January 09, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

UQAM_Steeple_Exterior.jpgVisiting Montreal this summer, I was struck by the number of church buildings. Many, however, weren’t being used for worship, they had new interior uses, even though the church exterior remained. In some cases, only pieces of the church were preserved. We noticed this prominent spire as we walked towards the Quartier Latin from our hotel. Here was the steeple, but where was the church? A sad history, the steeple is all that is left of Saint-Jacques Church, once the site of the Quebec Cathedral. When the cathedral burned and was moved, a parish church took over the site. The present edifice dates from the 1860’s when the church was rebuilt after a fire, and the 1870’s when the magnificent spire was added.

By the 1970’s the congregation had dwindled when UQAM (L'Université du Québec à Montréal) took over the site. They demolished all but the steeple to build a new campus building. The mash-up design hasn’t held up very well. What was intended to be a signature entry to the campus is now a neglected eyesore. A visitor walks through the grungy interior and on to a modernist concrete walkway towards a distant door.  Not at all a welcoming sight.  Somehow, in the steeple the old stained glass windows are preserved, though with the poor condition of the lighting and walls, it may not be long before they too are gone.


I’m sure at the time the decision to spare the spire was considered a great way to celebrate the past. But it hasn't worn well over time. In its present condition, it feels like the university is keeping the edifice only because it has to. The spire is a designated historic landmark, but it otherwise has no reason or place on this busy campus.


The modern design of the walkway in no way relates to the Steeple.