British Journal of Canadian Studies

Apartment housing then and now: vignettes from Toronto and Montreal

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2016), 29, (2), 249–272.

Abstract

Apartment houses were controversial insertions into the built environment of Canadian cities in the early twentieth century. More recently, some early apartments have been demolished and replaced by high-rise or non-residential buildings, but others have acquired heritage status. Small-scale, originally walk-up apartments on inner suburban residential streets are praised for their domestic and homely characteristics, precisely what they were thought to lack when first erected. Through a series of brief case studies, this article traces the changing fortunes of pre-First World War apartment houses in Toronto and Montreal. It charts both their ‘real’ experience of neglect, abandonment, reuse, conservation or renovation, and their representation in literature and on screen: as ‘bohemian’, ‘modern’, home to dysfunctional or marginal characters, or complex mixtures of semi-public and semi-private space. While survival or demolition has sometimes been a matter of chance, it is also evident that geography is critical in determining their fate.

Les immeubles de rapport ont été une insertion controversée dans les zones construites des villes canadiennes du début du vingtième siècle. Plus récemment, certains de ces premiers appartements ont été démolis et remplacés par des gratte-ciels ou par des immeubles non résidentiels, mais d’autres ont acquis le statut de bâtiments protégés. Les immeubles de petite taille accessibles par des escaliers dans les rues des banlieues résidentielles sont loués pour leurs caractéristiques d’intérieurs chaleureux et accueillants, ce qui était précisément ce qu’on leur reprochait de manquer à l’époque où ils ont été construits. A travers une série d’études de cas brèves, cette étude retrace les revers de fortune des immeubles de rapport érigés avant la première guerre mondiale à Toronto et à Montréal. Elle rend compte à la fois de leur ‘véritable’ manque d’entretien, de leur abandon, réutilisation, préservation et rénovation et de leur représentation dans la littérature et au cinéma comme logement ‘bohème’, ‘moderne’ pour les personnages marginaux ou dysfonctionnels mais aussi de mélanges complexes d’espaces semi-publics et semi-privés. Tandis que la survie ou la démolition de ces bâtiments a parfois été une question de chance, il est manifeste que la géographie joue un rôle crucial dans la détermination de leur sort.

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Dennis, Richard