The Doria Corporation, owner of all the residential properties on the block - Mackay, Dorchester, (Rene-Levesque), Lucien-Lallier, Overdale - applies for demolition permits for all of the housing on the Overdale block.
The City Executive under Mayor Drapeau decides to refuse permission to demolish any buildings. The decision of the Executive Committee notes that all the buildings have been inspected by city experts who certify that all of the buildings are in good condition. Furthermore, experts representing the Province who have also looked at the proposal to demolish state : that all of the buildings have a certain heritage value, and that they are feasible to renovate, where desired, at economic cost, and can be easily integrated into any further development and recommends that the city conserve all the buildings.
Winter 1986 - 1987
Cohen and Landau (The current owners of the LaFontaine Mansion) purchase the non-residential (and vacant) property on the block, buy the all the residential property to become the sole proprietor of the block. There are some 13000 sq meters of land on the whole block. They attest to having paid 11,000,000 dollars in total.
Cohen and Landau’s proposal for development and the "generous gesture" of developers to replace the demolished homes. They claim a "first", in the "protection" of resident-tenants by the city. They might have added ‘only’ for there are no more such deals and negotiations started with the Overdale residents on behalf of the developers to get them to move quickly to the new buildings despite the delays and protections that rental codes give them where they are.
Residents point out that the rents offered to most of them are 40 per cent higher in the new buildings and that the subsidies slide down to nothing in the fourth year. The residents become divided among themselves under heavy continuous pressure from their landlords, city officials, lobbyists and the media. Elderly poor residents of the rooming house agree to the proposal to move, while a few other older and sick residents leave the area to avoid the stress of a protracted fight. Some residents feel that the temporary rental subsidies offered to everyone can be improved, and even made permanent.
Montreal architect Michael Fish, author of several successful co-ops, similarly threatened over the past twenty years is asked by the residents to study the possibility of staying in their homes, purchasing them for their market worth and helping increase the profitability of the developers plans. It is hoped that something can be produced that the developers cannot refuse.
The historic value of the Mansion is enhanced by the fact that it is discovered to be the residence of LaFontaine, who later served as the first Prime Minister of the United Canadas between 1848-1851. He is also credited with securing French as one of the official languages of Canada. He later served as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The house is also noted as a subsidiary site of the historic riots over the Rebellion Losses Bill during which the Canadian Parliament buildings in Montreal were burned down, causing the removal of Canada’s capital to Ottawa. Bullet chips still mark the stones near the front door of the mansion.
Nevertheless, demolition application notices are put on all buildings. Several appeals to the City’s Commission d’arbitrage against demolition are launched. Cohen and Landau withdraw the application to demolish the LaFontaine House "provided it is proved that it is indeed the house of LaFontaine".
Negociations between the residents and the City continue. Transition funds (damages owed under the rental code) to those who will just leave quickly are slowly negociated up to $3000 per apartment tenant, $1400 per roomer to leave quickly. Few residents take the money.
Architect Michael Fish publishes a report and a plan. He recommends minor changes to the sketchy developers plans that would keep all of the existing buildings and almost all of the detail massing of new buildings. No drawings other than the bare sketch preliminaries have yet been done by the developers; these are the equivalent of a few weeks art work by an architectural designer.
In fact, it will develop that the Cohen and Landau will have no intention of doing anything with the land except to run a very lucrative parking lot and speculate that the block can be sold in the near or distant future for a massive profit.
Fish recommends that the City purchase - not the entire subdivided land attached to each existing building, some 14% of the total land worth 1.6 million dollars, and for which Cohen and Landau paid over two million, but only the buildings and their attached development rights to that fraction of the land represented by the ratio of the area of the existing buildings (3598 sq. meters) to the total area of all buildings allowed by the zoning on the whole site in an ultimate condo development. (91,000 sq. metres)
The ultimate area of building on the site would be 13000 sq. meters (the site area) x 7 (the ISP = 91,000 sq. metres). The ratio works out to .0395, say 4%. A fair purchase price for the rights and the buildings would be anything over 4% of 11 million dollars or $440,000.
Fish recommends a first offer of $700,000 to Cohen and Landau, almost double what they paid. This cost would have the effect of decreasing the purchase price of the properties for a co-op to a low enough level to make a nonprofit co-op practicable. Rents in a residents’ co-op would be both materially lower than at the new replacement buildings, and permanent.
Furthermore, the developer would save all contributions to residents, the work and cost of the new buildings, receive 700,000 $ cash, 6.8 per cent of his purchase price for the whole block and save all costs pledged for the new apartment buildings that he will build, free streets, an increase in the density, (Fish notes that the allowed height on the block is only four stories under the existing zoning.) It truly looks like Cohen and Landau have an offer that they would be foolish to refuse.
The developers sketch plans would be geometrically affected negligibly.
Public hearings are announced. The City Executive Committee anounces their own revised intention to preserve 4 buildings on MacKay Street, the LaFontaine House, and four triplexes on Overdale Street. They will allow demolition of the Kinkora-Cadillac Apts. and all the Grey Stone houses on Kinkora Street.
The hearings open for two evenings before a committee of City Councillors.
A report of the City Council Committee recommends saving of all buildings and the "integration of residents into the condo development", with a smaller scale new building to take certain residents who would not be part of a coop on the site. Basically they endorse the plans put forward by Architect Fish. Only Councillor Nick Auf der Maur dissents, calling the report by the Committee "crazy" and the residents "greedy".
The City Council votes against the almost unanimous report of their own committee and accepts the development plan worked out by Gardiner. Four councillors vote against the majority of the city council. Several others abstain, including the powerful chairman of the Committee, Councillor André Lavallée. Several councillors in the Doré party sit from then on as independents.
The residents demonstrate for the first time against the council’s decision, they ask questions at city council. Residents will come to almost every council meeting during the next months to demonstrate and to ask for changes to keep them in their homes. Gardiner and Doré stubbornly refuse and abuse the questioners.
Residents demonstrate at an MCM convention. Delegates vote to maintain the program of the party which calls for integration of buildings and residents into new developments except when such is cost prohibitive.
The City Executive Committee directs its Heritage Committee to cite as a Historic Monument : the La Fontaine House and its immediate Grey Stone triplex neighbour, originally built as an extension to the La Fontaine house.
The Heritage Committee holds hearings. Neither residents nor Fish, nor any of their representatives are invited to, notified about or attend this meeting. Objections by the architects of the development, represented by Architect Panzini are sustained by the committee. Only the La Fontaine house is cited by the city as cultural property.
13 Jan 1988
Hearings open before the Commission d'arbitrage sur la demolition du patrimoine residentiel de Montreal to decide the question of whether the Kinkora-Cadillac Apts and the Kinkora St. Grey Stone Buildings are to demolished.
These hearings continue for two or three months.
Before the Commission decides anything about demolition, Cohen and Landau are issued permits by the city to convert any and all buildings that will be ordered preserved by the Commission d’arbitrage from residences to commercial and offices. This tactic allows that residents can be legally removed from all buildings immediately, even (especially) from those buildings that will be ordered conserved. The permission documents note that the La Fontaine house with its stone extension and the MacKay Street row will become a community centre with a fitness club and offices.
Such permits usually take months to approve. These are approved in nine days.
Intense demolition work starts immediately on vacant buildings and in vacant apartments despite that some tenants have valid leases to occupy their apartments.
Six more residents or supporters are arrested and jailed for a day while blocking workers from this work. They will ultimately be criminalized. (given a criminal record)
An injunction is obtained by the residents from Superior Court to stop this work. Mayor Doré calls the work "premature and provocative".
13 May 1988
The Commission d'Arbitrage delivers its report. It pointedly does not even mention that plans were put forward to buy and renovate the buildings proposed for demolition at a price that would have been very advantageous to the speculator-developers. The Commission decides to recommend approving all the demolitions applied for on grounds, amongst others :
1. that "People should be allowed to decide what to do with their property." André Labrecque, engineer.
2. "The developers can not make money renovating buildings for rent." Jonathan Robinson, lawyer.
3. "The buildings are not part of the architectural heritage and would harm the appearance of the ultimate project." Robert Blache, architect. (There were no drawings showing the appearance of any new buildings submitted for the ‘’ultimate project’’ but that did not deter Mr. Blache.)
Commissioner Pierre Morrisset, another architect, disagreed with all of the above, as did many credible expert witnesses who tesified at the commission, but Morrisset inexplicably voted with the others to permit complete demolition anyway.
The Commission however insists that a "permit for the reconstruction of the project on the block as a whole must be deposited with the city to get any actual demolition permits.’’
The federal Minister of housing, McInnes announces a 100% increase in the number of very low income residents that can live in a nonprofit co-op. The feasibility of a co-op on the Overdale site is improved allowing for an increase in the offer to Cohen and Landau.
Superior Court Hearings start for a permanent injunction requested by the residents to set the conversion permits aside on the grounds that the zoning bylaw which calls for residences only on the block is being contravened by the issue of commercial permits. Faults in the permit drawings and processes are alleged.
The residents form a nonprofit coop and apply for a charter from the province.
Residents of an Apartment building at Guy and MacKay Sts (The York Theatre Building) are offered an integrated co-op as part of the redevelopment of their block. (what Fish has recommended for the Overdale Block) City Council approves this project. It is not stated that all of the residents of this block are out of town cancer patients who reside there on weekly or monthly leases and therefore not co-op material. Suspicion rises that the executive committee is trying to throw a sop to oponents within their own party.
(The York Theatre building will burn and remain open to the elements for the next few years. Eventually after the turn of the century, what remains of it is purchased by Concordia University and demolished without protest for a high-rise extension to their campus named after the Molsons.)
The Commission d'arbitrage amends its demolition decision to the somewhat embarrasing effect that an excavation permit (whatever that is or was) for the site will be sufficient to indicate "imminent" redevelopment of the site. The commission acts without notice to the legal representatives of the tenants. The excavation drawings consist of a simple city site plan with a red line around it to show a proposed hole on the site. No hole is ever dug.
The coop offers $700,000 for the buildings again, almost twice what was paid for their value as condos by Landau and Cohen, leaving the surplus land development rights for the whole block. Considering that the buildings will be demolished by the developers, this is a land transaction that an intelligent developer could not turn down. However it is refused.
A letter written by the Mayor supports the co-op application to senior governments as a part of the condo development.
June 14 1988
The city fire department orders an evacuation of the buildings on MacKay St and of the Kinkora-Cadillac Apts, citing minor dangerous conditions of the buildings. (that have existed at least 40 years)
June 21 1988
Mayor Doré refuses to try to persuade the developers to sell the coop their homes. He defends the arrangements as they are. He states that "There are no victims here."
June 22 1988
The residents are refused permits to correct the "dangerous conditions" in the buildings on their own at their own cost.
June 28 1988
Six more residents and their supporters are arrested by the police for blocking city movers from the buildings that are evacuating them by force.
June 27 1988
Remaining residents of the condemned buildings barricade themselves into their apartments.
June 28 1988
13 residents are arrested and jailed overnight in an all morning police operation involving the riot squad, the SWAT team and a platoon of 20 or thirty police to empty the buildings.
A later trial condemns several residents and sentences them to absence from all demonstrations for two years.
Even later, a court hearing hears the residents on the record complain about the losses that they have suffered at the hands of the City and Cohen and Landau.
The residents repeat their purchase offer for the buildings.
The following buildings on the street are demolished : the rooming house at the corner of Kincora and MacKay, the houses on Kincora Street, the Cadillac-Kincora apartments between Kincora and Overdale Street and, perversely, the rear halves of all the grey stone houses on MacKay Street .
All that remain are : three facades on MacKay Street, the La Fontaine House, its grey stone extension and three brick triplexes fronting on Overdale. All have been gutted for objectives that never materialize,
The whole of the rest of the city block is covered with gravel and a parking lot operation is commenced which is still in operation today, March 29, 2006.
Superior court refuses to intervene to stop demolition. There will be no appeal.
Winter 1988 –1989
The La Fontaine house which was still original from when LaFontaine lived in it has it’s insides ripped out (floors and walls) ’for a health club’. Then some structure is re-introduced into the La Fontaine house. Then work stops again. The grey stone extension to the house begins to show signs of imminent collapse which is reported to both the city and to the media, both of which resolutely do nothing.
Activists advised the City that Cohen and Landau are intentionally neglecting the buildings on the site. The request is made that the cities intervene to compel the developers to abide by their permits, city by-laws and their own solemn promises. Public safety around the now dangerous buildings is invoked. There is no answer. Nothing is done. The buildings deteriorate further.
Fires are set in the truncated houses on MacKay Street. There is now little left of the ‘protected’ houses on Mackay Street to demolish. That happens a week later. The brick triplexes on Overdale are already gone, un-protested, replaced by more parking space.
May 22 1992
An exhibition of art relating to the Fight to Preserve the homes of Overdale is opened in the Concordia University art gallery. The keynote speaker asks that the City Executive apologize to the residents for their callousness and that the new city plan for any future development on the site to be required to reproduce all the historic buildings that should have been protected on the site. It is noted that measured drawings and photographic records exist for all of the disappeared buildings, both inside and out.
A new City Master Plan has been written for the whole city. The Planning for the site allows buildings 120 meters high on the Réné Levesque frontage with an isp of 9. This includes about 2/3rds of the site. The Overdale frontage allows 25 meter high buildings and an isp of 3. This includes 1/3 of the site.
The planning presently averages an isp of 7 for the whole site.
The La Fontaine mansion is cited (not classified). Given the behaviour of the Cohen Landau group to date, little public confidence ensues.
The beautiful mature Kentucky Coffee trees a historic and rare breed in Quebec were cruelly cut down a few years earlier, in front of the La Fontaine house.
A reporter at La Presse (Bérubé) runs a story critical of the treatment of the house. The Globe and Mail runs a story on the House, similarly sympathetic to conservation.
Les Amis de La Residence de LaFontaine want something done with the Mansion. They suggest turning the house into a museum.
André Pratte of La Presse writes an editorial critical of the state of the house, asking that something be done and suggesting that Prime Ministers Charest and Harper meet at the site during a forthcoming meeting and that they do something.
Pratte of La Presse runs a strong editorial urging the federal and provincial governments to step in and do something.
Senator Serge Joyal, Mme Lise Bacon and Phyllis Lambert ask the Federal Monuments Commission to declare the house a federal Historic site.
The Commission of Federal Monuments refuses so to do. They require the permission of an owner to act in any way. (private property is a Provincial Matter)
They then apply to the Provincial Monuments Commission to classify the House. The Commission refuses but agree to reconsider.
Jean Francois Lisée and Jacques Monet, and other noted historians urge the classification of the building by the province in local newspapers. They invoke the crucial historic importance of LaFontaine to Canada and to the survival of French speaking people in North America.
The Gazette’s Alan Hustak writes an article about the house in which several interested groups are quoted as wanting the house used for a public interpretation centre. An editorial the next day says that people wanting this should just purchase the property. Landau, the owner says that the site is worth 50 million dollars.
The site is a very lucrative parking lot covering almost the whole block. It is reliably said to be assessed at 6 million dollars for tax purposes.
January 29, 2011
Ashley Clarkson speaks to the Gazette's Andy Riga about the situation and be published the information in this article by the Gazette. View the article here: https://communities.canada.com/montrealgazette/blogs/metropolitannews/archive/2011/01/29/maison-louis-hippolyte-lafontaine-mansion-overdale-montreal-heritage.aspx
Concorida Public History Students Selina Antonucci and Ashley Clarkson strongly move forward with the project trying to raise awarness about the isse.
February 23rd, 2011
Ashley Clarkson and Selina Antonucci stage a day of publi advocacy in front of the Lafontaine Mansion. People can to stand in support of the preservation of this historic building.
April, 11, 2011
The Overdale property the House now stands in the works to be sold by the owner Landau! Hopefully the future of the Mansion looks bright!