worries mount about what is lost

mtl heritage fire 20230526 monastere du bon pasteur

As large plumes of smoke continued to rise from the Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in downtown Montreal Friday, the future of the nearly two-century-old building and all it held are shrouded in doubt. 

Provincial and municipal officials met Friday morning at the site to assess damage to the historic monastery near the corner of Sherbrooke and de Bullion streets. No one has been seriously hurt in the fire that broke out at around 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

“You can see, behind us, it’s still burning,” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said just before noon, at a news conference also attended by Quebec Culture Minister Mathieu Lacombe and  Montreal fire department Chief Richard Liebmann. “It’s an incredible sadness. It’s a magnificent space.”

Now a multi-service centre, the sprawling building included a seniors’ residence, a housing co-operative, a daycare centre and condominiums, as well as cultural space. In less than 10 days, the monastery was set to be the venue for the Concours Prix d’Europe, a week-long singing competition.

WATCH | CBC’s Rowan Kennedy explains what’s left of the burning building:

What it looks like at the scene of the Bon-Pasteur monastery fire

CBC’s Rowan Kennedy explains what’s left in the aftermath of Thursday’s destructive blaze.

For Taïka Baillargeon, the heritage site has not just served as a symbol of the city’s past.

It’s also been a success story: a shining example of how to breathe new life into a historic institution and turn it into a vibrant gathering space for Montrealers.

“It was one of the first buildings that was revamped, restored, re-used with a vision of having private and public [usage],” said Baillargeon, the assistant policy director for Heritage Montreal, an organization that works to promote and preserve the city’s cultural architectural heritage.

“It still stands as an example of what we should do in terms of re-using our historic buildings.”

It’s not yet clear how badly damaged the monastery is, but the fire department officials said they don’t believe it will be a total loss.

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement, warning of increased pollution in Montreal because of the smoke. 

Fire burns and smoke rises from heritage building
Firefighters respond to a five-alarm fire at the former Monastere du Bon Pasteur, a 19th century heritage building on Friday May 26, 2023 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press)

The monastery was built in 1846. The freestone building has a central body that is crossed by three perpendicular wings. A presbytery was added in 1896. It was designated a heritage building in 1979 and acquired in 1984 by the Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural de Montréal (SIMPA).

Heritage Montreal is housed in the monastery, and Baillargeon says the group’s archives may have been lost.

Baillargeon described the fire as a “huge, huge disaster.”

“These techniques, these materials, we cannot find them again. We cannot rebuild a Bon-Pasteur as is. That’s the most terrible part of it,” she said.

“These buildings confine in themselves so much knowledge, so many things, so much history, and we will not be able to have those back.”

Although the extent of the damage is still unknown, Lacombe, the province’s culture minister, said he wants the building to be restored eventually. 

WATCH | More than 100 fire fighters battle the blaze:

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Fire crews fight flames at Montreal monastery

Watch crews work to extinguish the five-alarm fire at the historic Monastère du Bon-Pasteur in Montreal on Thursday.

Firefighters still trying to get to building’s roof

Nearly 20 hours after arriving to the scene, firefighters were still trying to find ways to get to the monastery’s roof, where the fire started.

Liebmann, the fire chief, said the structure of the building, which has a sloped, metal-clad roof, makes getting closer to the heart of the fire a difficult task.

He said there’s no risk of the fire spreading, but it’s unclear how long it will take to extinguish it. Liebmann said fire alarms were working properly when it started.

Author: desi123 is an online news portal that aims to provide the latest trendy news for Asians living in Asia and around the World.

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