Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

DATE: 2011
LOCATION: Montreal, Quebec, CA
OLD USE: Church
NEW USE: Museum, Concert hall


Built in 1894 by Montreal architect Alexander C. Hutchinson, the national historic site originally served as the Victorian Erskine and American Church. The building was inspired by the Romanesque Revival buildings of American architect Henry Hobson Richardson whose work includes the Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. It’s imposing facade is formed from the combination of heavily rusticated grey limestone and sculpted brown Miramichi sandstone. The Byzantine-style dome is a feature rarely found in Montreal. It was deconsecrated in 2004.[1]


Founded in 1860, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) was one of the first museums in North America to amass an encyclopedic collection worthy of the name. Since then, its holdings have grown to almost 36,000 objects—paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs and decorative art objects—from antiquity to today.[2]

Based in Montreal, Provencher Roy + Associés Architects was founded in 1983. They specialize in urban design, architecture, and interior design. Since its founding, the firm has focused on the impact architectural designs have on the environment and the community as a whole, in both time and space. A new approach based on the preservation of legacy structures became part of the new architectural language that would make its mark and become an integral part of urban landscapes.[3]


The adaptive reuse of the Victorian Erskine and American Church was brought on by the expansion efforts of the MMFA. The Museum acquired the building in 2008 and soon after began plans to expand into the church. The undertaking included a team of 450 professionals and craftsmen.

The opening of the completely renovated and adapted building came one year after the museum celebrated its 150th anniversary. The conversion of the nave of the church resulted in a 444-seat concert hall. Access to the Bourgie Concert Hall is provided via a shared new main entrance with the new Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion.

Achieving a critical balance between the new and surrounding structures involved the use of building materials including glass and marble that were both specific to the new contemporary section and in concert with the former church and three other existing pavilions. “Nowadays I think that we have to ensure meaningful integrations of buildings… Such attempts must be contemporary, yet respectful and characteristic of their time. The example of the Pavilion incorporating the Erskine and American Church belongs to this new trend,” explained Claude Provencher, co-lead architect.

Named in honor of Pierre Bourgie, the patron and founder of the Arte Musica Foundation, the former Erskine and American Church’s nave has been restored and transformed into a new, 444-seat Bourgie Concert Hall. Serving as the main entrance point to both Pavilion and Hall, the former crypt has been converted into a lobby featuring ticket counter, cloakroom and bar-boutique along with rehearsal and dressing rooms.

Ideally suited for chamber groups and other small ensembles such as string orchestras, the new Concert Hall will host over 100 concerts annually, along with educational and cultural activities associated with music and the fine arts, film screenings, and special events. Included among the structural improvements is the addition of a birch shell over the stage. The hall contains 311 removable seats located on the parterre level, and 133 seats comprising the original pews on the balcony level. The Hall’s interior design was developed by the architects and designer Christiane Michaud, who collaborated with the Museum’s curatorial team to ensure that many historical details were respected.

Eighteen Tiffany windows, which are now part of the Museum’s collection, were originally commissioned at the turn of the twentieth century for the American Presbyterian Church (now demolished). They were then reinstalled in the Erskine and American Church in 1937-38, then restored and reinstalled again in the former church and now new Concert Hall. Seventeen of these windows were created between 1897 and 1904, during the heyday of the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in New York. This remarkable grouping constitutes one of only two commissions by Tiffany in Canada and one of the few surviving religious series in North America.

Highlights among the 146 stained glass windows housed in the new Hall also include a six-panel window in the narthex depicting views of Montreal, designed by Charles William Kelsey in 1939, and a large half-rose window depicting biblical figures created by Peter Haworth in 1938-1939.

Under the supervision of Richard Gagnier, window restoration efforts were carried out in Montreal by Francoise Saliou and Thomas Belot of Atelier La Pierre de Lune.[4]

[1]Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
[2]Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
[3]Provencher Roy + Associés Architects
[4]Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Images courtesy of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Marc Cramer.