The rescue of the 20 Notre-Dame East

When the roof of a century-old building in the Old Montréal historic district was about to collapse, repairing a simple leak turned into a delicate rescue mission. This mission was entrusted to three heritage enthusiasts: Atelier de Ferblanterie MBR inc., the Vézina Thode Architects and the Atelier l’Établi cabinet work company, who worked together to safeguard the integrity and restore the roof line of the 20 Notre-Dame East.

Around 1830, merchant Lawrence Kidd had a two- storey residential and commercial building constructed. It was designed to accommodate a shop on the ground floor (Kidd, McCormack & Company) and housing units upstairs, including a habitable roof space. Around 1875, the building’s subsequent owner replaced the pavilion roof with a mansard roof. More recently, renovations and the conversion of the building into condominiums was undertaken in 1989. Today, the housing units have been replaced by offices, mostly occupied by lawyers who have an easy access to the courthouse located across the street.

The condominium association contacted Pascal Grenier of Atelier de Ferblanterie MBR, winner of the Artisan Award of the 2011 Montréal Architectural Heritage Campaign. They asked him to repair the mansard roof, covered with batten tinplate and insulated with sawdust. “Seeing the condition of the structure, I quickly realized that it required a true restoration, which would involve a city permit and the expertise of an architect. The more we progressed in the project, the more we discovered elements needing to be replaced,” he recalls.

Once the architectural drawings were approved by the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications and the Ville de Montréal , much of the challenge was to maintain effective communication between everyone working on the project for the duration of the construction in order to successfully deliver a new roof that was both 27 effective and respectful of the historic setting.

“The key to the project, the bracket joining the two buildings –at 20 and 26-28 Notre-Dame, was removed and examined closely. Located immediately to the left of the building, it gave us enough clues to reconstruct the profile of the cornice, particularly the missing third part of the old roof, and refine the details of the 36 modillions,” says Catherine Vézina, principal associate at Vézina Thode Architects.

Then, Jean-François Lachance of L’Atelier L’Établi, winner of the 2006 MAHC Artisan Award, was able to draw from that bracket to design and manufacture the new cornice, including very discreet openings for ventilation, which have improved the assembly. “For me, the main challenge was to find the exact dimensions of the missing piece. I sincerely believe that our intervention was successful in making this building one of the most beautiful in Old Montréal today,” he says. Mission accomplished!