Montreal

Collapsed Mile End building once targeted by anti-communist Padlock Law

History buffs are lamenting the demise of the former Glatt's kosher butcher shop building on Laurier Avenue in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood.

Long abandoned, the building at 5101 de l'Esplanade Avenue was once a centre of radical Jewish politics

Men at Montreal's City Hall read confiscated publications including Clarté, the weekly French-language newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada that was closed under the Padlock Law. (Wikicommons)

History buffs are lamenting the demise of the former Glatt's kosher butcher shop building on Laurier Avenue at de l'Esplanade Avenue in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood.

The roof of the abandoned 70-year-old building collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow on Friday, and what's left of the structure will now be demolished.

Zev Moses, executive director of the Museum of Jewish Montreal, says what the building lacked in beauty it made up for with its links to one of Jewish Montreal's more radical political organizations, the United Jewish People's Order (UJPO).

In recent years, that story has been kept alive by Moses and the museum he heads, which featured the building on its walking tours of Jewish Montreal.

Work crews were back Monday tearing down the former Glatt building. (Loreen Pindera/CBC)

Not just any balcony

Moses penned a lengthy blog post dedicated to the building and specifically its balcony, which he describes as "absolutely unique to Montreal and Canada."

Built in 1947 by the UJPO, the building was called the Morris Winchevsky Cultural Centre and housed an auditorium and office space.

"[The UJPO] was a far left-wing Jewish fraternal order organized around politics. They were Communists," Moses told CBC on Friday.

"The Jewish community was very working class back then."

The balcony above the main entrance was meant for speeches to the public gathered on the sidewalk below.

In his blog post, Moses said the inclusion of such a balcony was inspired by "Soviet and other political leaders of the time who would speak to their followers from similarly elevated balconies."

The balcony's unusual five-foot tall parapet has drawn comparisons to the balconies on Moscow's Red Square.

The building at 5101 de l'Esplanade Avenue had a balcony above the main entrance that was meant for political speeches to crowds gathered below. (Jewish Public Library Archives)

Targeted by Duplessis-era Padlock Law

After a brief three years in the building, Moses said the UJPO was targeted under Quebec's infamous Padlock Law and the building was closed.

Introduced in 1937 by the Union Nationale government of Maurice Duplessis, the law gave the government powers to shutter any building "propagating communism or bolshevism" for one year.

"It was a gross misuse of power," Moses said. 

"This building was padlocked because [the UJPO] was one of those undesirable groups, so [the building] has a significance in Quebec and Canadian history."

After the UJPO was expelled, the building was taken over by the Farband, a Labour Zionist organization that remained there until 1968.

Zev Moses, executive director of the Museum of Jewish Montreal, says the building was a prominent feature of walking tours organized by the museum. (CBC)

A sign of the times

Given all this history, Moses said it's sad to know the building is facing its final days.

He knows it can't be saved and accepts that.

He said late Sunday that the owners of the building have agreed to give the old Glatt's kosher butcher sign to the Museum of Jewish Montreal.

"Every object has a story to it and, in this object, there's multiple layers of stories," he said.

"It's really a piece of Montreal's history and a piece of the Jewish community's history that we should be able to remember."

The Glatt's kosher butcher sign will be given to the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (CBC)

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