Constant cultural change has long been the signature of multi-ethnic neighbourhoods like the Mile End. Yesterday, in a lecture at the Mile End Library, this social history was explored through the transformation of its places of worship. With her exhaustive collection of photographs, Susan Bronson, an architect and professor of Montreal history at the University of Montreal, guided a small group of enthusiasts on a journey through the neighbourhood’s religious transitions. The Mile End Library is itself part of this story of transition. Originally built as an Anglican church in 1904, it was transformed into a library 25 years ago.
Perhaps more dramatic, however, are the physical and religious changes centred around the Fairmount Methodist Church, built in 1907. However, as the Protestant community gradually moved west and the Mile End was inhabited by recent Jewish immigrants, the church was sold, massively renovated, and rededicated as the Chevra Kadisha Synagogue. But the changes didn’t stop there. In 1960, as much of Montreal’s Jewish community moved to western suburbs like Cote St.-Luc and Hampstead, the synagogue was once again transformed, this time into the National Ukrainian Federation.
While massive architectural changes have taken place – including the installation of a domed roof for the synagogue (not pictured), later replaced by a flat roof – certain features provide a continuity. The second floor, added to provide a separate worship space for women, now houses various community organizations. The interior balcony still depicts Old Testament scenes.
Throughout, there are duplexes transformed into Hassidic synagogues. A synagogue on St. Laurent that now serves as a place of worship for the Sufi community. The pluralistic religious history of the area, now 150 years old, continues to evolve. For Susan Bronson and the Mile End Historical Society, keeping the memories of these places alive is integral to facilitating their “respectful rehabilitation” for appropriate religious, cultural, educational and other community-based activities.