Organizations argue that the Royal Victoria Hospital site should remain in the public's hands
File photo. The CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
MONTREAL -- For more than 20 years, key community stakeholders and public decision-makers have endeavoured to define a future for the Royal Victoria Hospital, an iconic historic property that presides over downtown Montreal from the south-facing slopes of Mount Royal.
In 2015, its health service functions moved to the MUHC’s Glen Site, leaving the Royal Victoria essentially abandoned, with no clear plan for the future.
At present, the only concrete project on the table is McGill University’s, which will occupy only a portion of the 13-hectare site.
The Quebec government has granted McGill $37 million in funding to pursue the development of its New Vic Project, a state-of-the-art research, teaching, and learning hub dedicated to sustainability systems and public policy.
McGill’s plan holds promise for the advancement of scholarship and is likely to raise Montreal’s profile as a higher education hub.
This project is also a unique opportunity for Quebec public decision-makers to support an exemplary conversion and the long-term protection of an exceptional heritage asset, using principles enshrined in international climate change, sustainable development and heritage protection conventions and agreements.
The Importance of the Royal Victoria in the Montreal Landscape
The Royal Victoria is an important Montreal landmark.
Inaugurated in 1893, the hospital’s mission was to improve the well-being of Montrealers, providing them access to the restorative power of the mountain’s natural habitats.
An iconic element of the city’s unique landscape, the Royal Victoria is characterized by its architectural quality and the interplay of volumes that highlight the topography of Mount Royal, recognized as a heritage site by the Quebec government in 2005.
Its location at the upper end of the north-south axis of McGill-College Avenue also gives it a strategic role in the development of the city.
Repurposing the Royal Victoria is undoubtedly the most important development opportunity that downtown Montreal has seen in decades.
This property deserves a future commensurate with the social, cultural, natural, and landscape values for which it is renowned.
It is also an opportunity to enhance the invaluable presence of the mountain as the city’s heart and lungs.
Finding New Purpose: An Opportunity to Innovate for the Good of the Community
The Quebec government has entrusted the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI) with a mandate to find a new purpose for the Royal Victoria site as a whole, with McGill’s New Vic Project at its heart.
Working collaboratively with McGill, the SQI is charged with developing a vision and preparing a master site plan for the site.
The exercise poses many challenges.
What characteristics will be preserved and enhanced on the site?
What underlying guidelines should direct repurposing choices for vacant buildings and land?
On what basis should new projects be sought out and selected?
All this will require a well-integrated and consistent management approach supported by clear guiding principles and proven planning tools, as well as a governing body mindful of their careful implementation for the good of all Royal Victoria stakeholders, the community, and the long-term integrity of the property and mountain.
A Clear Masterplan Guided by a Quest for Common Good
For this to be achieved, we believe it is essential that the title to all the land comprised in the site be maintained in the public domain, making it possible to put in place a collaborative governance model adapted to the situation that will ensure the sustainable management of the site as a whole in perpetuity.
This is why we are asking the Government of Quebec, in concert with the City of Montreal whose charter includes the Royal Victoria property within the defined perimeter of Mount Royal Park, to quickly confirm the maintenance of public ownership of the land forming part of the entire property.
Land tenure mechanisms exist for the purpose of separating the ownership of land from the ownership of buildings and improvements, and such mechanisms have already successfully been resorted to in downtown Montreal, in Quebec and elsewhere in the world.
For example, Place Ville-Marie obtained the right to build above the CN rail lines through a (long-term) emphyteutic lease.
The Caisse de dépôt and ICAO have a right of superficies over the Ville-Marie Expressway.
Le Monastère des Augustines in Quebec City is created and run by a Social Utility Trust, an innovation of the Civil Code of Quebec.
Other types of trusts, such as the Ontario Heritage Trust or the Presidio Trust in San Francisco, are also examples of successful alternative tenure arrangements.
We believe that such choices will reflect a strong commitment to the people of Quebec, and a first significant step towards a conversion of the Royal Victoria site consistent with contemporary principles of protection and enhancement of the Mount Royal Heritage Site.
In the short and long term, such choices will prove to be beneficial for McGill University and other stakeholders who establish themselves on the property of the former Royal Victoria, as well as for the mountain itself, for the Montréal community, and for Quebec as a whole.
Les Amis de la montagne
Ordre des urbanistes du Québec
Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal