Urban cottages


Country-style house on Berri near Boucher, in the Plateau.

As time passes cities’ built environments change with the arrival of new technologies, new uses of space, new means of transportation, and new architectural styles. While the general faces of cities and neighbourhoods evolve, little bits of the past survive and remain as reminders of what things were once like.

Most of central Montreal is densely built, but here and there one can still find hold-outs from a different era in the form of cottages and single family houses smack dab in the middle of highly urban neighbourhoods.

Many of these buildings are remnants of former farming and mining villages that were scattered accross the Island of Montreal back when the the City of Montreal extended just barely past the Old Port. One such village was Coteau-Saint-Louis which was located in the area just north of the modern day Laurier Metro station. The village was founded in the middle of the 1800s and was engulfed by the expanding city around 1900.  To this day one can find in this corner of the city little cottages with peaked roofs and porches that would look more at place in a small farming town than in the middle of Montreal.


Small clapboard cottage on Lagarde in the former Village Coteau-Saint-Louis.


A rough-hewn stone house with a tinplate roof and a full-length porch, on Berri.

Other such unusual houses were built when the city was just expanding into the neighbourhoods in which they’re located. When a given area on the edge of the city started being built up, land was cheap and there wasn’t much incentive to make the most of it by building upwards. Early buildings were often modest and only a single story tall. As the neighbourhood became more dense, and real estate more valuable, most of these little structures were either replaced or added onto to create the familiar triplexes and duplexes that dominate the streetscape of central Montreal.

The neighbourhoods densified over time, but some early constructions remained and were never upgraded. These buildings can be distinguished from those that predate the city by their architecture. Put simply, they look like baby versions of “normal” Montreal architecture, and lack typically rural features such as peaked roofs, and stone or wood construction.


Modest brick house on Avenue de Chateaubriand in Villeray.

DSCF4527Slightly more embellished brick house on Avenue de Chateaubriand in Petite-Patrie.

These kinds of little houses can be found all over Montreal. They are particularly common in the Centre-Sud, the Plateau, Petite-Patrie, Villeray, Saint-Henri, and Point-Saint-Charles. There are also small pockets in Ahunstic, Saint-Michel, Rivière-des-Prairies, Lachine, and Pointe-aux-Trembles where small villages were engulfed by the expanding city. Their quirkiness add interest to our streetscapes and their out of place appearances serve as visible reminders of our city’s history.


  1. Fantastic post – its incredible to situate these bizarre homes historically – makes me appreciate the changing nature of the city and the evidence that different eras have left…imagine what the village just north of Laurier metro would have been like! Imagine how far away it would seem from the old port!

  2. Interesting article, it’s always a joy to stumble upon some of these houses.

    I am uncertain, however, about your assertions regarding the single storey “baby” montreal houses. I’m fairly certain they were developed pretty much during the same time as most of their surroundings, but the family that couldn’t afford a duplex or triplex would have a single story home built instead, with the possibility of adding another storey later.

    There was an article last year about these types of houses in the Gazette, would have to spend a bit of time looking for it.

  3. Here’s an article written by Christopher DeWolf about hobbit or shoebox houses around Montreal. I remember the Gazette article, shouldn’t be too hard to find. I seem to remember reading it last year during the summer silly season.

  4. @ Adrien

    Thanks for your comments. As I understand it the “baby” Montreal houses were much more common in the early days of a neighbourhood’s development and were often stand alone. The adjacent lots would have then been quickly filled in within a few years. So essentially these houses would have be the first wave of a relatively rapid period of development, with all of the housing being constructed broadly in the same time period. That said, this is a sweeping generalization for a wide range of buildings, and I’m sure there are some really varying stories behind how each house came to exist.

    I got a lot of the info for this post from a really interesting book entitled Pignon sur rue, by Michèle Benoît and Roger Gratton. It is collection of extremely in depth histories of the various neighbourhoods of Montreal, including their architectural heritage.

    If you do manage to find the Gazette article, please share!

  5. At least some of these houses were built by and or for the first wave of families who left the countryside for opportunities in the new industries in and around Montreal. One can see, in surrounding cities, small remainders of groups of these houses in Old Longueuil near the river, in Valleyfield, Laprairie, Sainte-Annes de Bellevue and so forth. In groups, they are a very interesting and pleasant variation on the environments which are unfortunately replacing them with less harmonious stuff. The protection that some of them have by historic and cultural designation are most often honoured in the breach by city councils and the real estate sales and development industries who look at them as opportunities to turn a rezoning into a small quick fortune.

  6. Pignon Sur Rue, Les Quartiers de Montreal, Michele Benoit et Roger Gratton, Guerin, 1991 is a wonderful book. Highly recommended! I hope it’s still in print.

  7. Interesting side note: these kinds of houses were banned in some parts of the city like the town of St. Louis (now Mile End), which restricted their construction to the area north of Bernard.

  8. my absolute dream is to live in an urban cottage. they are so lovely and so unique in this montreal landscape.

  9. Neat! I work right near the Metro Laurier and often like to stroll around the neighbourhood to the north. It’s great to know that those cottages are the remains of an old village. I wonder if the Eglise St. Denis was a center point of that village or if it came later?

  10. @walkerp

    I did a bit more research about Village Coteau-Saint-Louis, and I found a some more information. It existed mainly because of nearby quarries located at the modern day Parc Laurier. In fact, there is to this day a “Rue des Carrières” located in Petite-Patrie just north of the railway. When the quarry ran out the city bought it and after using it as a dump for a number of years turned it into the park we have today. The village was located along a winding road which has now been absorbed into the street system as Gilford, and then Berri, and then des Carrières. It had a population of around 2,000 and was annexed by the City of Montreal in 1893.

    Regarding the church, it looks like the parish was formed in the late 1890’s and the current church was only built in the 1930’s (link).

  11. il y a cette toute petite maison extraordinaire sur Fabre entre Mt-Royal et Gilford, côté ouest. extraordinaire non seulement par son aspect extérieur (petit cottage avec pignons etc.) mais surtout parce qu’elle est construite au fond de son terrain, à environ 15m de sa ligne de lot avant.
    je détourne souvent mon chemin pour passer devant et y rêver… (mais les pièces doivent être drôlement petites !)

  12. One will find the old cottage style of house in Villeray on smaller streets – believe the main one is rue St-Gérard, just east of Lajeunesse – it starts above Villeray and extends down to a bit before rue de Castelnau (it is strangely cut off) and some tiny side streets.

    I remember a beauty in St-Léonard that was unfortunately torn down…

  13. I just moved in a nice cottage in Villeray. There are 4 streets between Garnier and Chambord (south of Jarry and north of Tillemont) with really nice small houses (maybe 100 in total). I tried looking for some history about this small “suburb” within the City and I have not found anything. I just know that my house was built in 1951..

    I’ve also seen similar neighborhoods in Rosemont, St-Michel,etc.

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