In a period where new industries were developing in Montreal, rose a building that would make history. The Canada Malting plant, throughout its years of activity created jobs, sold malt to breweries and also promoted the industrialisation of Montreal and the development of our economy. Now the building and its silos have served their purpose and just sit there to rot. This has given the chance for vandals, graffiti artists and curious people to wander into the plant. Last year a light show was held at the top of the silos to commemorate the 100th year of the construction of the plant and to acknowledge its heritage. Now it sits empty, awaiting demolition in a world where disused buildings are either demolished or transformed into condos.
Malt is the result of the transformation of cereal grains by germination. These germinated grains are quickly dried before the plant develops, and this creates enzymes to convert plant starch into sugar for brewing beer and to produce alcohol for distilled spirits. Most kinds of cereal grains can be used, but the most preferred is barley for its ability to outdo any grain in the ability to convert starch, one part of barley malt can transform two thousand parts of starch into sugar.
Malted grain is created in four steps: First they are sorted by length and size, the size of the grain determines the length of the soaking and drying. The grains are then cleaned to remove any dust and foreign particles. They are then soaked to begin the germination, this lasts about 8 hours in a cycle of immersion and aeration. During this step, the moisture in the air is controlled and held at 80%. The germinated grains are then kiln dried at 100°F to 120°F for about 24 hours to reduce the moisture content. The grains arrive at the plant with a moisture content of 13%, after the soaking they have a moisture content of about 45% and after the kilning process the grain then has a 4% moisture content. The process is pretty simple, sorting and cleaning, soaking, germination and finally, kiln drying.
Built in 1905, in St-Henri, The Canada Malting building resembles other factories in the city, for example, the Andrew Gault Co. which was designed by the same architect: D. Jerome Spence, who had a fine eye for detail. The original building has a neo-roman style, which includes arched windows and detailed cornices. This plant was not constructed with only purpose in mind but also with the idea of beautiful architecture. For example, where the grain was germinated, light was not supposed to enter, but the architect still added mock windows to the designs in the plant to keep the windows constant. These days it is very rare to use this approach because industrial property has negative growth in terms of value, so the industries are built cheaply. This plant was built to last and was very detailed with consideration for the architecture.
The Canada Malting Plant would receive barley from Saskatchewan and Alberta and when ships crossing the Great Lakes arrived at the old port the grain was loaded intobarges to allow the transfer of the grain through the Lachine Canal locks and then up to the plant. An articulated conveyor belt was lowered down into the barge to transfer the cargo to another conveyor which carried it to the top. The grain was emptied into hoppers to fill the silos. Barley was stored there until they could transform it. Then the malted grain was emptied and transported by trucks to the breweries situated around Montreal (Dow, Molson, Labatt etc…) At first the plant could produce 32-ton batches of malt at a time, then they upgraded to 42 tons and finally 75 tons.
This building is one of the only buildings in Canada to have terra cotta silos. These silos were built by the Barnett and Record Company of Minnesota using hollow tiles made out of baked clay. Each tile measures 12 in. by 12 in. featuring a groove that when put together, forms a continuous circle around the silo. A two inch steel belt goes into the groove to keep the tiles together and to resist the lateral pressure resulting from the weight of the grain and from expansion of the stored material. This groove is then filled with mortar to form a protective cover for the band. The tiles are then faced with thinner tiles which are laid in mortar. They cover the exterior of the silo and can be replaced or repaired at any time since they do not affect the silo integrity. These outer tiles protect the structure against damage by weather. Today, many of the protective tiles litter the ground at the base of the silos. On top of these silos sits a ‘working house’. These shelters contain the conveyors and silo entrances which are used for maintenance and grain transfer. At the opposite end, beneath the concrete foundations of the silos, there is a tunnel where funnels drop the grain onto conveyor belts to bring the grain back to the top of the work house for transferring, cleaning or shipment.
Terra cotta silos were patented in 1895 by the Barnett-Record company and the silos began production shortly after 1899 after an experimental tank was built and evaluated in Minneapolis. This system was highly acceptable for the trade, a large number were built in the Midwest of the United States, in Canada and across the east coast. But this fame did not last long, in 1913, less than a decade after its first introduction, The Historic American Engineering Record states that these were already considered obsolete by 1913.
The terra cotta silos had several advantages compared to the other types of silos; the structure was lighter and the hollow tiles greatly reduced the weight which the foundation had to support. The air space also had an insulating effect. These silos were also completely flameproof and could resist heat to protect the grain during an exterior fire, and they could also protect other structures in the event of an internal fire. The danger of explosion due to the possibility of the rapid ignition of floating dust remains a hazard even today and must always be considered when designing silos and granaries. Tile-built silos did not require any enclosing structure to protect against the elements, since the hollow core insulated the grain from extreme temperature changes and reduced condensation.
Despite the many advantages, the tile structures were expensive to build and were hard to maintain because the large number of mortar joints slowed the construction process and the joints were prone to leaks. Constant vigilance was required.
Another interesting thing in the Canada Malting Plant is the passenger elevator system, which is composed of a big belt that spans all the floors. This elevator system is named the Humphrey Man lift, after its creator, Seth K. Humphrey. It has handles and foot rests that workers grab and hitch a lift to the floor they want. There is no waiting to get on a Humphrey Man lift because the looped belt provides continuous transportation in both directions. These Man lifts take up only a fraction of the floor space of conventional elevators, because it consists of only two 1.5 meter diameter holes. This system is still in use today in industries because of its simple yet effective design.
In 1963, the demand was high so the Canada Malting Company built a receiving plant at the port of Montreal. This allowed the grain to be stored before shipment to the plant in St Henri. Also the St Henri plant was enlarged, doubling its production capacity. Eighteen new silos made from poured concrete were added and a new malting annex was built, also made from poured concrete. The silos were constructed continuously; the concrete was poured into shapes and at every hour or so, an inch would be added to the height of the silo. The shapes were then moved up to be filled again until they reached the
In 1970, with the Lachine canal closing, the Canada Malting plant suffered much. Barges could not be floated upstream anymore so the grain had to be delivered by trucks and trains but this was not the best method to bring the barley because damage and loss could occur during transportation. Also the transportation costs were more expensive. With the advent of computer automation the plant became outdated, due to new techniques and technological breakthroughs.
Ten Years later, around 1980 the Canada Malting plant closed their doors and relocated to the port of Montreal. The facilities were newer and there was less grain transportation needed which saved the company money and time. The production also doubled to 250 tons per batch. All the grain was emptied from the silos at the original plant and transferred to the new site. Another company used the old plant for grain storage until 1985.
After this, the plant became abandoned, and one day, in 1996 a graffiti artist who tags SAIKO broke into the plant and painted his name on top of the silos, this action“invited” many other artists and vandals to go in and “leave their mark.” This created a new playground for St-Henri kids until residents of St-Henri started complaining, soon after, the entrance to the building was sealed off. Since then, new entrances have appeared and disappeared as fast as they were created.
Since 2005, the Canada malting plant has been up for sale for 5 million dollars. After 20 years of abandonment, this building cannot be recycled. The damage caused by water infiltration, vandals and the decaying mortar would cost more to repair than to demolish the current structure and to build a new one. Soon this place will be demolished and another trace of our history will be erased.
During May 12th and June 18th 2005, Quartier Éphémère invited a lighting conceptualist named Axel Morgenthaler to give this building a last homage. With a bundle of stroboscopic and fluorescent lights, he lit up the top “workhouses” to simulate the glow of welding torches and of workers performing maintenance tasks on the building. This was a good way to draw attention to the site so because of the location’s high visibility advantage. During this time, the plant was secured and had a security guard on the premises to protect the lighting equipment.
This light show gave the plant a little more media attention and soon after, two movies were filmed on location. “The Pointe”, a movie about Pointe St-Charles and “La Rage de l’Ange” by Dan Bigras (2006).
Overall, this building which was once very active and generated a lot of profits is now decaying as time progresses. The cause of this is the advance in technology and the closure of the Lachine Canal. Most of its unique features are still there, but they will soon disappear along with the building to make space for condos and lofts.
“Traces from the past are too often brutally erased, radically eliminated from our visual environment. In our society of extreme hygiene, that seeks to modernize and regulate everything leaving little room for aging, degradation, to be left adrift.
Transported by the buildings of our city, the subtle movement of time demonstrates our progressive evolution. They are the visual markers, the comforting beacons that tell our history creating affection for our city that is truly unique to it. Granted, the demolitions of entire areas or buildings for the profit of more productive arrangements are sometimes necessary. The obsession with quasi systematically destroying however, must be restrained.”
An excerpt from: http://www.quartie…orgenthaler_a.html
Material also taken from an interview with, the Plant manager of the Canada Malting Co. Limited plant in the port of Montreal, who started his career at the original company facility in St-Henri. At that time his official title was “maltster.”
DO not use, copy or redistribute, in part or in whole, without my written consent
administrative section and oldest part of the building.
bottom of the seeping tanks
bottom of the seeping tanks
terra cotta silos.
Johnson- Record seal found on each silos.
grain conveyor belt.
old meets new.