The struggle to save the Griffintown Horse Palace
MONTREAL - Leo Leonard, 84, will always be known as the grizzled old timer who kept horses in stables in Griffintown just a stone's throw from the Montreal's downtown skyscrapers.
Leonard, raised in the now-demolished Goose Village, began his love of the urban equine experience while delivering ice in the 1940s from a wagon pulled by one of the 3,000 horses then in the Griffintown area.
Clawhammer Jack, as the well-loved Leonard is also known, was the last Irishman in Griffintown and also had the last horses in the area, as he tended to caleche horses in his stables on Ottawa near Murray until his recent retirement in Nun's Island after 47 years in the home.
The house was on land that was part of the massive proposed Devimco project that would have entirely rebuilt Griffintown.
But once that plan was dashed, the house and stables went on the market. And with a market valuing the humble downtown-adjacent property at $1 million, saving the landmark has become a daunting challenge.
Juliette Patterson leads a foundation that is trying to preserve the stables.
And she's hoping that it would cost less than the equivalent demolition and new condos.
"In our case, given that we're not going to do that -- we're going to renovate the stables and preserve them -- the cost for that usage is much lower than it would be if you were to build on it," she said.
There are, admittedly, considerable logistical issues to be dealt with in the effort to preserve the historic stables, which date from around 1860.
"Part of the project is to keep it intact. If it's just a back lot it will not have the same impact,"said Patterson about the effort.
Leonard hopes that his Horse Palace will maintain its vocation, but either way he's hoping to resolve the issue soon so he can afford to enjoy his golden years.