Our political decision-makers are faced with the challenge of planning the future of Montréal’s exquisite urban heritage, especially the city’s former hospitals. This obligation is especially important when it comes to deciding on new uses for these sites, which are prized for their prime locations in the city. Everyone agrees on the need to build new, modern hospitals at the cutting edge of technology and incorporating new health care techniques. But these superb heritage sites deserve projects that are based in a careful consideration of urban design and sociological factors, and that take the needs of local communities into account.
Bold transformations have brought an unexpectedly modern touch to buildings that had once seemed inseparably tied to their original functions. Churches, factories, schools and warehouses are all fine examples. But the result of these transformations is often a condominium or housing cooperative that is no longer accessible to the public.
A challenge emerges: how to transform the sites of former Montréal hospitals? The case of the Royal Victoria Hospital demands particular attention. Closed since 2015, when the new McGill University Health Centre opened its doors, this majestic site at the foot of Mount Royal deserves a process that takes the necessary time to settle on a wise choice of redevelopment plans. Heritage Montreal summarizes its importance to the city: “Hailed as the best and most original hospital on the continent when it opened in 1893, the Royal Victoria Hospital treated sick people of all national origins and beliefs.” Even back then, a vision of living together in harmony was starting to take shape. At the time, Montréal was struggling with major epidemics, so religious differences were set aside to care for the population.
Major studies are now underway to evaluate the state of the buildings on the site. McGill University is an essential participant in determining the site’s future. Mayor Valérie Plante has already expressed her thoughts on the subject, calling for an enlargement of the protected area of Mount Royal to turn the former hospital’s parking area into a green space and restore its outdoor pool. And why not reserve a space for a museum of the history of health care in Montréal? It would leave a wonderful legacy for future Montrealers.