Stewart Hall in Pointe-Claire – Then & Now Montreal
By Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Near the end of the 17th century the Sulpician Fathers, who were the seigneurs of the island of Montreal, decided to divide the west end of the island into parcels of land. The first grant of land given was in 1684. In 1707, the Chemin du Roy (now Lakeshore Road) from Dorval to Ste Anne-de-Bellevue was opened and the parish of Pointe-Claire was subdivided in three côtes: St. Rémy (present-day Blvd-des-Sources), St. Jean and St. Charles. Between côtes St. Rémy and St. Charles lay 33 lots (nos 145 to 177). Until the mid-eighteenth century, Pointe-Claire developed gradually. Strips of land, were cleared and cultivated, and the industry remains largely agricultural until the late nineteenth century. In 1891, Montreal businessman Thomas Avery Crane, of Crane & Baird Grain Exporters, purchased lot no. 160 from the Legault family, on which he erected an imposing wooden country estate which he called “The Knoll” (the mound). North of the road that crossed his property, he set up a vast farm. In 1901, Hugh Andrew Allan, president of the Allan Line Steamship Co. bought the property as the summer residence of the Allan family. Part of the land was preserved for the operation of a tree nursery, the “Pointe Claire Nursery.”
By 1910, Allan sold the estate to industrialist Charles Wesley MacLean in 1911. MacLean, through his marriage to the daughter of Senator George Taylor Fulford, inherited “Fulford Place”, the family estate in Brockville, Ontario. Inspired by the design of this estate, he contracted architect Robert Findlay, to build a larger version of the home. Work began in 1915, and after demolition of “The Knoll”, MacLean’s new home was completed in 1916. He called it “Mull Hall”, in memory of the Isle of Mull, Scotland, where the ancestral home of the MacLean Clan was situated.
The 35 room mansion, with its exterior walls constructed of rustic limestone from local quarries, had an large veranda that offered beautiful views of the lake. In 1940, the property was purchased by the Fathers of the Holy Cross, who transformed it into a novitiate, and also continuing the farm. For eighteen years, they supported themselves by cultivating the farm while training lay brothers, missionaries and priests.
Because of financial burdens, their ability to support themselves decreased, and in 1958, they were forced to sell the property to a real estate developer who wanted to build a highrise apartment building. The mansion remained uninhabited during the winter 1958-1959 and suffered extensive damage.
In 1960, Mrs May Beatrice Stewart (b. Sharp), wife of Walter Stewart, president of MacDonald Tobacco, acquired the property and saved the building at the last minute from demolition. The Stewarts donated the mansion and the 4-acre parcel of land to the City of Pointe-Claire for $1.
A planning committee, which outlined possible uses for the newly acquired mansion was formed and a proposal that the mansion become a cultural centre was accepted. In 1962 restoration of the building was entrusted to architects Papineau, Gerin-Lajoie and Leblanc, who retained the character and ambiance of its original style.
On February 16, 1963, the “Stewart Hall Cultural Centre” was inaugurated by then governor general Georges Vanier. Since opening its doors to the public, Stewart Hall has gained a reputation for its high standards, its exceptional cultural programs and its innovative art exhibitions. One of its goals is to expose children to the arts via its Culture Mediation program in association with daycares, schools and high schools. It now houses a public library, an art gallery, a Reading and Reference Room, and an art-lending service and offers a program of arts-related courses, a concert program and is home to the Learning Through Play preschool.
The large landscaped green space around Stewart Hall contains several fine specimens of trees and some public art.
Stewart Hall is located at 176 Lakeshore Road, Pointe-Claire.