Description of Historic Place
Christ Church Cathedral National Historic Site of Canada is a picturesque Gothic Revival building prominently located in the busy commercial district of Montréal, Quebec. With its cruciform plan, the building is composed of simple geometric volumes set beneath a steep gable roof with central tower and tall elegant spire. The west façade is distinguished by a rose window above a projecting triple portal entrance. An underground shopping centre is now situated below the property. Official recognition refers to the building on its footprint above the underground system and includes the attached vestry in the form of an octagonal chapterhouse but does not include the attached office tower.
Christ Church Cathedral was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1985 because:
- it is an excellent example of a Gothic Revival-style cathedral;
- the cathedral is an excellent example of the architectural theories of Augustus Welby Pugin and of the Cambridge Camden Society;
- it is notable for its highly functional and rational appearance which clearly expresses both the functional and spiritual aspects of the Anglican liturgy;
- clarity of design characterizes both the organization of the interior space, the choice of materials and the structural design;
- it is historically associated with the growth and development of Montréal through its congregation, whose members included leading industrialists and businessmen when Montréal was the most important city in British North America.
This Anglican cathedral, built between 1857 and 1860, is inspired by English architecture of the 14th century, and combines a highly rational and geometric composition with a picturesque handling of silhouette and massing. The original steeple, too heavy for the structure, was replaced by a lighter steel-frame, aluminium-clad version in 1940. Problems with the Caen stone facing also required adaptation from the original design. Badly deteriorated due to the severe climatic conditions, large portions of the exterior facing stone, particularly on the west end, were replaced with Indiana limestone in the 1920s. By the 1980s this too was failing and was restored using an artificial stone.
Christ Church Cathedral's architects were Frank Wills, whose mature skills are evident in the picturesque massing and the harmonious interior space but who died before construction began, and Thomas S. Scott who was then commissioned to carry out Wills' design. The interior has evolved over time to accommodate changes in use and liturgy: a large east window was added in the late 19th century and other stained glass has been donated over the years; the timber roof was decorated in 1906, along with the installation of a marble floor and, in the 1920s, a new altar and marble reredos were added, commemorating the congregation’s war dead. In 1938, the north porch was converted to a children’s chapel and in 1940, the south transept was changed into a memorial chapel. The north transept was redecorated as a baptismal chapel in 1985. Recently a choir loft has been constructed against the west wall.
The relatively elaborate design and decoration of the cathedral is, in part, a reflection of its congregation, who, in the past, were often high profile members of the Montréal’s anglophone business establishment. They included investor George Moffat, David Kinnear senior partner and editor of the (Montreal) Herald, and Thomas Brown Anderson, who became president of the Bank of Montréal.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1999.
Key elements contributing to the heritage character of this site include:
- its prominent location, facing Ste. Catherine Street, in the commercial centre of Montréal;
- the cruciform, geometric massing set under a steep gabled roof, and tower with spire over the crossing;
- the exterior facing of stone and carved stone elaboration;
- the relatively large scale of the building (61.87 metres by 33.22 metres and 69.80 metres in height);
- the hierarchical interior plan with high nave, lower side-aisles, short transept arms (now chapels), and raised chancel;
- the stained glass, pointed arch windows and large east window;
- interior materials and finishes consistent with the Gothic Revival style, including open timber ceiling, limestone supports including piers and crossing arches, and brick and plaster upper walls;
- interior decorative treatments such as the carved capitals of the nave piers, carved arch corbels and shafts of the columns of the wall, and the painted decoration of the timber roof;
- the former vestry in its octagonal plan, original materials and finishes.