History of Les Forges de Montreal
Today, Les Forges de Montreal is busy preserving what is left and rediscovering what was lost.
It was after his return from an apprenticeship in artistic ironwork in France, in the 1990’s, that Mathieu Collette noticed the precarious state of the blacksmith trade in Quebec. He soon felt the need to create a supportive movement to help stop the disappearance of the trades of the forge. Mathieu Collette quickly earned a reputation for his creative talent and the precision of his work, and went on to found Les Forges de Montreal in the year 2000. His strategy for the project: to make the most of his talent and his acquired knowledge of the trade to finance the organization and promote through practice and example the trade of blacksmithing.
The organization found a home in the Riverside Station in 2001. After three years, close to half a million dollars and a staggering number of hours of renovations, cleaning and later improvements, the first fire was lit at Les Forges.
Beginning in 2006, Les Forges de Montreal started to seriously show the ‘fruits of their labour’ from their years of sacrifice: the first training sessions and demonstrations (Kiyota, in 2006, Musso in 2008 and 2009, Collette in 2007 and 2010, Hynninen in 2012) took place with surprising success. The public, the artisans thirsty for knowledge difficult to access, those who visited Les Forges…all were charmed by the place, but even more they were impassioned by the sincere effort and the fountain of knowledge that was concentrated there. We also organize special events regularly (Journées de la Culture, Nuit blanche a Montreal, themed days).
By 2012, the strategy could not be clearer: we can preserve a trade only through its practice. The forging of objects allows for the documentation of techniques in a concrete way, always referring to the traces left by our predecessors. The research and development of fabrication techniques of the old steels – traditional metallurgy – such as Wootz and Japanese steels, allows Les Forges to offer artisan blacksmiths in Montreal and artists not only transformation methods and an esthetic sense, but also noble materials that would otherwise be nonexistent in ironwork.
Les Forges de Montreal now has the role of guardian of knowledge in the domain of blacksmithing and iron. We research the techniques of the blacksmiths of long ago, document and archive them, and we make the knowledge accessible for the advancement of arts and trades today.
Birth of Les Forges de Montreal and the occupation of riverside station
For close to three millenniums, the blacksmith was at the heart of all the communities in the world. Even in the 19th century, there were more than a hundred branches of the trade: nail makers, arms-makers, farriers, wheelwrights, craftsmen in wrought iron…Without them, the pillars of the local economy (farmers, carpenters, cabinet makers, lumberjacks, bakers, butchers, and surgeons) would not have their tools nor would the entire population have hardware or iron equipment.
By the 1970’s in Quebec, the last village blacksmiths along with all their knowledge and knowhow from a career entirely devoted to the trade, and without having the chance to perpetuate more than twenty centuries of knowledge transmission to apprentices, were gone.
History of the building
Extract taken from an article published on the Riverside pumping station
Site regarding heritage properties of interest of the City of Montreal
“Until the middle of the 19th century, the evacuation of surface and used water went directly to the natural water courses of the island, which sometimes became open air drains. (…) Moreover, besides causing material damages, the recurrent flooding due to springtime backups (…) was reputed to have, in miasmic proportions, contributed to the propagation of illnesses. Following the record flooding in the spring of 1886, the Corporation de Montreal took the means to stop this curse by planning the mechanisms to retain or drain the surplus water. And so three municipal constructions were carried out in 1887: the Saint Gabriel dike in Point Saint Charles, now demolished, as well as the Riverside and Craig pumping stations which, situated at the end of the line of the network at the time, allowed for the pumping of excess water in the river via the collector drain. (…)
With its contemporary, the Craig pumping station, it is the oldest structure of this type throughout the aqueduct and drainage network of the City of Montreal. (…) The Riverside pumping station is an important witness to the history of the aqueduct and drain system of the City of Montreal, one of the oldest in North America. What’s more, the Riverside Station has good architectural value. Conceived by renowned architects Perreault and Mesnard, the building shows the know-how of the architects who more often worked on institutional and religious architecture. Along with the Craig Station, the Riverside pumping station is the only work on public services by these architects.
The care taken on the architectural composition of the main façade, with its rustic stone, sculpted lintels and recessed windows in ornamental cast iron frames, gave the look of a public building to the construction of modest dimensions. Moreover, the building possesses a flared masonry wall on the back façade which can be explained by the fact that, before the banking up of a spillway that connected the Peel basin to the Lachine Canal of the Saint Lawrence River, the pumping station was situated at the side of a canal and its back wall was plunged in water.”