Montreal

Demolition of historic Chambly home prompts calls for better provincial preservation measures

"This was a sudden, surprising and deeply saddening decision for the people of Chambly, and for anyone who values Quebec heritage," said one heritage advocate.

Advocates say Quebec needs a provincial heritage inspector

The Maison Boileau in Chambly, Que. was demolished on Thursday, despite efforts to have it declared a heritage site. (René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada)

The demolition last week of a 19th-century house in Chambly, Que., despite public outcry, is spurring calls for more robust measures to protect heritage buildings in the province. 

Residents of Chambly, which is 25 kilometres southeast of Montreal, gathered Saturday night for a vigil at what was once the site of ​Maison Boileau. It was demolished Thursday after more than two years of debate over its heritage value.

"This was a sudden, surprising and deeply saddening decision for the people of Chambly, and for anyone who values Quebec heritage," said Julie Daigneault, president of Mouvement citoyen de Chambly, a community organization. 

The Maison Boileau belonged to René Boileau, a notary and politician who died in 1831.

Dozens of residents had been working to get the house protected as an official heritage building, but the municipality, which acquired it in 2016, said it was in a state of disrepair and would cost $2 million to renovate.

Despite opposition from heritage advocates, the town's general manager, Michel Larose, ordered the demolition to take place Thursday after elected officials in ​Chambly deemed the house's infrastructure was already "irreversibly damaged."

A vigil was held Saturday night in Chambly for the demolished ​Maison Boileau. (Sébastien Desrosiers/Radio-Canada)

Citizens protest

At the vigil, Chambly residents criticized their councillors for failing to debate the matter publicly at town council.

Among them was celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivée, who once lived in the house and asked his wife to marry him there.

"It seems we never learn," Larrivée said. "This horror in Chambly has to be a lesson to protect other municipalities."

Similar concerns emerged when images of an excavator at a crumbling 19th-century mill in L'Isle-Verte, in the Lower Saint-Laurent, began circulating on social media last week.  

Unlike the Maison Boileau, the mill was classified as a heritage property in 1962. Residents were worried it too was being demolished. 

Quebec's culture minister, Nathalie Roy, took to Facebook Saturday to say the work at the mill had been approved by the province and was aimed at preventing further deterioration. 

Images of an excavator at this crumbling 19th-century mill in L'Isle-Verte, Que., began circulating on social media last week. Residents there were concerned the building was being demolished. (François Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

She added, however, that her government's intention was to ensure owners of heritage buildings were doing the necessary maintenance work, underscoring the political dimension at stake.

Calls for heritage inspector

On Thursday, Roy said on social media that while in opposition her party had demanded the Liberal government classify the Maison Boileau as a heritage building. 

"Since the election, we haven't had any requests for support from the Town of Chambly, leading to the results we see today," Roy wrote after the demolition. 

But some say the provincial government could be doing more. 

Louise Chevrier, a historian who works with the organization Amis de la Maison René-Boileau, said the building's demolition demonstrates the necessity for a provincial "heritage commissioner" or even a "heritage ministry."

Dinu Bumbaru, the head of Heritage Montreal, echoed that thought.

"Our view is that there should be an inspector general," Bumbaru said. That inspector would draft an independent yearly report on the state of heritage sites in the province.

He added that the Maison Boileau's demolition reveals flaws in the province's current approach to preserving heritage buildings.

"The Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, which is still one of the great monuments in North America, is not ranked," Bumbaru said. "Obviously, we are not going to demolish it."

With files from Radio-Canada and La Presse Canadienne

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