The massive structure of what used to be the Royal Victoria Hospital, on the slope of Mount Royal Hospital, is something that still impresses visitors and newcomers. The oldest and most distinctive parts of the hospital date back to 1893 when the magnificent complex was officially opened. Those buildings—in the Scottish baronial style—were designed by architect Henry Saxon Snell, at the time, one of the leading specialists in the construction of hospital facilities.
As we know, in 2015 the hospital moved to its new facilities in the Glen complex in NDG. Since then the large complex that covers a large piece of land at the corner of Avenue des Pins and University Ave. just north of the McTavish Reservoir and the McGill University campus, has remained empty, except for occasional uses as a shelter for the homeless during winter and now during the pandemic.
What will happen with the old Royal Vic Hospital?
In 2018 the Société québécoise des infrastructures was mandated by the Quebec cabinet to undertake the reclassification of the complex. This process involves consultations with different institutions that may have interests in the future vocation of the historic building. Given its proximity and the links that existed while the hospital was functioning, McGill University is one of the prime institutions to play a role in the future life of the site. In a document issued after an agreement was reached, the university states: “In collaboration with the Government of Quebec, McGill is planning to transform a portion of the former Royal Victoria Hospital site into a global hub for learning, research and innovation in Sustainability Systems and Public Policy.”
The university may then take a double mission, on the one hand, as an academic institution, to venture into research and training in fields of study that are seen as essential to tackle the challenges of the 21st century, while on the other hand “to preserve and enhance the site’s natural and architectural heritage.”
It is important that so far, the Société québécoise des infrastructures in its process of consultation and information has emphasized the architectural value of the site. The fact that McGill will take over a large part of the former hospital could be a guarantee that the heritage significance of the structures, especially the oldest ones, will be protected.
There are still some questions regarding the structures outside the area that the university will use. The Ravenscrag Psychiatry Pavilion (Allan Memorial Institute) is still there, and that could indicate that some medical activity (together with the Neurological Institute on University Ave.) will remain on the area.
The ones that are certainly not welcome are those wanting to do some real estate speculation on what, after all, is very valuable land. Indeed any type of housing developing in the area—other than student residences—should be discouraged. Preserving the site to serve the educational, cultural or social needs of the community should be the guiding principle instead.
When it was created, the hospital founders stated its purpose as “to be for the use of the sick and ailing without distinction of race or creed.” The hospital that they created is now gone, but the underlying principle of serving the community must continue through the new vocation that the historic facility takes in the future.
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