Description of Historic Place
The Customs House occupies an entire city block in its neighbourhood of Old Montréal. It is a large, eight-storey, stone-clad building, whose façades demonstrate the classical Beaux-Arts composition of base, columns and entablature. Windows of varying shapes that decrease in size and height at each storey are regularly arranged on the façades. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Customs House is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The Customs House, erected in 1912, is closely associated with the growth of Canadian trade during the first decade of the 20th century. The 1934-1936 addition consolidated services added to the Customs Department when its responsibilities were enlarged in 1916 with the introduction of direct taxation.
The Customs House is valued for its very good aesthetic qualities, which reside primarily in the quality of its classical Beaux-Arts façades that were skillfully applied to the structure. The building was later extended based on plans prepared at the time of original construction and employs nearly identical detailing that completed the original palace-like design conception. Taken together, the two sections comprise a design statement of high sophistication. Of note for its good functional design, the interior public spaces were conceived and executed in monumental terms, combining open two-storey loggias, other large, open spaces, opulent marbles and granite and bronze detailing. The building is also valued for the high quality of Canadian sandstone and granite employed in its construction.
The Customs House reinforces the commercial character of its streetscape setting in Old Montréal. It has influenced the character of the surrounding streets and is a familiar landmark within Old Montréal and the City of Montréal.
Sources: Montreal Customs House, Montréal, Québec, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, Building Report, 88-179; Montreal Customs House, Montréal, Québec, Heritage Character Statement, 88-179.
The following character-defining elements of the Customs House should be respected.
Its very good aesthetic design, good functional design and very good craftsmanship and materials, as evidenced by:
- the eight-storey massing with classical Beaux-Arts tripartite composition of base, columns and entablature;
- the lower two storeys in rusticated stone which form a base for a giant order of engaged
Ionic columns carried through to the four upper storeys above;
- the classical cap of entablature, cornice, and parapet that are modelled within the last two storeys;
- the three symmetrical façades with windows of varying shapes, decreasing in size with height;
- the building extension, with nearly identical detailing, using granite for the lower rusticated storeys and sandstone above;
- the form, material and function of the windows;
- the vast, interior public spaces and the use of rich materials, including opulent Missisquoi marbles, granites, and bronze detailing.
The manner in which the Customs House reinforces the commercial character of its historic streetscape setting in Montréal and is a well-known building in the area, as evidenced by:
- its scale, high standards of construction and materials, as well as its classical character,
all of which play a key role in establishing and reinforcing the area’s commercial character;
- its role as a public building in the area;
- its high profile and prominence within the area due to its height, dominating neighbouring blocks, and its scale which occupies an entire city block, all of which makes it a familiar landmark within Old Montréal and the City of Montréal.