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New York Life Insurance Building

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The magnificent red sandstone building on the corner of Saint Jacques and Place d’Armes is considered

Canada’s first skyscraper. The eight story building was constructed between 1887 and 1889 by New York architects Babb, Cook and Willard and contractor Peter Lyall for the New York Life Insurance Company as its head office in Canada. New York Life selected the site on Place D’Armes because it was near Montreal’s business hub.

 

New York Life Bldg - ca 1900  (Photo: N.M. Hinshelwood) McCord Museum Archives)
New York Life Bldg – ca 1900 (Photo: N.M. Hinshelwood)
McCord Museum Archives)

The Italian Renaissance inspired building was one of the first Montreal buildings which did not use the local  grey stone but instead used red sandstone imported from Dumfriesshire, Scotland. The  stone required cutting, which was done in Lyall workshops located on Bishop Street. The foundation of the building has been stone-set with red granite from Ontario. The eight-story building is topped by a two-story  clock tower, which housed water reservoirs for fire-fighting and hydraulic elevators. In 1889, the two floors in the clock tower housed the largest legal library in the country.

 

New York Life Bldg - 2016    (Photo: Dick Nieuwendyk)
New York Life Bldg – 2016 (Photo: Dick Nieuwendyk)

The external decorative elements such as the arabesques in the entrance archway, and pilaster capitals were carved by Henry Beaumont. The ornamental iron gate is crafted by the Ernest Chanteloup foundry in Montreal. The building features a lavish interior, with a hall, and marble washroom fixtures and pilasters.

 

 

 

 

Carved entrance archway by Henry Beaumont (photo: 2009 Dick Nieuwendyk)
Carved entrance archway by Henry Beaumont
(photo: 2009 Dick Nieuwendyk)

In 1889, all floors were occupied by the New York Life insurance company and by the London and Lancashire company. By 1891, tenants included the Quebec Bank and various firms of lawyers and notaries. In 1909, the Quebec Bank purchased the building and occupied the ground floor before being absorbed into the Royal Bank of Canada in 1917. The structure still bears the bank’s name carved over the entrance. (notice the reversed “Q” in the name) Subsequent owners modernized the third, fourth and fifth floors in 1952. In 1971, they added stairs between fifth floor and the roof. Additional major renovations were done in the 1980s when numerous legal firms occupied the building. In 2006-2007, two residential penthouses were added on the roof.

 

Ornamental iron work by Ernest Chanteloup (photo: 2009 Dick Nieuwendyk)
Ornamental iron work by Ernest Chanteloup
(photo: 2009 Dick Nieuwendyk)

The building is located at 511, Place d’Armes, Montreal

 

Source: Ville de Montréal – Heritage Montreal

 

By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca

 

 

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