How do you put three museums under one roof? And how can you triple a museum’s exhibition space when there is seemingly no way to expand the museum’s footprint?
The answer for Montreal’s McCord Museum—which in recent years has taken the Stewart Museum and the Fashion Museum under its wing—is to build up. Way up.
A new plan for the museum, unveiled this morning, has a 10-storey design. That’s more than twice the height of the current structure, which was originally designed in 1906.
And it’s aided in its growth by a new $15 million donation from La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso—said to be the largest single private monetary donation to a Quebec museum in over 30 years. (Gattuso is based in Toronto, but grew up in Montreal: “The donation is in memory of my parents, Lina and Pasquale Gattuso, Montrealers of Italian origin who chose this city to raise their family,” she said in a release.)
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, speaking at a press conference this morning, called the new McCord Stewart Museum the first “musée verticale”—or vertical museum expansion—in the city.
It’s a way, Plante said, to keep the museum “in the heart of downtown” and “connected to the urban fabric”: that is, close to universities, transit and other major museums, while also tripling exhibition space and programs space, and bringing 1.5 million items in collections on site.
“Growing in place” is the priority, said Plante.
And City of Montreal staff had a role to play in making it happen. The new plan sees the footprint of the downtown museum expanded modestly through creative means: the City has permitted the McCord Museum to extend a bit onto Victoria Street to the west and create a pedestrian garden zone there. Also, space currently used by a restaurant to the south of the museum on President Kennedy Avenue will be used toward the institution instead.
Talks about an expanded museum have been around since at least 2013, and likely beforehand, said museum president and CEO Suzanne Sauvage at the press conference.
“We want this new museum to be of international calibre,” said Sauvage. “Modern, vast and luminous.”
The current museum can only display less than one per cent of the collection at any given time, and Sauvage said the museum is “constantly,” at this point, having to turn down gifts due to lack of space.
Sauvage hopes that the new museum, once completed, will have 600,000 visitors per year—double the amount of the current museum.
The McCord Museum first opened in 1921, and has been in its current building on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal since 1971. Space issues at the McCord Museum have been exacerbated in recent years by a merger with the Stewart Museum in 2013 and with the Fashion Museum in 2018.
Collections departments include dress, fashion and textiles; photography; Indigenous cultures; paintings, prints and drawings; decorative arts; and textual archives. The museum also hosts contemporary art exhibitions, such as its current display of the touring show of working by Kent Monkman, “Shame & Prejudice: A Story of Resilience.”
With its new structure, the museum ultimately hopes to become “the” museum of Montreal social history—“un grand musée de la société,” said Sauvage.