By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
The l’Association Athletique Amateur Nationale (AAAN), (National Amateur Athletic Ass’n) was founded in 1894 to promote track and field, gymnastics and a variety of sports and games to French-Canadian youth, who until then showed little interest in sports. 10 years earlier, Montreal already had several recognized sport associations for the English speaking community. In order to increase the number of its activities in one place, in 1913. the AAAN purchased a piece of land on Cherrier Street for the construction of a building that would house the facilities required for the development of amateur and advanced athletes.
The original plans for the Palestre Nationale were drawn by Joseph Ovide Turgeon, an architect, well known for institutional buildings, like schools and churches. Construction was completed in 1918. Four storey high, and with clearly defined horizontal and vertical lines, accentuated by symmetrical rows of numerous windows, is built in the Neo-Baroque style. The red brick façades are highlighted with gray stone elements and have terra cotta decorations on the top floor. The entrance ways feature beautiful Beaux-Arts style ornaments.
In 1918, the Palestre opened. Fitness, snowshoeing, lacrosse, hockey, baseball, tennis, water sports, fencing, bowling, basketball, fives, wrestling and boxing were scheduled. Children, ado- lescents and adults participated in these activities. In 1931, the facility passed into the hands of the Catholic Association of French-Canadian Youth, who, in 1943, sold the Centre to the Asso- ciation athlétique nationale de la jeunesse (AANJ). The AANJ administered the Palestre up to 1960, while planning the construction of a new sports center – the Paul Sauvé arena, which opened in 1960. Until then, the Palestre Nationale was the citadel for amateur athletes and top- level competitors alike. As an advertisement stated: “The Palestre is one of the world’s finest sporting clubs, and the only French-Canadian institution of its kind!” In the 1940s, people like Henri Richard and Bernard Geoffrion played on the Palestre Nationale’s hockey team before going on to become famous with the Montreal Canadiens.
In 1974 the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) acquired the Palestra Nationale and adjacent lands and renamed it “Pavillon Latourelle”. UQAM and CEGEP du Vieux Montreal shared its sports facilities until 1986, when the building was sold to become the “Agora de la Danse”, one of Canada’s most important centres for the study and international promotion of experimental dance. The original swimming pool was covered by a dance floor. The lacquered woodwork, the foyer, the ceilings and the plaster mouldings were restored to their former glory. Along with these renovations came modern touches like galvanized steel doors, exposed concrete in some places, and the conversion of the gymnasium into studios. This successful integration won the architects, UQAM and the Agora the first prize of the Quebec Order of Architects in 1991 in the “Institutional Building” category, as well as an Orange Prize awarded by Save Montreal.
The building is located at 840 Cherrier Street in Montreal
Source: Memorable Montreal / archives uqam / histoireplateau.org / Archives de Montréal