The saviour is in need of saving. One of Montreal’s last-remaining mid-nineteenth century churches, the Église Saint-Sauveur at the corner of St. Denis and Viger, is threatened by demolition.
Saint-Sauveur was built in 1865, thirteen years after a fire swept through the Faubourg Saint-Laurent, reducing most of it to rubble. What emerged from the ashes of the old suburb was the new bourgeois neighbourhood of Montreal’s francophone elite. New greystone houses and imposing institutional structures rose near Viger Square. In 1895, a branch of Laval University (which would eventually become the Université de Montréal) was built on St. Denis, which cemented the neighbourhood’s role as the centre of francophone intellectual life in Montreal.
In 1922, Saint-Sauveur was sold to a Syrian Catholic congregation. More recently, it was abandoned, left to rot as its stained glass windows, designed by John Patrick O’Shea and Guido Nincheri (the latter responsible for the windows in a number of Montreal’s most iconic churches) were looted. Now the church risks being bulldozed to make way for the construction of the CHUM mega-hospital.
Some might wonder why, in a city with half-empty churches, Saint-Sauveur deserves to be saved. The simple answer is that this church is a testament to a unique period in Montreal’s history: the development of the Latin Quarter in the last half of the nineteenth century.
Much of this neighbourhood’s built heritage has already been destroyed. Viger Square was ransacked by the construction of the Ville Marie Expressway in the late 1960s; road widenings and speculative development also took their toll. Saint-Sauveur functions as a symbol, then: its mere presence is a temporal landmark that gives historical context to the surrounding neighbourhood.
A report commissioned by the CHUM project indicates that, although it would be possible to integrate Saint-Sauveur into the CHUM, such a feat would require at least $14.2 million in restoration and reconstruction costs. That’s a lot of money, but it’s small change compared to the overall cost of the CHUM, which is now pegged at more than $1.5 billion.
I’m sure it’s cliché to say that our heritage is priceless, but it’s true. If we lose the Église Saint-Sauveur, we lose more than just an abandoned church: we lose a tangible connection on our city’s past.