Published: 23 May 2002

Mount Royal is for all Montrealers, a distinctive and cherished feature of their environment. After the Sulpician Fathers, McGill University, which was founded in 1821, can reasonably claim to be the second oldest continuous resident of the southern slope of the mountain. Our relationship with Mount Royal is therefore a long and treasured one. Despite its limited resources, most of which must be dedicated to the academic mission, McGill has taken many steps to try and protect the natural and built environment so dear to us all.

Our first building, now the central pavilion of the Arts Building, was opened for classes in 1843. Since then, the McGill downtown campus has grown, as the downtown core has changed and expanded around it. Today the University precinct consists of some 112 buildings, which are concentrated on the main campus, and continue up the slopes of Mount Royal. The greater campus in effect extends from Sherbrooke Street, northward to the very back door of Mount Royal Park. It extends from Aylmer Street on the east, to Mountain Street on the west.

Of the 112 buildings, 50 were purpose-built as institutional buildings or student residences; 40 were built originally as single or multi-family residences, acquired by McGill, and converted over time to offices, laboratories and teaching spaces; 22 were acquired and continue to be used by McGill as student residences. The majority of the McGill buildings, 63%, date from the period 1839-1920. Some 10% date from the period between the two World Wars, and only 27% are what could be called modern. It is fair to say that McGill is the single largest owner of heritage buildings in downtown Montreal.

Since 1976, when the Senate Committee on Physical Development adopted the internal Report on Building Preservation, the University has embarked upon a deliberate and conscientious stewardship of its physical heritage. Buildings have been restored in their entirety; roofs have been replaced, using traditional materials such as slate and copper, and masonry walls have been painstakingly repaired and in some cases rebuilt. Structural problems that threatened the longevity of the building fabric have been addressed. A specially constituted architectural advisory committee reviews all proposals affecting exteriors and public spaces, from propositions for new buildings, to proposals for the replacement and even repainting of windows and doors. This level of attention has been extended to the interiors of our buildings. Decades of wear and tear are now addressed in ways that respect the architectural integrity of the original interiors. In many cases, inappropriate interventions from periods of rapid expansion, for example in the seventies and eighties, have been completely dismantled and the interiors gracefully restored.

The physical heritage under the stewardship of McGill is not only the built environment. There is also the University's natural environment to be protected and improved. In 1855, Principal William Dawson lamented the wild and unkempt environment of the main campus, where cattle grazed freely, and paths were left to grow over. Admittedly, our situation is much changed since then, but only because the University has put enormous energy and money into the care of its natural environment.

McGill's natural environment is now the responsibility of a team of professionals and academics with expertise in a variety of disciplines. The main campus is one of the most important green spaces of the city's downtown core – used by the public and the campus community, all year round. The preservation of this green space as a mediator between Mount Royal Park and the urban environment of the city is considered an essential part of the mission of the University.

The management of the University's natural environment as a publicly accessible park calls for a careful and responsible balance between the organized games enjoyed by our students and the numerous other recreational activities that take place on campus. At the same time, the selection of appropriate species of trees, shrubs, and other plantings must be consistent with the landscape of the campus and the unique ecology of the mountain.

The recent experience of the Ice Storm of 1998 provided an object lesson in landscape management, and has led to an aggressive and expensive policy of monitoring, maintenance and annual replanting. Although less than 30 of our downtown trees were lost in that storm, almost 400 trees, approximately half of the trees that grace the downtown campus, sustained damages and required professional attention over the next three years. New trees are planted every year and last fall, seven mature trees threatened by new construction were transplanted to new locations on the lower campus.

Of course, trees and other plantings are not the only elements of the campus landscape. Paths and roadways, fountains, terraces and sitting areas, and the hundreds of metres of historic fences, along Peel and Penfield for example, require constant and careful attention.

It should also be noted that the University's art collection includes exterior sculptures, visible and accessible in gardens and along campus paths, that bring the work and ideas of major Canadian and American artists into the public realm. Among the many sculptors whose work animates a walk across the campus are Marcel Barbeau, Charles Daudelin, R. Tait MacKenzie, Pierre Granche, Barbara Hepworth, Jacek Jarnuszkiewicz, Princess Louise (daughter of Queen Victoria), John Poretta, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. This collection constitutes a major element in the development of the campus as a green space that is both educational and recreational.

Up to this point, we have spoken of what McGill has in its stewardship, both in the built and natural environment. McGill is important to Montreal for many more reasons than its architectural heritage, and relationship to the mountain. It injects over six hundred million dollars annually into the Montreal economy and its world-class reputation reinforces the city's presence on the international scene. Many have spoken of our country's "knowledge economy" and McGill is at the forefront, providing the skilled players necessary to drive this new economy in a period of rapid growth.

To this end, McGill finds itself once again in a period of intensive expansion, and at a level not seen since the great growth period of the 1960s. In the last ten years, we have seen the opening of five new buildings and extensions; a new Field house for the Athletics complex, an extension to the Pulp & Paper Research Institute, the Wong Building for Materials Sciences, the Gelber Law Library, and the Brown Student Services Building. We have also acquired a 60% share in a downtown office tower at 688 Sherbrooke Street. In the past year we have seen the groundbreaking for a new Genomics and Proteomics Building, the Trottier Information Technology Building, and the announcement of the Francesco Bellini Life Sciences Building. A new building for the Faculty of Music will begin construction imminently, along with an extension to the Montreal Neurological Institute. Plans are also underway for a new building for the Faculty of Arts.

The majority of these buildings are being constructed on interstitial land; according to two ten-year development plan updates. The first of these plans ended in April 2002, and saw five of the ten projects identified within it fully completed. The second, recently completed development plan update is effective until 2010. These Development plans to some extent can only be considered as guidelines, since there is no control or predictability about major donors' intentions, or in the continuation and magnitude of Government-funded research programs. In fact, three of the new projects, and components of at least one other, are the direct result of McGill's overwhelming success in obtaining Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and Recherche-Québec grant monies. There is every reason to assume this success will continue. However, this continued growth would only add to the pressure on McGill's limited land holdings and both the natural and built patrimony.

McGill University cannot be thought of as only the collection of its buildings, for research, teaching, and offices. It must also be acknowledged that the University needs residences and athletics facilities for the enjoyment of its community and for the larger Montreal community. The Molson Stadium, used extensively by the University, has also become home to the Montreal Alouettes Football Team. McGill also maintains some 1,600 residence beds within its precinct, yet these are woefully inadequate in number to meet real demand, given the current tight rental market in the City. The University's success in attracting out-of-town students has also put additional strain on our limited inventory of residences. As you may know, a recent attempt by McGill to improve this situation has received some media attention. The need for residences within our precinct remains a high priority for the University.

In short, McGill needs some flexibility to allow it to grow responsibly and to continue to uphold its international reputation.

Since 1989, when the Mount Royal protection zone was created, McGill has functioned and indeed flourished. In a historic protection zone, as you know, only the exteriors of the buildings are protected under law. Proof can be made that in fact McGill has managed its historic building stock as if its buildings were "classified" and not solely "cited" for protection. We have not only taken care of our exteriors, we have protected, and where possible financially, funded the restoration of many historic interiors. We can demonstrate that we have indeed been "better than good" corporate citizens; we have taken the role of benefactor, protecting our built and natural environment. The investment since 1989 purposefully directed at maintenance of historic buildings and properties has exceeded $20 million.

And we have done so almost entirely with private funds. While it is of course true that we receive the majority of our operating funds from the Ministry of Education, in fact, the norms from the "ministère de l'Éducation (MEQ)" continue to penalize the University for its beautiful, but dramatically inefficient, old buildings. The Ministry of Education has established a funding formula for the maintenance of university buildings. According to the ministry's formula, university buildings fall into the general category of 10 to 50 years of age, and the allocation for maintenance is distributed to universities according to these norms. This puts McGill, with the oldest campus in the university network, at a disadvantage. As only 27% of its buildings have been built after 1950, the result is a serious under-funding of the building maintenance allocation. McGill has brought this issue to the attention of the ministry officials on a regular basis. However, the MEQ does not consider the preservation of historic buildings as part of its mandate.

We welcome the recognition and protection of Mount Royal, which has been our home for nearly 200 years. However, we must have a planning structure that will be simple, direct and that will allow us to plan for long-term needs. It must also remain flexible enough to allow us to react quickly to our changing needs. We are satisfied with the present mechanisms, and are uneasy about any new structure that would add additional layers of review and delays. The new City of Montreal charter has already effectively removed our ability to amend our "programme de développement" that was developed jointly with the City's planning department in 1995. We are only now discovering the negative implications of this change!

We would also ask that strong consideration be given to providing the University with financial help that recognizes the true costs of our stewardship. We would ask that there be a concerted effort on the part of the "ministère de la Culture et des Communications" to coordinate with the "ministère de l'Éducation," so that the University is not effectively penalized for its stewardship. We are an institution with a long history and an international reputation. If we are to maintain this reputation, to continue to grow and remain competitive, the unusual situation of our physical and natural environment must be recognized and appropriately funded. We will continue to work toward achieving excellence and bringing pride to both Montreal and Quebec, but we cannot do it alone.

In closing, we would like to express our appreciation for this opportunity to present our brief. We look forward to working in collaboration with all interested parties to work out a management protocol for Mount Royal. However, it must be one that also respects the primary mission of the institutions, such as ours, which form an integral part of its topography and its history. McGill is proud of its contribution in preserving a uniquely rich built and natural environment, adjacent to the bustling city core. We would like to ensure that Mount Royal and the unique built and natural environments within its boundary remain a source of pride and enjoyment for all Montrealers for many years to come.

Thank you.

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