The Building Formerly Known as Montreal’s Tallest Skyscraper & Other Quebec Curios

[Insert Monty Python joke here]

With elevators and a water sprinkler system, the New York Life building was a wonder for its time and, by its completion in 1889, Montreal’s tallest skyscraper with a grand height of 46.3m, including its bell tower. While its designation as tallest building seems almost comical compared to its taller younger siblings such as 1000 de la Gauchetière and Place Ville-Marie, it was, and still is, an interesting piece of architecture in a city moving towards the turn of the century.

The bell tower on the New York Life building coincides with the elevators, a modern technology for its time. Built by New York architectural firm Babb, Cook & Willard, the building is mostly inspired by the Renaissance, with arabesque artwork by Henri Beaumont and satyr reliefs on the third floor. Its exterior is built out of red brick sandstone imported from Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Its purpose was chiefly business space with offices and floors to rent. Commissioned none other than the life insurance company New York Life, by its completion, the company occupied but a fraction of the 8-storey building, though its signature still remains carved in the marble of the entry halls. A contemporary competitor, London and Lancashire, would also occupy its floors. Over time, its occupants would change, New York Life leaving its floors vacant by the First World War. Its various tenants included the Quebec Bank, which would later be absorbed into the Royal Bank of Canada, and a company linked with the Quebec Bank, Montreal Trust.

The New York Life building has won, among other awards, the Prix de patrimoine commercial in 2005, and is designated part of Montreal’s heritage by virtue of its advantageous location in Old Montreal in Ville-Marie. Its current owner of the building is Bechara Helal.

Visit the New York Life building at 511 Place d’Armes.

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