Irish community rallies to save Leo’s Horse Palace
By P.A. Sévigny
As ever loyal to their history, traditions and culture, Montreal’s Irish are beginning to rally around a new foundation with a mission to save what’s left of their history in Montreal’s Griffintown.
“Leo’s Horse Palace is more than just a stable,” said Montreal landscape architect Juliette Patterson. “It’s part of our collective memory.”
Inspired by the district’s rich local history and what she describes as “the endless possibilities for sane and sustainable urban development,” Patterson is setting up the Griffintown Horse Palace Foundation to provide the seed money she needs to buy and renovate Leo Leonard’s famous Horse Palace and turn it into a local museum.
Only a year ago, while knocking back a beer by the stove in his stable, Leonard told The Suburban “he wasn’t going anywhere,” even as the Tremblay administration and assorted real estate developers were getting ready to move in the bulldozers and raze the district for their massive new multi-storey Griffintown development project. Alas, after last year’s economic tsunami, global development credits have faded away and reports describe the still-born Griffintown project as “dead in the water.” However, after a long life spent working in his stables combined with the bitter realities of his wife’s failing health, Leo finally changed his mind and Patterson said the Horse Palace is definitely for sale. Located on blue chip real estate, the last of North America’s original urban stables could be a prime target for real estate speculators but the property was already declared a heritage site which restricts its development potential to little more than strictly supervised repairs and restorations suitable for a museum and similar projects.
“As an interactive museum, the Horse Palace could become another jewel in the city’s growing number of heritage sites,” said Patterson. “Not only could the Palace become a focal point for Griffintown’s own historical narrative stretching all the way back to the French regime, but it could also become the inspiration behind dozens of other initiatives similar to the ones that took off in Old Montreal and in the city’s multi-media sector around the old Darling Factory.”
Patterson’s enthusiasm for the old Griffintown district is refreshing because many consider the area to be nothing but an industrial wasteland full of warehouses and empty parking lots. As the result of a long series of adverse economic conditions combined with a long series of complicit, compliant and finally corrupt municipal
governments, many describe Griffintown’s demise as “the death of a thousand cuts” before its residents finally moved away into the Point, Verdun and finally west into the city’s booming suburbs. As the last man left standing in his Ottawa Street stables, Patterson and other city heritage activists believe Leonard and his stable could become a priceless historical resource full of stories and legends about a time when Montreal was still the gateway to a continent and the city still had more of a future than it has a past.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said, “but there’s no time like the present to get started.”
Several leaders of the city’s Irish community, including United Irish President Ken Quinn, Point St. Charles community activist Margaret Healy and UQAM urban planning professor David Hanna said they would all attend the foundation’s opening party at the Griffintown Café located at 1378 Notre Dame St. West between Guy and De La Montagne. Best of all, Patterson said Leo Leonard will be there “because Leo likes a good party,” and a silent auction will be held for all sorts of interesting items including professional prints and drawings of Griffintown along with framed photos of Leo’s famous Horse Palace.