The sinking of the Empress | Press

Stories of endangered heritage interest me. And they are not lacking. While writing a few weeks ago my column on the Saint-Michel bath and the barracks 26, I came back to mind the file of the Empress Theater about which Sue Montgomery, mayoress of Côte-des-Neiges had told me – Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, several months ago.

Posted on April 11, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.

Mario Girard
Mario Girard

How is this building, built in 1927, one of the many movie palaces of Montreal that grew between 1910 and 1930? Let’s say he died his beautiful death a long time ago.

Closed since 1992 following a fire, the Empress, located at 5560 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, has deteriorated over the years. Observation: there is nothing more to do! But the survival of its neo-Egyptian facades is ensured with a megaproject of cultural and community complex.


The Empress Theater, Sherbrooke Street West, in Montreal, has been closed since 1992 following a fire.

The borough of CDN-NDG, owner of these remains, has been working for months with the Société de développement et d’habitation de Montréal (SHDM) to try to revive this place.

A series of consultations took place in December before a joint committee. A report, which I obtained, was submitted to the borough council a few weeks ago.

Three scenarios detailed in a report submitted by the firm EVOQ Architecture were considered for the renovation of the facade: a rehabilitation in situ (4.3 million), a rehabilitation of the facing by dismantling and reassembly (11.2 million) and a complete reproduction of the facades (6 million).

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The committee expressed its preference for the first scenario while specifying that it is “sorry to note that the poor condition of the building, however of heritage interest, allows only the external envelope to be retained” and reiterating that “ he does not endorse Facadism ”.

All the rest of the building would be demolished and a new construction would accommodate a mixed project that would combine spaces intended for culture and others for community and commercial purposes.

“Even though all this took place in Zoom, there was a tremendous turnout, Sue Montgomery told me. There was a lot of creativity. I discovered that citizens are very keen on this project. ”

This place could become a nerve center for cultural creation and dissemination in this district. Some would like to see a performance hall, as well as spaces where classes and workshops would be offered.

Several name proposals have already been made: The Phoenix, Center d’art Empress / Empress Arts Center, Empress Arts Hub, The Empress Market, The Empress Theater Project, The InterGen, Empress Cultural Center / Center culturel Empress, etc.

You will understand that depending on the cultural character of this borough, the Francophone and Anglophone organizations that will become tenants of this building will have to agree to cohabit and work together.


Model submitted by Le Borgne Risk Architects for the rehabilitation of the Empress theater

The next step will be the study of architectural plans.

The Empress is the work of the architect Alcide Chaussé, for its facade, and Emmanuel Briffa, for its interior decoration which is destined to disappear. It is the latter who also carried out the decoration of the Rialto cinema, the Outremont and Snowdon theaters.

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Why did the Empress inherit a Neo-Egyptian style? The architects were undoubtedly carried by the tut-mania aroused by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. When it opened, this theater included a hall with 1350 seats.

Like other venues of the genre, the Empress experienced a decline with the arrival of television in the early 1950s. Several attempts were made to find a new vocation for it. Remember this multi-hall complex project proposed by MK2 in 2017.

The Empress was wrecked, but her face was saved. It will still be able to offer itself to the eyes of citizens accustomed to its singular and attractive air.

Like Hollywood actresses and actors who have their facades cut back to continue to appear in the limelight, that of the Empress will continue to shine. It will be necessary to be satisfied with that.

Let’s console ourselves, because it could have been worse.

The Empress could have been completely razed or, as is the case with many movie palaces, transformed into a church or a big box pharmacy. Cases for aspirin and Preparation H, this is the sad fate that we reserve for our heritage.

Stop Facadism

For the Empress, it is (once again) too late. “It is true that we waited too long and now we have to demolish the building,” Sue Montgomery told me.

As I have already written, we have entered a spiral where the option of facadism has become too convenient and hypocritical a way out for promoters. This practice must absolutely be ended.

And for that, we must avoid going… to facadism.


New building on Boulevard Robert-Bourassa, where the old facade has been preserved

This reaches enormous proportions and leads us to situations which swim in the ridiculous.

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There is also what I call “the wrap”. Have you seen this new building on Robert-Bourassa Boulevard just before the portion of Highway 10 leading to the Samuel-De Champlain Bridge? A sea of ​​glass envelops the old building of the Duke Investment bank. We did the same with Café Cléopâtre and the Carré Saint-Laurent project.

Let’s get ready to see more and more of this type of “compromise”.

We are no longer in the preservation or safeguarding of heritage. We are in the vague and distant reminder of a memory from the past. We are only a step away from the golden plaque that is affixed to the city walls.

By dint of being reminded of the past, we forget that it is part of our reality.

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