What can the Peter-McGill community expect of the new Royal Victoria hospital site? by Sasha Teman

Cet article était écrit dans le cadre du projet Journalisme Citoyen de la Table de quartier Peter-McGill. S’il vous plait, notez que les opinions exprimées dans ces articles ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles de la Table. Le projet vise à faire entendre les voix des résident-es, étudiant-es et ami-es du quartier par des articles, photos, vidéos et balados. Vous êtes intéressé à contribuer? Contactez-nous au benevolat@petermcgill.org!

On Wednesday, June 10th, a total of 42 participants joined in on a virtual consultation meeting organized by the Peter McGill Community Council. Its purpose served to discuss plans of the abandoned Royal Victoria Hospital located on the South-Eastern corner of Mont Royal Park.

Peter McGill’s Community Council invited two guest speakers to present concrete information about the site’s future plans to community members and students. Sophie Mayes, a member of the SQI (Société québécoise des infrastructures) and Mallory Wilson, the Director and Co-founder of Entremise, prepared detailed PowerPoint presentations about future plans for the site. All participants were encouraged to write down any questions or concerns they wished to be addressed by the speakers after their presentations. 

The first presentation which was led by Sophie Mayes, was conducted in French but the hosts encouraged attendees to ask questions in both French and English. Mayes began by giving a brief overview of the SQI’s mission, which is to carry out the original vision of the site. However, the most important aspect is the multiplicity of usage, which Mayes explained is essential given that there’s a lot of square footage to fill. Not to mention that it will be an economic engine for Montreal in terms of the regional importance of the site.

One recurring theme that sparked people’s interests was the greater sense of community involvement in the overall process. Not only does this apply to the Royal Victoria Hospital site but it also pertains to the neighbourhood as a whole.

According to Mayes, this is the first time that the SQI has taken on such a project which she claimed was unlike any other project on which she had previously worked. In 2018, the provincial government, proposed a plan involving the SQI, asking that they manage the abandoned hospital site which marked the beginning of the project’s story.

The former Royal Victoria Hospital site makes up for 33 acres of the Peter McGill neighbourhood. It is currently located in between the Mont Royal Park and the McGill University campus, which remains the current occupant of the site. There has been a massive evolution on the former hospital site which has been around for more than 100 years. No faculty will be moving into the new site upon completion, instead the provincial government recognizes that it would be beneficial for researchers and professors in search of interdisciplinary work. This approach will also serve as an asset to researchers considering the SQI’s plan to make the research center accessible to all Montreal universities, as a way to avoid keeping it solely accessible to the McGill community.

In addition to ensuring interdisciplinary measures of involvement for community members and researchers, Sophie Mayes touched on the importance of maintaining a respectable and clean green space of the site. Additionally, she briefly discussed the need to facilitate public access to the site as well as to Mont Royal Park.

The second speaker of the meeting was Mallory Wilson, the co-founder of Entremise. This organization founded in 2016 serves to transform under-utilized spaces into community assets throughout Montreal.

Wilson spoke about the regeneration of cultural and social buildings in Quebec which also paved the way for her company’s research into why there were so many unoccupied spaces & buildings in Montreal.

Her team took a different approach than Sophie Mayes’. Instead, they developed what she called the “transitional occupation” concept which serves to analyze which risks are essential and nonessential in order to make the work secure and able to occur in abandoned spaces such as the former Royal Victoria Hospital site.

Furthermore, Mallory introduced another point of interest, specifically in relation to this project and its impact on the Peter-McGill community. Wilson stated that the second step of community occupation functions as such, “activate the space quickly and with the community- for those who have projects locally, and regionally, to actually operationalize their projects in this space.”

She further emphasized that any project must respect a set of social values by which the project needs to maintain a link with the neighbourhood it occupies. Meaning, there needs to be a contribution of some sort to the common life of the space.

The meeting which had gone overtime proved effective for Peter-McGill community members who were searching for clarification on the upcoming project for the Royal Victoria Hospital site on Mont Royal. The Peter-McGill Community Council will continue to work to diffuse information and update residents on the progress of the project as it moves forward.

Q&A With Mallory Wilson from Entremise

What was the influence of the transitional usage of the Young project on the permanent City project that followed?

This project was a pilot and was conceivable mainly because the building was already slated for demolition, we had less than 2 years to occupy the space. Normally, using a building in this way temporarily and investing in temporary infrastructure is not part of the City of Montreal’s mandate. In order to make it happen we had to spend a lot of time working with the different divisions on different aspects of the occupancy, such as the lease, permitting light and economical renovations to secure the building – vacant for 10 years, etc… to make it all possible. In this way, the project has had a major impact in shaking up the City’s administration. Transitional use is now something the City hopes to continue doing. Unfortunately, because of the project, some things possible at that time, have actually become more difficult now….

In terms of the site in Griffintown, at 204 Rue Young, it will still one day become a social housing complex. The social housing construction group responded to our impact study saying that while the direct influence is difficult to measure, Project Young had the effect of ensuring more community uses within the new construction than they originally planned. 

Can you clarify the difference between temporary and transitional? 

For Entremise, there is a big difference. Temporary occupation is meant to be temporary, like a festival or a pop-up boutique, even temporarily sheltering the homeless, and transitional is intended to serve as a transition period…for Entremise this transition is geared towards creating a community asset and take steps for make that possible. 

After transitional uses, are there successive cohorts? How are these transitions managed?

Like any real-estate project, there are a lot of unknowns. The practice of using space and transitioning it into community assets is something we’ve been studying in Canada for about 5 years – and that they have been practicing in Europe for about 20 years. The transitional occupancy period serves as the time to create a base for what could come next, and not everyone or everything about it will be a success, so the exact shape of the next step is unknown. Entremise’s role is to ensure a collective, transparent and flexible framework for the occupancy, and that it is documented and communicated effectively to decision makers. We assume that under these conditions, the community will determine what kind of community asset will take shape over time. 

Do you envision links or similar uses to a project like Grands Voisins in Paris? https://lesgrandsvoisins.org/ 

Yes, Plateau Urbain and Les Grand Voisins was an important inspiration for Entremise because it is a good example of how the temporary can have lasting effects, even when those effects are truly unknown at the beginning. In this case, social housing was integrated into the final plans by the Paris city council, as well as shops for artists and artisans.

We believe that all projects that occupy public buildings, like in the case of the Grand Voisins where the main residents are newly arrived immigrants, should ensure a strong orientation towards social uses and collective, community based management. For a project to be successful like Les Grands Voisins, it requires a third party intermediary like Plateau Urbain or Entremise who is invested in actively encouraging a  “milieu de vie”, not just managing leasehold improvements and legal agreements. 

Who actually owns the RVH site now?  How could it become a Social Land Trust?

The provincial government owns the land and the site. We often get distracted by which department or service is making decisions or planning what you have, but the fact of the matter is that it is publicly owned. For it to become a Social Utility Trust the government would have to : 1. Name the trustees. This is like naming a Board of Directors. It could include representatives of the appropriate Ministries and positions for community stakeholders as well as any organizations occupying the land. 2. Develop the legal agreement on which the trust is based – this document would outline what MUST be conserved about the site for it to retain its social use (the nature, the heritage, types of uses) but must remain flexible enough to evolve with time  2. Donate the land to the Trust. 3. Lease the land to anyone wishing to build or rent on it. 

Doing this would ensure that the land legally remains “for the common good” and is never sold (or GIVEN!) to private interests. It also ensures the trustees (a democratic body with legal responsibilities to the public) have some influence over how it is managed and are required by law to communicate their decisions and activities.

Are transitional and temporary uses seen only as indoors or can they be thought of as outdoor spaces (to avoid inside security costs)? For example, the parking lot in front of Pavillon A?

Many of the buildings we have visited, including some on the RVH site, could be used without incurring much cost to secure them – if we consider uses for which they are already safe, these were, after all, public buildings. They are already heated and guarded year round at high expense, we should concentrate on these costs already being incurred. I personally don’t think using the parking lot would be anywhere near as useful socially as (for example) allowing new immigrants to live is the Ross and Women’s pavilions while ensuring a flexible framework for small businesses, artists and nonprofits to work or have events at the Hershey Building, all the while animating and mediating (why not the parking lot while you’re at it) with activities proposed by the different occupants. This is what Les Grands Voisins was all about. 

Mallory, have you already developed temporary usage ideas in collaboration with the SQI?  

We have presented our ideas to the SQI in the past on several occasions, we do hope that they will reconsider working with us more closely in the future. Entremise believes that there is a fundamental misconception about what types of expertise are required for a successful transitional occupation, and that it could complicate the longer term project. Our research internationally over several years, and our pilots in Montreal have shown that a third party intermediary (like Plateau Urbain in Paris, or Entremise in Montreal) is essential for building social capital and ensuring transparent and inclusive governance. While the long term consequences are far more likely to be positive for the long term project than detrimental.