MONTREAL - Huguette Leonard takes a sip from the last cup of coffee she’ll ever drink at her Griffintown home.
While she prefers tea, the 86-year-old has made coffee for the friends and family members who have come to help her and her husband Leo Leonard move yesterday from their 19th century triplex. They are leaving the home beside the Griffintown Horse Palace, where Leo Leonard, 85, has spent three decades caring for the horses that pull Montreal’s popular tourist calèches.
When a family friend says the movers have finished packing the truck, Huguette Leonard’s eyes instantly water. Her hands, clasped firmly together on her lap, tremble.
“I can’t talk,” she says, pausing between words. “I don’t like to move because I’ve been here so long, but I feel worse for Leo.”
Their move to a retirement home in Nuns Island is provoking new questions over the future of the horse palace site, which includes the stables, a vacant 3,500 square foot lot, the Leonard’s brick triplex and an aging former auberge now being sold in three separate lots. The 19th century buildings stand in stark contrast to the new residential projects going up around them, as part of a nearly $1 billion development project to transform Griffintown.
Just next door, construction workers are building an eight-storey condo development. From the second bedroom window of their home, the Leonards could see the crains from the site developing new students residences for the École de technologie supérieure.
The Leonards are torn. After a lifetime of working manual labour jobs on the docks and ferretting tourists around Old Montreal, Leo Leonard is eager to prosper from the triplex and stables he purchased in 1967 for $15,000 and the lot they bought separately in 1984. But the couple would also like to see the stables preserved, a less attractive prospect for a developer eager to maximize profit by constructing a residential tower.
“We hope the site will continue to have this history on it and they should keep it as it is,” Huguette Leonard said.
The question is, who will pay? The front lot and triplex are listed for almost $1 million alone.
While a foundation has been set up with the intent to buy and transform the entire site into a museum and stable open to the public, its president said it cannot afford to purchase the three lots at market price.
“We know they want the horse palace and stables to be preserved,” said foundation president Juliette Patterson, a landscape architect who lives in Point St. Charles.
“If they want this to be preserved then there has to be some flexibility. I know there is a lot of interest among developers for that lot. If you put 20 storeys up there than that increases the value of the land.
“We can’t possibly match that.”
While the stables are considered to have heritage value by the city, they are not considered protected heritage sites by the provincial government. Patterson said the stables would be valuable as a museum because they are a unique opportunity for the public to have contact with animals, and discover the popular history of 19th century Montreal.
“People want to have contact with animals and nature in the city,” she said. “It’s actually unique in Montreal - in North America. To have stables right downtown. In Griffintown there are so many places being developed, it’s going to radically change the area in five years.”
Patterson said the foundation has made two offers during the last four years of negotiations with the Leonards. The couple’s broker Samuel Ralph, said the Leonards rejected one offer that he was aware of because it had too many conditions.
“If they (the foundation) want to come forward then now’s the time to come forward,” said Ralph, president of Maplewood Partners Commercial Real Estate Agency. “If the foundation comes forward I will hold back (on selling to other buyers) and do whatever I can, provided they come up with an expression of interest.”
Pointing to the couple, Brian Rius, Huguette Leonard’s nephew said: “I only care about one thing right now - and that is those two. The foundation hasn’t been able to come up with any meaningful amount of money.”
Before the movers leave, Leo Leonard makes one last visit to stables, stepping carefully over the uneven ground. Recently, he’s fallen more than once in the stables, where he stopped working only five years ago. He points to the wall outside the stables where a sign emblazoned wtih “Griffintown Horse Palace” used to hang for decades.
He smiles as he recounts how the sign fell down last winter, after one snowstorm too many.
“That’s old age.”Have Fun and Remember Verdun............................ Cheers ! -Les