Westmount Square

Sunday, January 21 2018

H. F. Jackson, Chemist c.1895 - Photo credit: WHA archives

H. F. Jackson, Chemist c.1895 – Photo credit: WHA archives

The nineteen sixties was a period of massive urban transformation in Westmount, as in Montreal and the rest of North America. Victorian housing was demolished to widen Dorchester Boulevard, to make way for the Ville Marie Expressway, and to construct Westmount Square.

On December 13, 1967 Westmount Square opened its doors. Before 1961, blocks of older buildings had stood on the site, bounded by Greene, de Maisonneuve, Wood, and St. Catherine streets. Westmount’s first shopping district had developed at the hub of Greene and St. Catherine. A streetcar went along St. Catherine and up Greene to Sherbrooke Street from 1897. The two commercial streets were lined with private residences, whose ground floors were gradually converted to stores, with the shopkeeper living upstairs. The northeast corner of Greene and St. Catherine housed Jackson Chemist and the owner’s family for many years. Several former houses still remain on the east side of this block of Greene. However, most were demolished between 1961 and 1963, after zoning changes were made to allow highrises, despite fierce local opposition. On Wood and Elm avenues, entire blocks of Victorian greystone residences disappeared. The Montreal firm of Greenspoon, Freedlander & Dunne acted as site architects for the project.

Westmount Square 1979 - Photo credit: Aline Gubbay, WHA archives

Westmount Square 1979 – Photo credit: Aline Gubbay, WHA archives

Westmount Square was unique in the work of modernist architect Mies van der Rohe because of its mixed-use, combining apartments, offices, shops, and parking in the three tower complex. It was also connected to the newly-inaugurated underground metro. Two residential towers face each other, looking out over quiet streets and the grounds of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame Mother House (today’s Dawson College). The office building fronts commercial St. Catherine Street. There is an almost seamless transition between the outside and inside of the buildings. The pavilion and the esplanade linking the three towers are Mies trademarks.
In 1988, in spite of public protests and a call for heritage designation, changes were made to the shopping concourse and the surface of the exterior esplanade. The complex is now classified as Category 1* by the City of Westmount, the highest heritage designation. Westmount Square has aged gracefully in the past fifty years, with clean lines, elegant design and timeless materials. Westmount is privileged to have this landmark in its midst.
Caroline Breslaw
President, Westmount Historical Association