New Vic project to give Montrealers a new public space

Plans to restore century-old former hospital to be added to list of McGill spaces all Montrealers can enjoy
A rendition of the New Vic’s exteriorDiamond Schmitt / Lemay Michaud Architects

The extensive plan to rebuild and reimagine the former Royal Victoria Hospital site by the end of the decade is promising to be a source of pride for all Montrealers, Quebecers and Canadians. Over the next few years, the New Vic project will transform the century-old hospital building into a state-of-the-art research, teaching and learning centre dedicated to sustainability, but will also add to the space that McGill University already provides for the general public.

Aside from creating a modern learning environment at the heart of a heritage property, the New Vic project also adheres to a long-standing tradition at McGill of respecting and enhancing green spaces, both inside and outside the limits of the City of Montreal. The former Royal Victoria Hospital rests within the Mount Royal Heritage Site, which recognizes the McGill campus as a prominent Montreal landmark.

Preserving nature for all Montrealers

Outside the city, McGill also owns two large nature reserves which, aside from being centres for teaching and research for McGill students and staff, are also open to the public. The Macdonald Campus, on the western end of Montreal Island, hosts the Morgan Arboretum, a 245-hectare nature sanctuary which has been part of the Macdonald Campus since 1945. For a nominal fee, visitors to the Arboretum can enjoy picnics, nature walks or quiet contemplation under the trees.

Nature lovers are also free to enjoy another McGill property, the Gault Nature Reserve, located in Mont St-Hilaire, about 40 kilometres south of Montreal. The 1,000-hectare site gives visitors a panoramic natural landscape which is ideal for viewing the last great vestiges of old-growth forests in the St. Lawrence Valley. With its 25 kilometres of trails, it is open for visitors year-round.

Enhanced access to Mount Royal

The New Vic project is a continuation of McGill’s tradition of stewardship of the city’s green spaces. Most notably, the new project will give Montrealers – McGillians and members of the general public alike – a new, southern access to Mount Royal that they have not had in generations, honouring the vision of Mount Royal Park’s landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who once described the green slopes of the mountain as “the green lungs of the city.”

In the 1950s, the M and S pavilions of the Royal Vic were built, blocking access to the park. As part of the new project, those pavilions will be removed, allowing the mountain to be visible from the intersection of University and Pine Aves. for the first time in 70 years. Meanwhile, a new exterior staircase will take pedestrians from Pine Ave. into Mount Royal Park. Because the site is being built to comply with McGill’s universal accessibility standards, there will also be elevators for people with reduced mobility.

The public side of McGill

Once completed, the New Vic will join a lengthy list of McGill facilities which have already been made available to the general public. Apart from giving Montrealers quicker access to their mountain, the site will feature walkways, cafes, restaurants, and new public lecture and event spaces.

McGill has long been connected to the community through its facilities and services available to all Montrealers. The Redpath Museum and the Maude Abbott Medical Museum are both open to the general public, as is the McCord Museum on Sherbrooke St., which has a 99-year contractual agreement to manage the University’s Canadian History Collections. For art lovers, there are also virtual tours of McGill’s extensive art collections which the public can enjoy.

McGill’s libraries, and some Athletics and Recreation facilities are also open to the public. The outdoor gym at the Macdonald Campus near the western tip of Montreal Island is also open to everyone, as is the Mac Fitness Centre.

Lectures, performances and star gazing

The Schulich School of Music, meanwhile, has just released its 2021-2022 calendar of in-person and online performances. In addition, there are all kinds of symposiums, conferences and public lectures which are available to the public. Among the more notable ones are the annual Beatty Lecture – the most recent of which took place on Friday, Oct. 1, and featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci, the special medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden and a central figure in the fight against COVID-19. There’s also the Trottier Public Science Symposium, Astro McGill’s Public Astro Night for stargazers and fans of the wide open sky, and the Food for Thought lecture series done by the folks at Macdonald Campus, just to name a few.

In addition, the University hosts a number of public events, including Indigenous Awareness Weeks, Queer History Month and Black History Month, which highlight both the diverse nature of the McGill community and the population of Montreal as a whole.

The University is now preparing a dossier d’affaires (DA), or its business case for the New Vic project, when the University and architects will work on a more detailed design for the project. The DA is expected to be submitted for approval by the Quebec government sometime next year, after which construction work will be cleared to begin.