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October 11, 2013

Christopher Ryan: The beautiful brick mosaics of Ottawa's Mont St-Joseph boarding school

Editor's note: Here's the first of a regular weekly feature on our blog from Christopher Ryan. I first encountered him earlier this summer on Instagam, where he has a  very creative style of photography that usually eatures Ottawa buildings and landmarks. He's also a fan of local history, and maintains a very interesting blog called The Margins of History. He'll be contributing photos and telling some stories in this space every Friday about some of Ottawa's lesser-known architectural gems.








The Mont St-Joseph Boarding School at 50 Maple Lane was opened in 1962, when the Sisters of Charity relocated from the Rideau Street Convent in Lowertown to the north end of the property that was occupied by the St. Joseph's Orphanage in New Edinburgh.

The new building was designed by architect Louis J. Lapierre. Trained at McGill, Lapierre's first commission was the Chapel of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate a few years previous in 1957. An article from the January 19, 1963 edition of the Ottawa Journal characterized it as a school that broke the rules and highlighted a number of the building's features, including a rooftop garden with "conversation pit", a "garden made of pink and white marble", and a modern cafeteria that could hold 300 students.

Much like his contemporaries, Lapierre worked largely in the modernist style. Unlike most of them, however, he was heavily influenced by the Monumentalists, many of whom felt that the cleanliness of modern design did not speak well to the human spirit.

To this end, a great number of Lapierre’s designs incorporate artist-designed murals in the brickwork. The best of these examples are Mont St-Joseph, theCentre de loisirs Monseigneur Pigeon, and le Centre récréatif Saint-Charles, both in Montreal.

Lapierre designed a number of other buildings around Ottawa as well, including the soon-to-be-demolished Union du Canada headquarters, and many of the buildings on the University of Ottawa campus including the Library and Physical Plant. He worked for the Department of Public Works from 1975 to 1990.

Mont St-Joseph Boarding School remained in operation, attracting students from all over the world, until 1982 when declining enrollment forced the school to close. Today the facility remains the Sisters of Charity's convent and is fortunately well-maintained.

-- Christopher Ryan

See also: Ottawa History Guide
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