Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Mount Royal Riding Academy and Club

I love history so much and along with my love of antique and vintage clothing, have an interest in old buildings, ESPECIALLY ones which have had a horsey history.

There is one such building in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where I am from which has always caught my eye as I glanced at it fleetingly down a side street as the bus passed it by. It is the old premises of the The Mount Royal Riding Academy and Club which was built in 1910 in an area which was originally mostly fields and had a well-to-do population.

This promotional article from the June 25, 1010 edition of the Montreal Standard newspaper, describes how it was going to be like. Annoyingly, although the human creature comforts are described in some detail, no mention of the horse accommodation like stall size, what the standard of horse care would be like or even if there was turnout for the horses and where the said turnout would be located! I guess though, that this was an era were horses were still thought of as transportation and horse welfare wasn't top most of most people's list of priorities when people used to die from getting the flu or drinking tap water!

The promoters of this enterprise have acquired property in Westmount, fronting on Hillside Avenue, and propose to erect a first-class and up-to-date Riding Academy and Boarding Stable. The company is incorporated with a capitalization of $100,000 made up with 1,000 shares of the value of $100 each, which stock is rapidly subscribed by some of Montreal's most prominent citizens, the creation of such an academy being realized as a necessity especially at this period in the history of the horse, and will be a distinct acquisition to the city.

In design, superb, in appointment and furnishings, elegant, exteriorly beautiful and arranged throughout up on plans infinitely practical, incorporating every modern and novel feature that can possibly add to the comfort and convenience of its patrons, such are the plans prepared.

Mr. R. Montgomery Rodden is the architect, and to his credit be it said that the plans, which have been submitted and approved by the directors, provide for conveniences and interior arrangements heretofore deemed impossible of attainment in a building of this nature. The exterior of the building will be brick, and the interior steel and reinforced concrete throughout on scientific principles, and will be fitted with the most perfect ventilating, lighting, heating and sanitary systems that can be procured.

The front portion will be four stories in height; the structure affords stabling accommodation for nearly a hundred horses, on the ground floor, this having driveways for entrance and exit of horses and vehicles, as well as stalls, show runway and space for hitching the numerous fashionable equipages boarded within the building. The executive and general offices will also occupy a portion of this floor, while ladies' and gentlemen's dressing and waiting - room, shower baths, etc., will be conveniently disposed of on the mezzanine floor.

The exercising arena, which is 150 feet in length by 60 feet in width, will be locate don the second floor, and overlooking this will be a large observation and lounging room, with plate glass front, also social and tea-rooms, all of which are to be elegantly furnished and decorated. Above this, and on the third floor, will be the visitors' gallery, also store- rooms, and attendants' apartments.

The contract has been awarded to F.M. Hartman of the Roebling Construction Co. of New York, and the building is expected to be completed by the 15th of October.

Interestingly, the field shown in the top photo of the drawing showing the man riding and the lady riding side saddle is now the sports field of Westmount High School which opened at the site in 1961. It is good to see that nothing was ever built on that old field!

Google Map image showing the Westmount High School sports field and the building of the The Mount Royal Riding Academy and Club at the corner where the "A" is:

It must of have been an impressive site in it's day with all the grooms in attendance and all the gleaming saddles in the tack room! I bet there were quite a few side saddles in there, oh to go back in time and have a look and a ride!

These two photos were taken after it was built in November 1911. That jump looks scary even by 2010 standards but the arena footing looks lovely and soft to ride on! Note the difference from the artists conception in the previous photo to what it actually looked like when it was built.

And imagine relaxing in this room overlooking the arena after a hard schooling session..

Unfortunately, time does not stand still and I have never been able to find out how long the stables remained in business for. I have a feeling that it probably did not survive the First World War though as many of the grooms/ male staff would have had to go and fight, maybe even some of the horses requisitioned for war use.

Eventually in 1949, the 3rd Field Engineer Regiment of the Canadian Army moved into the premises and it has been a military building ever since. Whether it had been derelict before the army moved in or requisitioned for military use straight after it had been a stable, is unknown.

The building still looks very similar to when it was originally built although over the years, windows and doors have been bricked up and entrances moved like what can be seen on these two front views of the stables compared to the original drawing shown earlier.

But it's nice to see that they kept the large windows at the side which originally were the arena windows! You can see the smaller windows of the horse's stalls also remain under the large arena windows so the horses must have been stabled on a lower level under the area floor.

That is all the information I have at the moment on the The Mount Royal Riding Academy and Club but if I ever find out anymore, then I shall post it! If I go back to Montreal again next year, I'll try and do some digging, maybe make an appointment with the Canadian Army regiment there and see if they will let me in to take photos of any of the original features that may be left.


  1. I saw this saddle on Craigslist and I thought of your blog. I wonder how old it is?


  2. Hard to say as the photo is a bit blurry and there are no close ups on the construction. the sheepskin looks like it has been added on later.
    It does have a wide flap, wider than what you see in this type of "catalog" saddle made later on in the 19th century. The wider flap would have been popular during the 1850's to 1870's when habits had very full skirts. The wide flap would have protected a full skirt. Flaps started getting a bit narrower later on in the Victorian era as habit skirts became narrower and then narrower still as the fitted apron evolved.

  3. Wow! How fascinating about the riding school in Quebec. I've read about another riding school similar to the one you described in New York. Apparently the horses lived on the 3 or 4th level of the building and were tacked up by grooms and then sent down a narrow hallway/runway from their floor down to the riding arena where the riders waited. I think there are some super neat pictures too.

  4. It would be cool if it were still a riding school. That would have been handy for me as Westmount wasn't that far away from where I lived. Instead I had to travel 2 hours to go riding on the bus and metro. I'm hoping if we go back to visit my family next summer, that I'm able to go in and take some photos. LOL, use my feminine charms on the army guys to let me in ;-)

  5. Definitely do it! And sneak lots of pictures for us too!

  6. Hello,

    I linked to your blog in a post I wrote recently about the area around the Mount Royal Riding Club. I wrote about a murder that took place on the street and was pleased to find your great post about the club.

    You can see my post here: http://dcmontreal.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/local-history-childhood-memories-and-murder/