Yes, It’s an Eyesore, But Using It To Depict Places of Worship is Deceptive

Lire cet article en français "Oui, c’est de la pollution visuelle, mais il est fallacieux de s’en servir pour décrire les lieux de culte"

The front page of L'Express d'Outremont - Dec. 10, 2015

The front page of L'Express d'Outremont - Dec. 10, 2015

Over the past few years many people, both Hassidim and non-Hassidim, have expressed dismay at the eyesore of the building at the corner of Bernard and Hutchison.

So we decided to go out and research the story of the building. Before we start, lets preface this with the fact that the place is not neglected, nor is it being held up by financial constraints. In fact the interior is already completed and it looks beautiful. But that makes the question even stronger: Why indeed is it taking so long to finish the exterior. Here are some images from the interior.

Lets begin with the history of the building located at 384-386 Bernard. From 1995 to 2003 it was occupied by Buymore Restaurant. Then between 2003 and 2006 it was occupied by Resto La Grand-Mère Poule. In Nov. 2007, after being empty for almost two years, the building was sold to a Hassidic philanthropist who purchased the building to house a new Jewish study hall in the memory of his father. The building was registered under the name Congregation Ohel Chaim.

Entanglement with Bureaucratic Red Tape

In 2008 Ohel Chaim applied for a permit to tear down the building and rebuild a brand new structure. For four years this application was stalled, bouncing back and forth between city urban planners and the CCU board. In 2011 Ohel Chaim realized that they were getting nowhere so they reluctantly gave up on the demolition plan and decided on going just for extensive renovations. In order to avoid dragging the project even longer due to the city’s rigidity with changes to external facades, they decide to split the work, first applying for a permit just for interior renovations which they received right away and then applying for an exterior renovations permit. In 2014 they finally received a permit to redo the exterior and they immediately started laying the brick exterior.

A computer generated image of one of the plans

A computer generated image of one of the plans

The current state of the building.

The current state of the building.

At the same time (in 2014) they also received their long awaited permit to do an extension on the Hutchinson side. The extension went up fast and we all thought that finally the eyesore was going to turn into a beautiful building. But then it all came to a sudden halt.

Misled by architect
It happened during the brick laying. The contractor discovered that he wasn’t able to follow the exact design as approved. The paln was to stop the work and wait another few months to get an approval from the city to do a minor change in the design. But the architect firmly claimed that these modifications would not need approval from the city, so the contractor went ahead and made the minor change in the brick layering.

But lo and behold, boy was the architect wrong. After the bricks were laid for phase one, the city found out about the minor deviation. Not only did they object, they put a full stop order on all further construction and demanded that all the bricks be removed. Of course the first thing Ohel Chaim did was fire the architect who misled them and hire a new architect. Then they spent the entire year of 2015, up until abut 2 weeks ago, just trying rectify the plan without demolishing the newly laid bricks. But to no avail. After being bounced back and forth between urbanologists and the CCU, Ohel Chaim gave up and decided to demolish the new bricks at the cost of $50k and redo it according to the original plan.

So now Ohel Chaim is waiting for the stop order to be lifted so they can demolish the new bricks and start from scratch. But due the onset of the freezing winter weather, that will likely not happen before spring-summer 2016.

Deceptive Journalism

With the above being said. L’Express d’Outremont’s deliberate choice to use this photo to portray it as a typical “new place of worship” is outright deceptive. Besides the fact that the image is not even located in Outremont, manipulating negative imagery to portray “places of worship” in bad light without giving any context, contravenes basic journalistic standards.

We hope the L’Express will realize this path is a slippery slope. This breakdown of journalistic standards will not help make Outremont a better place. On the contrary, it will continue to sow the cycle of discord and divisiveness instead of bringing peace and harmony.

See also Worlds Apart Yet Sharing Common Space: The Challenges of Places of Worship in Montreal.

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