Odd things around town

One of the best things about wandering around town is finding all sorts of architectural and infrastructural oddities like unusual street signs and bizarre decorative elements. Montreal is rife with these sorts of things. Over at Coolopolis, J.D. Gravenor recently pointed out a cryptic inscription on the cornice of a western NDG apartment building: “Mona’s Isle.” Turns out it’s a reference to an 1844 poem about the Isle of Man.

My stomping ground is a bit further east, in Mile End, but there’s no shortage of interesting urban details around here. On the west side of Park Avenue just below Mount Royal, for instance, there’s a metal sidewalk stamp, in the shape of a maple leaf, that bears the date 1953 and the inscription, “Charles Duranceau Ltée, Entrepreneurs.” Compared to Toronto or Vancouver, where every sidewalk is stamped with the date of its construction and the name of the contractors that built it, sidewalk stamps are rare in Montreal. The fact that this one is so elaborate — and more than half a century old — makes it all the more special.

Just a few blocks away, Bancroft School on St. Urbain Street incorporates some unusual mosaics into its south façade. All of them feature school-age children; one of them is dressed in what appears to be a dunce cap. Is this supposed to be a message to the kids playing outside at recess?


27 comments

  1. Charles Duranceau died within the last year in his 90s after a long and productive life. I had known him personally during his last years. He was a charming, knowledgable, and considerate man who died with great dignity.

  2. Have you seen the glass embedded in the sidewalk outside the previous location of La Verrerie? Hint: it’s on the opposite corner from their new location.

  3. Tiré du magazine MTL (juin 1989) et écrit par F.T. :

    ” Vous faites le trottoir?

    Digne d’Herlock Sholmès, le cruel mystère des feuilles d’érables incrustées dans les trottoirs métropolitains, au coin des rues, vient enfin d’être résolu. Les résultats de l’enquête prouvent hors de tout doute que ces feuilles 100% bronze n’émanent pas de l’usine David, malgré une troublante similitude avec un modèle de biscuits bien connu. Renseignement pris auprès de Charles Duranceau Limitée, entrepreneurs généraux à l’origine de l’intrigue, les feuilles d’érable servaient d’abord de garanties : les troittoirs livrés à la Ville devant durer cinq ans, l’installation d’une feuille “millésimée” limitait les erreurs d’interprétation. De 1928 jusqu’à la liquidation des actifs (1986), l’habitude deviendra rapidement une marque de commerce corporative. À deux pas du Métropolitain ou en plein N.D.G., plusieurs trottoirs trentenaires l’affichent d’ailleurs encore fièrement. À quand le musée? “

  4. In the Beginning, around 1921, the Montreal Sidewalk Maple Leafs were smaller and were lettered ‘Duranceau & Duranceau Contractors.’

    The Small ‘Duranceau & Duranceau Contractors’ Maple Leaf prevailed until c. 1943-44, when the larger ‘Charles Duranceau Ltee’ Maple Leaf appeared.

    Due to their Age, D & D Maple Leafs, used 1921-c 1943, are virtually Extinct.

    Around 1946, Alexandre Duranceau used another Distinctively-Designed Small Maple Leaf, this version changing in Style by 1950.

    The Alexandre Duranceau Maple Leaf was used thru 1954?

    Uncommon even when New, the Alex Maple Leaf is now almost Extinct as Sidewalks from the Forties and Fifties get Rebuilt.

    By 1984, Charles Duranceau Ltee was using a Small Plain Flat Maple Leaf that Replaced the Large Charles Duranceau Ltee version.

    The Large Charles Duranceau Ltee Maple Leaf was in use c. 1944-1980 was/is the most common, both when new, and today.

    Hopefully other Montrealais can add Information and Photos to this Topic?

  5. Other Montreal Contractors used Bronze Sidewalk Plates on their Projects, most in use in the Building Boom 1946-1955 after World War II.

    From Memory of Forty Years Ago, here is a Partial List of Various Montreal Contractors known to have Implanted Metal Sidewalk Plates, the Shape of the Plates, and the Year(s) Used, when known.

    J, Accurso Contractors. Small Rectangle. Approximately 3 Inches by 7 Inches. Early 1950s.

    Crescent Construction. Small Approx 6 Inch Moon-Shaped Crescent.

    Frontenac Construction. Six-Pointed ‘Star of David’. Approx 9 Inches Point to Point.

    Key Construction. Large Square with a ‘Key’ Symbol at Top. Approx 9 Inches by 9 Inches. 1948.

    Frank Lapan Contractors. Squarish Rectangle. Approx 3 Inches by 4 Inches. Early 1950s.

    Miron. ( Of Miron et Freres ) Small Rectangle. Approx. 3 Inches by 7 Inches. Early 1950s

    Sabbatino Construction. Small Rectangle. Approx 3 Inches by 5 Inches. 1938.

    Sicily Asphaltum Paving. An ‘S’-Shaped Plate Approx 11 in Height by 2 Inches in Width.

    There were others.

    Can anyone add to this List?

  6. In the middle 1950s, Notre Dame de Grace was still in it’s Golden Era.

    Jobs, Money, Stable Economy.

    So, another Bank was needed at the end of the 3A Streetcar Line.

    A Problem; no Vacant Lots available.

    However, across Prince of Wales from the Steinberg’s Parking Lot facing Somerled was an Older Buisness.

    Solution; Buy the Buisness, Remove the Building, and Build a New Bank.

    However, the Building was Deemed to still have some Commercial Value, so, it was Jacked Up, Moved West into the Centre of Prince of Wales, put on Hard Wood Rollers on Large Timbers, and Towed North to Fielding by Truck.

    At Fielding the Building was then Moved West to a Vacant Lot on the North Side of Fielding Between King Edward and Rosedale Avenues and put in Place where it rests today at 6819 Fielding.

    Believe it or not.

    More Information might be in the ‘Monitor’ Paper of that Era?

    http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b61/SDR_North/CIBCPrinceofWalesSomerledSept2006Ro.jpg

    http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b61/SDR_North/6819FieldingSept2006RockyMontanaBui.jpg

  7. Re: metal sidewalks stamps. I’ve seen some metal waterworks lids in the West End stamped Francis Hankin, a civil engineer who made a major contribution to building Montreal’s waterworks in the West End. His company, which was once headquartered in a building on Chester Ave. in NDG near Westmore which today is a mosque, left Quebec and survives as Hankin Technologies, specializing in water treatment systems. During the Great Depression, Hankin authored a book on ‘recovery’ through social engineering. Quite a few copies circulated and I have one.

  8. To SDR North,

    Charles Duranceau Ltée stopped using the Maple Leaf
    in 1986

  9. To CDJ.

    Thank You for letting me know that Charles Duranceau stopped using their Maple Leaf in 1986.

    Years ago, we ‘Salvaged’ Maple Leafs and other sidewalk plates from sidewalks that were broken up or being replaced.

    I no longer live in Montreal, and the ones we rescued are dispersed amongst several friends.

    Next time I am in contact I will ask if they can be photographed.

    As kids we used to watch Les Duranceaux build streets and sidewalks in NDG when they still used what was know as a ‘Crawler Mixer’.

    These machines were on caterpillar treads and had a ‘Skip’ at one end where dump trucks, divided in 4 or five sections, each containing ‘Batches’ of DRY cement, gravel and sand, dumped in their loads one section at a time.

    The operator then hoisted the skip, dumping the dry batch into the mixer drum.

    Water, from a hose to a hydrant, was added, and contents mixed by rotation of drum.

    On the opposite end of the machine was a ‘Boom’ which could be swivelled from side to side across the street when building TWO parallel sidewalks at once.

    Beneath the boom, which was I-shaped, was suspended a bucket on rollers which was moved back and forth by cables.

    The bucket was filled with concrete at the mixer, then pulled by the cable out to the sidewalk forms where it was ‘Tripped’ letting the concrete pour out into the forms.

    The mixer ‘Crawlled’ ahead, pouring side-to side as it went.

    A Maple Leaf was put in at each end of the pouring ‘Contract’ usually at intersections.

    A ‘Sheep Foot’ roller and trowels were used to apply side walk texture, lines and driveway trim.

    They usually watched the Maple Leafs, or covered them with canvas until the sidewalk had ‘set’.

    Once the sidewalks had cured, the forms were removed, and red lines applied, measured down from the top, showing the future level of the pavement.

    They then, back then, poured the street bed using concrete and the crawller mixer, using the in-place sidewalks as the forms.

    A base and a final coat of asphalt topped off the concrete base.

    In hot weather the wet sidewalks would be covered with a canvas-like cloth and then be hosed down by a laborer.

    At least once a summer a careless driver would drive his auto on/into wet concrete of the base of a new street and they had to move fast as the concrete set.

    Bad kids would ride their bikes on wet sidewalks if no watchmen left on guard.

    Construction was guarded at night by red lanterns and those smokey ‘bomb-shaped’ wick coal oil flares which looked like bowling balls, and kids would light sticks, etc from them until a policeman, foreman or a mother intervened.

    Life was alot different for children before TV.

    Glad I was there.

  10. FYI. Photo Crawler Mixer.

    Here is photo from the Internet of a crawler mixer similar to the type used by Les Duranceaux Ltee, Miron et Freres etc. showing the boom end with it’s bucket on rollers.

    The skip at the other end of the machine is in the raised position pouring dry cement/sand/gravel into the mixing drum.

    http://brianbutko.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/lhc2276_linchigh.gif

    The machine operator is on the right side of machine facing drum so he can look right or left at boom or skip.

    The boom pivots at machine end and can reach right and left to it’s length.

    Usually, when pouring sidewalks, the mixer crawled with the boom as the front.

    When pouring road, the mixer, obviously, had to pour with the skip as front.

    Note ‘Crown’ in road surface to shed water.

  11. SDR North: There are a bunch of Duranceau 1984s on Centre Street in Pointe St. Charles. I’ve always wondered what they meant. I can finally sleep at night.

    Thanks!

  12. Dear Matt.

    Thank You for letting me know about the 1984 Duranceau maple leafs in Point St. Charles.

    A friend and I were motoring thru Montreal West after a glass of whiskey, reminiscing about the past, as we both had grown up in the West End.

    We had spent most of the afternoon, before the whiskey, driving around looking for still-in-place maple leafs West of Decarie.

    To my surprise there was a small maple leaf out my window, some what about the size of the old Alexandre Duranceau maple leaf fron the fifties, but not as ‘nice.’

    This immediatly cause a panic stop and we leaped out to see what was what. Glad I had the camera!

    From that location we could see two others.

    Two sixty year old gibbering away at a corner in Montreal West.

    Amazing we did not get arrested!

    And drinking, too!

    Charles Duranceau Ltee was also in snow removal and had Sicard Snowmaster Junior snowblowers at their yard on St. Patrick St. near La Salle Coke.

    Their out-of-service Koehring Batch/Crawler mixers were still there into the late 1960s.

    Their office used to be on Jacques-Hertel.

    Someone who still resides in Montreal might ask if the have any photo archives of their operations, and, maybe where the maple leafs were cast?

    I currently live West of the Rockies, and am a long way from ‘Home.’, altho I was just in Montreal for a funeral.

  13. After reading about them at ‘Spacing Montreal’ another site has posted a photo of a Charles Duranceau Ltee maple leaf.

    Scroll down.

    http://www.chacoura.net/2007/09/

    Hopefully, someone else will find examples of the Alex Duranceau versions, and Duranceau and Duranceau version and post them, too?

    There is probably enough to warrent putting out a reasonable ‘History’ book on Les Duranceaux Ltee.

    A quick check on the Internet will show the name Duranceau affixed to many large Montreal projects.

  14. I’ve actually seen a few of those leaves around, one being near my house in Lachine!

    I’ve always been curious as to their functions…

  15. Charles Duranceau happens to be my great-grandfather.
    The company was in charge of major projects in Montreal; 1st metro line in 1962, green sidewalks for Expo 67, and many more.

  16. Charles Duranceau Ltee and new technology.

    In the old days one had to ride his bike, or later, in a van, to find maple leafs and other sidewalk plates.

    Now you can access Google, et Viola.

    Two maple leafs, one on each corner, one on the right is in the centre of the sidewalk below the Arrett/Stop sign.

    http://maps.google.ca/maps?hl=en&source=embed&q=city+hall&ie=UTF8&radius=0.11&sll=45.463188,-73.647108&sspn=0.00064,0.004495&rq=1&ev=p&t=h&layer=c&cbll=45.452485,-73.648633&panoid=-NX5SIziHl1qvu49K_8N1Q&cbp=13,26.64,,0,19.55&hq=city+hall&hnear=&ll=45.452484,-73.648634&spn=0,359.995505&z=19

    This method could be used to find manhole covers in a remote part of town without actually having to drive there in rush hour traffic.

    Technology.

    Lovely!

  17. can you tell me where are the other stamp than duranceau the other companies?
    thank you

  18. I saw a J. Accurso ltee 1952 bronze plate in Rosemont on St-Zotique Street between Iberville ans Delorimier. There were a couple of them. On the south boardwalk.
    Got interessested ans found your page!

    I love my town.

  19. My father worked for charles duranceau. My dream is to get one of those mapleleaf left on the ground. I wonder if it’s possible to get one. Thanks

  20. My grandfather was Alexandre Duranceau from Duranceau and Duranceau. My grandfather partner was his brother Charles. They were in business until middle or the end of the fifties as Duranceau and Duranceau. At a point I think they split into two entities, Alexandre Duranceau Ltee and Charles Duranceau. After the death of his father, Charles Duranceau (Jr) who was an engineer continued on his own the Charles Duranceau Ltee compagny. His office was in Ville-Émard on Jacques-Hertel until (around 2010).
    My grandfather Alexandre Duranceau died in 1958 without a testament and it made a mess. My father Laurier and his brother, Paul-Émile, sons of Alexandre, continued for a while but it didn’t worked for long.
    I have seen Maple Leafs plates in Cartierville, on the west side sidewalk of boulevard Toupin (Alexandre Duranceau) and also in St-Paul (Ville-Émard) on De Champigny street (Charles Duranceau 1981). There’s another one in Ville-Émard with Charles Duranceau 1984 written on it. That’s the newest maple leaf plate that I know of.

  21. With most ‘devices’ now having built-in cameras, one should photograph ALL sidewalk plates remaining. Especially the rare ones as mentioned above, and Post for all to see, SVP.

    Recently, two 2 images have appeared on the Internet of Montreal Tramways Conduit manhole covers, of which I thought none were left, along Sherbrooke in Westmount.

    Streetcars left here in 1956.

    Scroll down, Items 2 and 11 are of interest.

    http://www.westmountmag.ca/places4/

    http://www.westmountmag.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/p_tramways_manhole.jpg

    Scroll down Item 7 in following.

    https://michaelld2003.wordpress.com/page/47/

    Thank You.

  22. Hello, thank you for all the information you give in your blogpost. So far I have found 3 Duranceau Maple leaves, one near Monkland (near Parc Girouard, dated 1975), one in Westmount (dates 1964), and one near Angrignon Park close to the metro station (dated 1960). I keep looking for them and will certainly go in the mile end to check if the 1953 one is still there. On Instagram I tag them with #CharlesDuranceau https://gramha.net/explore-hashtag/charlesduranceau

  23. Which Duranceau was married to Lietta Lalonde. They were the god parents that signed my mothers baptism papers. Denise Clairoux her mother was Aline Lalonde and father was Gaston Clairoux. If any of these names sound familiar please let me know. My mother passed and I have no information about her ancestory

  24. I have a maple leaf stamp near my place and I walk to it everyday . My father an immigrant from Italy worked for Charles Durenceau and he was so grateful for his opportunity to make a living to feed his family. He was proud to work for him in construction and with the snow removal business. The leaf is at the corner of Paxton and Richmond and I would love to have it as a keepsake. I don’t know how I can go about getting this. Thank you Durenceau for allowing us to live in such a beautiful life and giving my father the opportunity to feed us.

  25. I know this is a longshot considering the age of this article, but I’m looking into the history of the leaves in montreal, specificaly in the Golden square mile. so I was wondering if there was a registery of their location somewhere, or of where they used to be before the sidewalk were replaced? Any info would help, thakn you.

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