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by Robert Mellin, MRAIC, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, McGill University

I have focused on Griffintown this past year in my Cultural Landscapes post-professional program studio at McGill’s School of Architecture. My students have been documenting the history of particular places in Griffintown. For example, thus far we have documented the Griffintown Horse Palace (dates from the 1840’s!) in minute detail, with drawings, photographs, and interviews. For further information on this, see our archive of fieldwork at http://www.arch.mcgill.ca/prof/mellin/ssac/griffintown.html.

Three teams of students worked on different subjects: mapping, the stables, and what we called “the intangible” — photos, interviews, and sense of place. At present, another graduate student is doing a more comprehensive overview of the area’s architectural history and development over time.

Development of the Griffintown area should be permitted to happen in a long-term, incremental way so as to repair the damage wrought by drastic urban renewal and the forced resettlement of residents in the area. However, guidelines could be put in place for model sustainable development, with the possibility that a truly innovative and thoughtful New Urbanist project could evolve over time. There are many more than twelve historic buildings in Griffintown today, and my understanding is that in the present development proposal, only twelve will be saved. Griffintown still has a surprising number of historic buildings, and it is not just the buildings that should be considered. The old pattern of the streets, the traces of the past and fragments of industry along the Lachine Canal, and many other features could be incorporated into thoughtful development.

The main opportunity in Griffintown is to revive the area through a vision of a “living/working” quasi-industrial, but urban landscape of production, rather than a strictly “pleasure-oriented” landscape of consumption, with its attendant banal condos, parks, and shopping malls. Griffintown may once again become an important area not only for higher-density living, but also for light industry in a mixed-use zoning plan; as Norbert Schoenauer, Emeritus Professor at McGill demonstrated in his books and lectures, high density does not necessarily translate into “high-rise.” If James Howard Kunstler is correct with his predictions in his book The Long Emergency (excerpt here), in the near future the Lachine Canal may once again come into its own as an important transportation link in relation to light industry.

Robert Mellin, MRAIC, is an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture at McGill University and a registered architect. In recognition of his architectural design and restoration work, he was elected to membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2002. He is Chair of the board of directors of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. His book on the architecture of Tilting, Fogo Island, (Tilting: House Launching, Slide Hauling, Potato Trenching, and Other Tales from a Newfoundland Fishing Village), published by Princeton Architectural Press in New York, won the Winterset Literary Award in 2003. Robert Mellin has received a Manning Award and seven Southcott Awards (Newfoundland Historic Trust) for his heritage conservation work in Newfoundland. He received the 2006 Paul E. Buchanan Award for excellence in fieldwork and interpretation from the Vernacular Architecture Forum.

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