MONTREAL - When Leo Leonard sold his Griffintown house and horse stables, it seemed to strike a nail in the coffin of the city's horse history.

When Leonard, now 85, sold out and moved after decades tending to the city's caleche horses, it meant that the new owner could legally demolish the stables, which date back to the 1860s.

Now some passionate defenders want to make sure that the land continues its equine vocation. 

They include Heritage Montreal's boss Dinu Bumbaru.

"Its a very modest place but it's a gateway to time," he said. "You go to a place like that and you see a living stable, right in the heart of the metropolis. And what you realize is that Montreal was built with horses."

The Griffintown Horse Palace Foundation was also set up to fight for the same cause.

"Our aim is to renovate the stables and them open them to the public," said Juliet Patterson.

The long-neglected Griffintown neighbourhood south of downtown is going through a rapid redevelopment after decades of dilapidation and buildings slated to go up nearby could obscure any memorial to the urban horse.

"There's going to be a 15 story building here, an eight story building there and more high rises there, there will be a need for green space," said Paterson

There is still no verdant land in the future plans for the area and Paterson said that the property could be part of the local green.

But she wants it to be, "more than just postage stamp in the middle of highrises."

The Southwest borough is also asking for a moratorium on development of the property.

"The urgency is over this small piece of green space in front of the Horse Palace. It's now owned by a developer and if he builds, which he has every right to, supporters of the Horse Palace say it will become hidden from view," said councillor Veronique Fournier.

The humble property might cost half a million or more to purchase and protect, several times what Leonard dreamed of getting for it just a few years ago. The group would like to see the city make the purchase.

Bumbaru and the coalition would consider it a sort of tragedy if the property is allowed to be demolished and redeveloped.

"We also informed the mayor of Montreal that this is quite tragic and we're losing part of the DNA of our city," said Bumbaru.

Leonard, whose first job in the area was delivering ice on a horse-drawn carriage in the 1940s, once estimated that there were once 3,000 horses in the area, many of which might have be sired a short trot down at the now-forgotten Montreal Horse Exchange on Mill, a sort of used-horse lot for the horses that once transported Montrealers.