Montreal’s signature exterior staircases are not just architectural elements; they are woven into the city’s cultural and historical fabric. These staircases, primarily found in neighbourhoods like Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile End, have become emblematic of Montreal’s unique architectural identity.
Origins: Practical Design Choices
The origins of these staircases are rooted in practicality and efficient use of space. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as Montreal experienced rapid urbanization, there was a need to maximize living spaces within the constraints of narrow lots. Placing staircases outside allowed for more interior living space and helped reduce construction costs.
Influence of Climate
Montreal’s harsh winters played a role in the design of these staircases. The spiral design, in particular, minimized the footprint, reducing snow accumulation and making snow removal easier. However, they still present a challenge during icy and snowy conditions, becoming a distinct part of Montrealers’ winter experiences.
Community and Social Interaction
The exterior staircases have inadvertently fostered a sense of community and social interaction. They serve as transitional spaces between the private interiors of homes and the public realm of the streets, often becoming spots where neighbours pause for casual conversations and interactions.
Over time, the staircases have evolved from mere functional elements to intricate architectural features, contributing to the aesthetic appeal of the neighbourhoods. They come in various styles, from straightforward and practical to ornate and decorative, reflecting the architectural trends and materials of different periods.
Cultural and Symbolic Value
Today, the staircases hold cultural and symbolic value, representing the uniqueness of Montreal’s urban landscape. They are cherished as historical artifacts, and there are efforts to preserve them as essential aspects of the city’s architectural heritage.
Different Styles and Designs
Montreal’s exterior staircases exhibit a variety of styles and designs, reflecting different architectural periods and personal preferences.
Spiral Staircases: Often wrought-iron, these are elegant, space-saving, and particularly characteristic of Montreal architecture.
Straight Staircases: More straightforward and functional, these staircases allow for easier navigation.
Combined Staircases: Some buildings feature a combination of spiral and straight staircases, adding to the architectural diversity.
Preservation Efforts and Regulations
The exterior staircases are considered heritage elements in Montreal. Efforts are made to preserve them, especially in historic neighbourhoods.
Heritage Protection: Certain areas have regulations that encourage the preservation of these staircases during renovations or restorations.
Community Initiatives: Community groups and local organizations often advocate for preserving these iconic features as part of Montreal’s architectural identity.
Neighborhoods Famous for Iconic Exterior Staircases
Specific neighbourhoods are renowned for their exterior staircases, contributing to the local charm and appeal.
Plateau-Mont-Royal: A neighbourhood where the staircases are especially prevalent, contributing to the area’s unique character.
Mile End: Here, the staircases enhance the artistic and historical ambiance of the neighbourhood.
Notable Locations with Exterior Staircases
Montreal is filled with remarkable staircases, but some stand out due to their design, history, or the stories they tell. Here are a couple of notable examples:
Description: A classic example showcasing a beautifully crafted spiral staircase, symbolic of Montreal’s architectural charm.
Location: 3527-3529 Rue Aylmer, Plateau-Mont-Royal
Description: These twin buildings feature ornate spiral staircases, representing this distinctive Montreal architectural style.
Location: 141 Avenue des Pins E, Plateau-Mont-Royal
Description: A unique building with a shared exterior staircase serving as a central feature, reflecting the communal aspect of this architectural element.
In Popular Culture
These staircases have also permeated popular culture, appearing in films, photographs, and artworks, further cementing their place in the visual and cultural narrative of Montreal.
Each film, in its unique way, captures the essence of Montreal’s staircases, using them to enhance the storytelling and visually represent the city’s unique character.
Films Capturing Montreal’s Staircases
“The Decline of the American Empire” (1986)
Description: This film includes scenes shot in and around Montreal, capturing the city’s unique architecture, including its iconic staircases.
Description: A film that beautifully captures the spirit of Montreal from the 1960s to the 1980s, featuring its neighbourhoods and staircases as essential elements of the setting.
“Laurence Anyways” (2012)
Description: This film by Xavier Dolan utilizes Montreal’s architecture, including its staircases, to create a visually rich backdrop to the narrative.
“Montréal la blanche” (2016)
Description: This film captures the essence of Montreal, and its staircases play a significant role in portraying the city’s authentic atmosphere.
Photography and Art
Artists such as Jean-Paul Eid, Luc Saucier, and many others have captured the city’s staircases, each bringing their unique perspective and enhancing and romanticizing these ordinary structures through their lenses and brushes.