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Doors and Crazy-Ass Outdoor Staircases in Montréal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve District
Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is a densely populated, working class, predominantly French speaking neighborhood in the south-east/south central part of the Island of Montréal.
Sometime in the early 2000’s a revitalization of the area began to take hold and it now seems to be in full swing. Over the last dozen years or so, real estate developers recognizing the profit potential of the lower property values, have swooped in to renovate and convert many of the neighborhood’s signature ‘plexes’ from typical rental properties into higher-end retro-look condos.
What we call duplexes, triplexes, quadriplexes and five-plexes are basically multi-family dwellings within the same building; with each unit having its own direct access to the outside.
Built during the population booms between the 1880’s and the 1930’s, most of these plexes feature 8 to 10-foot ceilings, beautiful old moldings and trim work, mantles and other decorative elements. They’re built in an L or E shape with a long front-to-back hallway branching off, either left or right, to the various rooms, with the kitchen almost always located at the back.
Of course many of these places also have beautiful decorative doors as well:
One of the unique features of many of these plexes, which can also be found in a few other Montréal neighborhoods, is our crazy-ass spiral iron outdoor staircases.
I mean really, when you consider our harsh winter climate and high annual snowfall, who in their right mind would build residential spaces where the stairs to the upper levels are left totally exposed to the elements?
Even without the snow and ice, can you imagine yourself lugging a bedroom set, or a washing machine, a refrigerator, or any other major appliances up this deathtrap on moving day?!!!
The story varies somewhat depending on who you speak to, but most city planners and local historians attribute Montreal’s affinity for our beautiful but dangerous outdoor iron staircases to a change in the building codes in the latter half of the 1800’s, that required more space between the front of the building and the sidewalk.
So how could builders comply with the new regulations and still maintain adequate interior living space for the larger families of the day? Simple of course: put the stairs on the outside of the building and voila! The added benefit? Reduced heating costs by not wasting energy heating a rarely used indoor stairwell.
Needless to say the disadvantages especially in winter, are quite obvious, but they sure are beautiful to look at.
Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, or HoMa as the trendy hipsters who are moving in have taken to calling it, is still considered somewhat of an impoverished part of the city. But an influx of younger middle-class families, as well as small to midsized businesses and the jobs they bring, leave much room for optimism about its future.
And hey, many of the buildings whether original and well-maintained, or recently renovated, really do have wonderful doors:
Note – You’ll also find lots of these crazy-ass outdoor staircases in the following Montréal neighborhoods: Rosemont/Petite-Patrie, St-Michel, Villeray, Plateau Mont-Royal, Verdun, St-Henri, as well as parts of Outremont.
As always, thanks for looking 🙂
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