Noticing the decline in traditional forging practices in Quebec and the absence of places for the preservation and transmission of the techniques and know-how associated with them, the Forges de Montréal was founded in 2000 with the mission of perpetuating the existence of the intangible heritage of traditional forging from here and elsewhere.
To achieve this goal, the organization coordinates activities to preserve, disseminate, transmit and update this heritage for the general public and artisans of all ages.
A commitment to future generations, reflected in the willingness to transmit knowledge and know-how to them that will enable them to re-appropriate the ways of producing and consuming;
Respect for masters and traditional forging techniques, as practiced before machines and mass production supplanted the craftsman’s gestures and intentions;
An eco-responsible conscience, implementing manufacturing techniques and processes based on an economy of material and energy resources, and limiting the impact of manufacturing on the ecosystem in which they are used;
An expression of authenticity, well-done and usefulness, acting as a guide in each action implemented, from design to the realization of objects.
Since its inception in the former Riverside Pumping Station, Les Forges de Montréal has been responsible for the complete restoration and rehabilitation of this heritage building in order to make it a place for research, practice, sharing and meeting around the traditional forge. Today, the organization oversees a range of activities, each responding to one of the four components of the mission:
Preserve through the study, characterization and inventory of traditional techniques representative of the forge and artisanal steel industry;
Spread through exhibitions, open houses and demonstration activities, interpretation of the pumping station and public performances;
Transmit through avant-garde programs, both theoretical and practical, for young, adult, beginner and professional audiences;
To update through support for craftsmen, the rehabilitation of forging techniques for the restoration of the built heritage and contemporary creation, interdisciplinary, intercultural and innovative collaboration.
It acts as a knowledge keeper in the field of forging and artisanal iron and steel, and contributes to the advancement and transmission of knowledge in the field as well as to the development of the arts and current forging practices.
Why the heritage of the traditional blacksmithing ?
For nearly three millennia, the blacksmith has been at the heart of many communities around the world. In fact, by mastering iron and its transformation, it is he who, by providing the tools and objects of primary utility, has contributed to the progress of production and transformation techniques, and more broadly to the development of settled societies. By evolving its practices according to technological advances and the contexts in which they flourished, it also demonstrated a capacity for resilience that allowed it to constantly adapt. The period of industrialization nevertheless constituted a context of drastic transformations for this thousand-year-old craftsman. Marked by the transition from small-scale artisanal production to mechanized and serial production, this period made the one who had carried the technological evolution of societies for so many centuries, an economic aberration.
Over the decades, the traditional blacksmith, his ingenious expertise, his sensitive understanding of the material and his strength of resilience, became an object of entertainment and myth, and were put aside and almost forgotten by popular knowledge. Thus, few craftsmen today still have the skills to forge a pliers, a hammer or even a knife: objects that are still common today.
However, current movements to reclaim consumption and production patterns on a human and local scale, to take responsibility for the environment or to preserve the witnesses of a local identity, are tending to revive the almost extinct usefulness of traditional forging practices. In fact, these trends provide a breeding ground for the revival of traditional forging techniques in fields and sectors as diverse as architecture, restoration of built heritage, urban design, agriculture and permaculture, engineering and robotics.
Thus, Les Forges de Montréal and the men and women who work there will never stop exploring, with those who so desire, the possibilities that are still unsuspected in the forge in the face of issues of collective interest. It is up to the citizens to come and share with us this daily rediscovery, to take part in the updating of this ancestral practice.