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USK:MTL Griffintown Sketchcrawl

April 27, 2014

For this month’s USK:MTL 4th Sunday sketch-out we did a walking tour of Griffintown. This historically Irish part of Montreal has been undergoing gentrification for a few years now – I was hoping to find some left over urban decay, but it seems pretty well cleaned up these days.

I had scanned the area in google street view and picked out a few likely drawing spots.  I am told by people in the know I wasn’t really looking in Griffintown proper, but I think after some wandering around we found some things that qualify.

You’ll have to consider that I’m not a very reliable guide. But if you’re anywhere near metros Lionel Groulx or Lucien L’Allier and looking for something to sketch, here’s my map for the sketch walk.

Wikipedia has this to say about the neighborhood:

The name Griffintown was derived from Mary Griffin. Ms. Griffin illegally obtained the lease to the land from a business associate of Thomas McCord in 1799. She then commissioned land surveyor Louis Charland to subdivide the land and plan streets for the area in 1804. Griffin’s husband, Robert, owned a soap manufactory in the area, and went on to become the first clerk of the Bank of Montreal upon its formation in 1817.


[Sketches are Lamy washable ink and W&N watercolor pans in an 8×8″ HandBook sketchbook]

Our first stop looking for G-town was this two-towered basilica. I’m not sure the history of this looming structure – but today it’s the Korean Martyrs Mission. It surely must have been something before that, as it has the hallmark look of all of Montreal’s historic religious architecture. I don’t know when all this lot was built – perhaps I’m going to have to read a book. This is the kind of stuff I love to draw – I’m always game for a dome’d tower.

All the little speckles by the way, are rain. When I closed the book, the water-soluble ink transferred from the branches to the raindrops.


Next stop, Robbie Griffin’s Bank of Montreal. A fine looking red sandstone block, with a fun roof decorated with Griffins and Lions. This family might have had some clout in this area? I dunno. One day I’ll have to go back and do some detailed drawings. This place has numerous gargoyles and medallions that would make for great pencil drawing studies.


Just up the street from there we found this old church. You can’t tell from the drawing, but there’s some kind of an interesting story here. There’s a lot of broken glass in the windows, and some of the doors are sealed with a small plaque. All the copper statues and finials are gone. Either sold off, or packed away for safety.

I have heard cases of valuable copper decor being stripped and sold for scrap. Something about a fellow from Laval killed by a falling saint. Some instant divine-justice there. Perhaps a precursor of what is coming for all of us. I don’t know where you think you can sell a 500lb statue anyway. Perhaps they have to cut the saint up and sell the parts piece-meal? Got to be some bad karma.

Anyway, I get the impression this place is on its way to being shuttered. Perhaps even demolished. There’s a lot of talk about how much of this area has been razed and replaced with freeways and warehouses, which are now being upcycled into condos and artist studios.

But on the other hand, I also hear people saying, good riddance to those old shacks. There probably aren’t a lot of fond memories of Ms. Griffin’s factory worker’s housing. I’m not the one to judge. But it was an interesting feeling to sketch this old church and wonder about the history there.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    April 28, 2014 9:35 AM

    Wonderfully evocative sketches.

  2. April 30, 2014 2:51 PM

    Wonderful pictures. I especially love the first one with the raindrops. Pretty cool how that worked out ;)

  3. February 29, 2016 6:32 PM

    What a great story! i love doing sketches of houses in my neighborhood because a lot of them were built in the 30s and 40s, in a mixed style from Mediterranean to faux English style. The plus is that many of them pop up for sale frequently and I like to document them as soon as I see a for sale sign.

    I’m curious: were you using W & N Cotman pans? If so, how do you like them? I’ve been thinking about getting the Cotman field box as part of a ‘leave-at-work’ kit.

    • February 29, 2016 6:59 PM

      Hey Linda – re: the Cotman pans – no I don’t like them all that much. The Cotman line, to the best of my knowledge, is the student grade W&N paints? I tend to just use tubes as I like being able to pick up juicy blobs of color! Plus, I use a lot of odd colors, so I could never find a ready made kit with what I’m into. You can read about my color selection over here:

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