The Link Newspaper Article

11/03/2011 22:06

Fresh Eyes on an Old House

Fighting to Protect Lafontaine’s Mansion

You’ve probably seen that Heritage Minute spot on TV where Baldwin and Lafontaine fight for responsible government in the 1800s.

You know—responsible government, where our elected representatives run the country instead of it being run by the Queen. Lafontaine was also the guy who fought to ensure French Canadians had the right to vote, assemble freely and speak their own language in the House, a pretty big deal in our history.

So why is Lafontaine’s mansion at 1395 Overdale Street falling to ruin?

Ashley Clarkson and Selina Antonucci want to know just that. What started out as an assignment for a Public History class has grown into a peaceful advocacy demonstration that took place outside the Mansion on Feb. 23. Their efforts have also brought about TV news coverage and a meeting with representatives from Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s office.

“Right now the city is really indifferent about the building,” Clarkson said at the demonstration. “They have made the owner preserve it; he’s not allowed to demolish it, but they’re not doing anything with it, so we are hoping, with this petition and raising awareness, the city will show interest in the building and hopefully restore it into maybe a museum for responsible government.”

These two students are awakening an issue that people have been struggling to resolve for decades. Architect Michael Fish has been fighting to protect heritage buildings in the downtown core for 30 years and he has watched the Lafontaine Mansion fall apart for decades.

“It’s as if I’m in Virginia watching Mount Vernon [George Washington’s House] burn slowly over a period of 30 years,” Fish said, looking up at the house covered in graffiti, smashed windows and boarded up doors.

Anthropology teacher Anna Deaguayo, currently teaching at Dawson College, was part of Les Amis de la Maison Lafontaine in 2006. They were a group of Canadian Studies and History teachers that came together to draw attention to the situation surrounding the mansion. They also wanted to turn it into a centre for the interpretation of responsible government.

“It is one of the only buildings of that era,” explained Deaguayo. “The parliament buildings are gone, they are actually trying to preserve the base of those buildings by digging down because it’s important yet this, from the same time period, it’s just being left. It’s such a shame.”

The owner of the building is said to not be interested in preserving it, and to look at the state of the house, that seems like a fair guess. The city has the power to expropriate the building and, according to Deaguayo, the provincial and federal governments would then be willing to put money into it. But despite numerous petitions and efforts of grassroots organisations, the city has not moved to protect the building.

Land owner Robert Landau had no comment when The Link reached him at his Sherbrooke Street art gallery the day of the advocacy. Clarkson and Antonucci will meet with representatives of Mayor Tremblay’s office March 3 to present their petition and discuss the issue.

sign their petition

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 24, published March 7, 2011.