The only constant is change: Mile End’s religious heritage

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.

3 comments

  1. The former Anglican church, Church of the Ascension (which was established in 1894 at 298 Outremont before burning down and being rebuilt in 1904 at 5434 Parc) was NOT transformed into a library 25 years ago! The Diocese of Montreal sold it in 1991, the library was established in 1993. Which my frantic googling just told me that Chris DeWolf already noted this on his November 13 post on this website.

    So, if the library has been around for 25 years – where was its former site?

  2. Carrie:
    You’re absolutely right. The Mile End Library is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, however until 1993 it was located at 5253 Parc. Thanks for keeping me honest!

  3. Somewhere I have photos taken of the inside of Ascension church just before it was sold. We were among the last families to be involved in the church–the last Christmas there were no more than a dozen people for Christmas Eve service–and my son, then going through a fit of religious enthusiasm, was the last person baptisted there the Sunday before the church was deconsecrated (he was 11.) The deconsecration service was a marked contrast to the services we knew: the sanctuary which held about 350 people was packed. How times have changed, not only in housing patterns (most of the old parishioners had moved west or out of Quebec) and in religious belief.

    I’m told Susan Bronson that when I get a minute I’ll see if I can find the old pix.

    Mary

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