A mode(l) for the revitalization of European-rooted cultural heritage: Ville de Laval, Québec, Canada

A mode(l) for the revitalization of European-rooted cultural heritage: Ville de Laval,
Québec, Canada

text: Ana MANESCU

Laval is nowadays the third most important city in the French province of Québec and is ranked thirteenth in Canada1 from a demographic point of view, with 430.000 inhabitants2. Its insular territory, formerly known as Île Jésus, situated in the north-western part of the Island of Montréal3 and covering a surface of 246 square kilometres, is the second largest island in the Hochelaga Archipelago4, after the Island of Montréal.
In 20155, 30% of the total land surface was agrarian (7.053,3 hectares), 48% – developed and 22% was available for development projects. In fact, Laval is one of the few cities in Québec where urban life unfolds in the proximity of a stable agricultural area.
In its current form, Laval is the result of the 1965 fusion of 14 municipalities in Jésus Island. Although it is considered a young city, its history is as rich as it is little known. Actually, several artefacts and written documents reveal that these territories were inhabited by the Native Americans more than 4.000 years ago. Jésus Island was initially occupied by the aboriginal peoples, followed by French colonists and, after 17606, a small number of British-origin immigrants. The city owes its name to Monseigneur François de Laval (whose full name was Francis-Xavier de Montmorency-Laval), the first bishop of Nouvelle-France7, to whom Jésus Island was ceded in 1675.
After the land was leased8 to the Theological Seminary in Québec in 1680, there began the agrarian development supported by the construction of roads and mills. This two-century uninterrupted agrarian pursuit is where the region takes its name from: „the greenhouse/vegetable garden of Montréal”.
The land lease in Jésus Island began with the waterfront parcels and continued with those in the eastern and western parts of the island. The oldest parish in the area is Saint-François de Sales (1702), located on the fringe of the island. It was followed by another two, Sainte-Rose de Lima (1740) and Saint-Vincent de Paul (1743). In the meantime, 14 flourishing municipalities focalized on the development of the territory around their rural centres. Throughout the 20th century, territory planning encouraged a polycentric development of the island revolving around these rural centres.
After the Second World War, there has been an increase of population, which led to the modernization of residential buildings and a massive migration to the periphery.
The establishment of these municipalities entailed the emergence of various inter-municipal problems. Hence, in 1964, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs in Québec founded a Commission chaired by Armand Sylvestre, known as the Sylvestre Commission, which aimed at studying the territory and its characteristic problems with a view to development adjustment and enhanced access to different utilities. The Commission came to the conclusion that a possible solution would be the fusion of all these municipalities – the decision was publicly announced in December 1964 under the headline „An Island, A City” [Une île, une ville]9. We are thus witnessing, in 1965, the birth of the City of Laval – a challenge for the idea of union – under the slogan „Unity, Progress, Magnificence” [Unité, progrès, grandeur], all under the sign of modernity. Despite this union, the neighbourhoods kept to their identities over time, especially in the rural centres.

Between 1960 and 1970, the urbanization intensified, rendering evident the absence of municipal regulations on classifying, protecting and preserving built, natural and landscape heritage. Concurrently, it was found that part of the rich, age-old rural heritage, as is the case for the town of Sainte-Rose10, was progressively deteriorating and, in some cases, even disappearing11.
In 1997, with the declared purpose of conservation, eight heritage areas were established, including the one belonging to Sainte-Rose, which led to the elaboration of Architectural Implant and Integration Plans (PIIA)12 for the protection of the built heritage in Laval, based on the architectural inventory carried out in 1981.
Therefore, a municipality that aims to secure a high quality architectural implant and integration in a specific featured sector, such as an old neighbourhood, can adopt a PIIA for development and building activities. It is worth mentioning that although the most recent administration in Laval was long-lived, it was a 23-year period in which very few heritage valorisation actions were undertaken. As of 2013, the current municipal administration took a new approach marked by a thorough reflection and encouraged civic dialogue through the consultation entitled „Rethinking Laval” [Repensons Laval]13. „Laval 2035 Strategic Vision14: The Natural Urban” [La vision stratégique Laval 2035: urbaine de nature] derives from this process and sets out the five main guiding lines for the municipality in the following 20 years15; an important part is played by „the revitalization of neighbourhoods into healthy, attractive and human-scaled environments” based on the renewal of built framework and the improvement of urban aesthetics16.
It can be thus said that the municipality is currently trying to recuperate the lost time in relation to heritage protection.
In 2015, the architectural inventory drawn up in 1981 was updated. The final conclusions of this operation pointed to an alarming situation, to say the least. The updated pre-inventory17 includes 1.925 buildings, with the majority inventoried in 1981. 483 of these have disappeared, which represents over 25% of the buildings inventoried in 34 years18.
As for Sainte-Rose, there are 298 buildings of interest. Based on the data gathered in 1981, we infer that 58 buildings in Sainte-Rose disappeared despite the entry into force of the protection legislative measures imposed by PIIA and the classification of the territory as having patrimonial value.

The strategic vision and the pre-inventory represented the starting point for a new endeavour: the valorisation of the heritage in Laval – this is how the current city administration chose to express its availability to turn heritage into an instrument for the identity development of the city’s community. Given that the municipality wishes to manage the territory in an eco-responsible manner and in the context of an ever increasing urban growth pressure, it is necessary to re-examine the regulation instruments. At present, a second update of The Planning and Development Scheme of the City of Laval (2017)19 acknowledges the importance of cultural20, built, archaeological, natural and landscape heritage, seen as intrinsic components of the development of the territory in its jurisdiction. The Planning Scheme falls within this perspective and sets out the intention to ensure the protection and valorisation of its cultural heritage at the highest possible quality standards. Several initiatives in line with the municipal orientations in the field of heritage21 are presently under preparation.
The procedures for coming into force of a programme dedicated to the revitalization of heritage buildings22 are presently being carried out (2017), which allows the owners of heritage buildings to benefit from renovation or restoration works subsidies. The budget allotted to this programme is 300.000 $ a year and will continue the following years. It is expected that, under certain conditions, (over 100) other buildings situated outside the limits of the already established heritage areas will benefit from the revitalization programme. The programme is to be improved through citizen involvement by means of a participatory venture. During the next year, there will be adopted a demolishing regulation which is expected to have a positive impact on the conservation of built heritage. Also, a regulation update focusing on a full review of PIIA is currently under preparation (2018-2020). The document is meant to ensure better adaptability to the territorial reality and to provide for the inclusion of new sectors of interest – actions and tools pursuing a common goal: a better protection and promotion support for heritage buildings.

The organizational structure

Specifically, to achieve this common goal, The Agency for Heritage is soon to be established within The Department for Culture, Leisure, Sports and Social Development. In 2016, there was a first funding initiative dedicated exclusively to heritage exploitation in Laval. The mission of The Agency for Heritage consists in ensuring the valorisation of heritage in all its forms, in the spirit of cooperation with the local actors and in synergy with the Department for Urban Planning. The Agency responds to the needs of the citizens of Laval, providing knowledge expansion and raising awareness on history and heritage while strengthening the feeling of belonging to a community and regional identity alike. The activity of The Agency is constantly improving through successive updates and adjustments.
Furthermore, the recently founded Committee for Heritage is meant to group the heritage experts of Laval by the agency of The Department for Culture, Leisure, Sports and Social Development and The Department for Urban Planning. The Committee currently comprises nine professionals recruited from these two departments and it is responsible for organizing and monitoring the municipal actions meant to ensure the protection and valorisation of the heritage in Laval. The activity of this Committee will enable, on one hand, the coordination of heritage-related actions, counselling and collaboration with other departments, heritage valorisation and awareness and, on the other hand, the establishment and maintenance of contacts with the other governance levels in the field of heritage. Through all these actions, the Committee will allow other departments to develop a rapid response to heritage-related issues.

The Sainte-Rose Case24

An important step taken by the municipality of Laval in securing heritage protection was the initiative to create a balanced global development dynamics around the neighbourhood of Sainte-Rose, translated into a close collaboration among various municipal departments and numerous local actors and partners. Hence, different bodies which are important community partners proposed different events, cultural routes and urban tours meant to showcase built heritage and generate high audience awareness to its importance in building individual identity. All this large-scale, far-reaching planning will have positive and concrete outcomes for all the rural centres similar to that of Sainte-Rose.
These poles act as coherent local-scale living environments and vital anchorage points for collective memory. As a matter of fact, Sainte-Rose is considered a highly dynamic old rural centre hosting frequent activities and initiatives that help heritage valorisation, especially in collaboration with local partners – bodies, traders and citizens. The church is at the heart of this neighbourhood/district and plays a role equally important in organizing such activities, as the parvis is often used for events centred on heritage exploitation.
Another important partner of the municipality of Laval with respect to cultural development is The Ministry of Culture and Communications in Québec (MCCQ) and the established protocols create a framework for implementing different projects, such as Walking through Laval [Parcourir Laval]25, the first mobile application of the municipality which aims at valorising local history and heritage. Launched in 2015, during the 50th anniversary of the city, Parcourir Laval enables the discovery of heritage areas and the personalities who influenced their history through geolocalised routes, like the one for Sainte-Rose. The application is constantly evolving and is to be updated with new tracks crossing other old rural centres integrated in the current City of Laval.
Other worthy of mention projects promoting heritage are the so-called „heritage tours” [virées patrimoniales]26, namely theatrical and historical routes, entertainment events and guided visits in the company of actors, entertainers and professional historical guides. A very interesting tour organized by Réseau ArtHist non-profit organization takes place in Sainte-Rose. Both here and in other old rural centres, the town hall or non-profit bodies organize many outdoor performances and exhibitions.
In 2017, „La Presse” in Québec described the enthusiasm revolving around the built heritage in Sainte-Rose27 which attracted, over the last decade, young owners passionate about history and interested in heritage and the manifest presence of nature. Moreover, the place has been made attractive due to the multiple sports and cultural activities organized in the area.


Therefore, culture enables, under its multiple forms, the dynamisation of an old rural centre integrated into the current urban structure as well as heritage valorisation, thus turning into an important drive to be taken into account. At present, there is increasing effervescence around the issue of heritage, not only in the former rural centre of Sainte-Rose but also in the entire municipality of Laval.
Faced with a fast-evolving society and a territory which conveniently transforms and builds up often under the intense pressure of urban development, Laval realizes, more than ever, the need of taking action in the field of heritage, given its frailty, diversity and multiple benefits. As a matter of fact, it is about a collective asset encouraging exchange and dialogue and contributing, in and of itself, to the cohesion of a community through the development of a powerful feeling of identity and community belonging. From an economic point of view, heritage generates employment and improves the tourist display of a city, thus supporting its territorial influence. Heritage is also a source of inspiration for artistic creation. It can act as an urban development tool and can help sustainable development through architectural vestige exploitation and reuse, ensuring their transfer unto the next generations. Briefly, heritage prompts the vitality and prosperity of a city and improves life quality28.

1. Statistiques Canada, https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016001/98-200-x2016001-fra.cfm
2. Répertoire des municipalités du Québec, http://www.mamrot.gouv.qc.ca/repertoire-des-municipalites/fiche/municipalite/65005/ (consulted on 26th January 2017).
3. Schéma d’aménagement et de développement révisé de la Ville de Laval, https://www.laval.ca/Documents/Pages/Fr/Citoyens/urbanisme-et-zonage/schema-amenagement.pdf
4. Located at the confluence of Saint Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, Hochelaga Archipelago – named after an Iroquois village on the Island of Montréal vanished without a trace at the end of the 16th century, comprises a group of 320 islands situated on One Thousand Islands River, Prairie River and a part of Saint Lawrence River, the nucleus of Montréal Metropolitan Region, in the south-west of Québec region. Father Marie-Victorin named the archipelago in 1935. The largest island of the archipelago is the Island of Montréal, mainly occupied by the City of Montréal actually comprising 74 smaller islands of the same archipelago: Bizard, Notre-Dame, Sainte-Hélène, Des Sœurs. The second largest island is Jésus which forms the City of Laval, together with Laval and other small islands. These two regions, the most densely populated in Québec, represent the main area of the archipelago.
5. Laval aujourd’hui – un état des lieux pour repenser Laval, 2015, https://www.laval.ca/Documents/Pages/Fr/Citoyens/participation-citoyenne/repensons-laval-etat-lieux.pdf
6. Histoire de Laval, Normand Perron, Jean-Charles Fortin, Jacques Saint-Pierre Collection: Les régions du Québec, PUL (2018), p. 51.
7. Nouvelle-France, vice-kingdom of the first French colonial empire between 1534-1763 in North America, with the capital at Québec. Canada was one of the constituent colonies, along with Acadia and Louisiana. After Samuel de Champlain founded Québec in 1608, Canada quickly became the most populated colony in Nouvelle-France. The so-called „Québecois francophones” of today are the former French Canadians.
8. The land lease was carried out during the manorial regime (https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/fr/article/regime-seigneurial), an institutional mechanism for land distribution and occupation that was operating in Nouvelle-France.
9. The Laval website dedicated to history and heritage, https://www.laval.ca/histoire-et-patrimoine/Pages/Fr/1965-naissance-laval.aspx
10. The foundation of Sainte-Rose Association is recorded in 1858. It is actually located in the municipality of Sainte-Rose de Lima parish.
11. A cultural diagnosis for the region of Laval, p.40-41. Available online at: https://www.repensonslaval.ca/3372/documents/6937
12. Under the Law for Land Use Planning and Urbanism (LAU, Art.145.15-145.20.1) elaborated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Land Occupancy (Ministère des Affaires Municipales et de l’Occupation du Territoire (MAMOT) in Québec, which defines the planning instruments. Available online at: http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/fr/ShowDoc/cs/A-19.1
13. Répensons Laval: https://www.repensonslaval.ca/
14. A strategic vision is a planning instrument promulgated through LAU, MAMOT website: https://www.mamot.gouv.qc.ca/amenagement-du-territoire/guide-la-prise-de-decision-en-urbanisme/planification/vision-strategique/
15. A cultural diagnosis for the region of Laval, p. 32.
Available online at: https://www.repensonslaval.ca/3372/documents/6937
16. Une vision. Une ville. Urbaine de nature. Laval 2035,
17. Pre-inventory of the architectural heritage of the City of Laval, reports, February 2015, https://www.laval.ca/histoire-et-patrimoine/Documents/pre-inventaire-batiments-patrimoniaux.pdf
18. The revised planning and development scheme for the City of Laval, 2017 (p. 2-239).
19. The planning and development scheme (Schéma d’aménagement et de développement – SAD – and the municipal planning regulation – planning instruments defined in LAU) are necessary for an accurate and balanced development of the living environments. The responsibility for elaborating a SAD expressly providing for the main directions and uses of its territory lies with the municipality – an obligation stipulated in LAU.
20. The Law for Cultural Heritage (Loi sur le patrimoine culturel – LPC), elaborated by the Ministry of Culture and Communications (Ministère de la Culture et des Communications – MCCQ), marked a new phase in the history of cultural heritage protection by the state. It enables the expansion of the notion of heritage and takes into account the increasing role of the municipalities in relation to heritage protection and valorisation by conferring supplementary powers. For more information on LPC and the definition of cultural heritage, see: http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/fr/ShowDoc/cs/P-9.002
21. A cultural diagnosis for the region of Laval, p. 41. Available online at: https://www.repensonslaval.ca/3372/documents/6937
22. A programme made possible through LAU.
23. The buildings envisaged by this regulation are those whose value is considered superior or exceptional in the latest inventory of Laval (2018) or specifically listed as representative in a former inventory (2005).
24. The pre-inventory records are indexed by categories (the localities formerly bordering Laval and currently integrated as districts/neighbourhoods of the City of Laval: Auteuil, Chomedey, Duvernay, Fabreville, Laval-des-Rapides, Laval-Ouest, Laval-sur-le-Lac, Pont-Viau, Saint-François, Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Sainte-Dorothée, Sainte-Rose, Vimont).
25. Further information on the mobile application: https://www.laval.ca/histoire-et-patrimoine/Pages/Fr/application-mobile.aspx
26. Further information on the heritage tours: https://www.laval.ca/histoire-et-patrimoine/Pages/Fr/virees-patrimoniales.aspx
27. Vieux Sainte-Rose rajeunit!, 25th February 2017, available online at:
28. The Heritage Action Plan (Plan d’action en patrimoine) under preparation by the Laval Committee for Heritage.

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