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Gazette Editorial: LaFontaine mansion should be preserved

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--September 3, 2015.

Right now, the LaFontaine mansion isn’t much to look at.

Covered in graffiti, with boarded up windows and peeling paint, the house at 1395 Overdale Ave. seems more like a haven for squatters than a storied piece of Canadian history. But it is historic, and one of the last remaining structures attesting to this country’s turbulent journey toward democracy. As such, it merits protection, now more than ever, as buildings are erected around it.

The man for whom the home is named, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, is credited with establishing responsible government in Canada, along with his contemporary Robert Baldwin. His house was far more than just a residence. It served as a target of violent riots, a setting for vigorous political debate and even, according to scholar John Ralston Saul, the very “putting together of how Canada would become a democracy.” To see it gutted and repurposed as a high-end condominium, as some have proposed, would be unfortunate, indeed.

Heritage groups are calling on the city of Montreal to purchase the home and to come up with a plan, possibly in partnership with Ottawa or Quebec City, to turn it into a museum. Such a museum — if it were to make use of the latest technology and include modern, engaging exhibits — could draw tourists, locals, historians and even school groups interested in learning more about LaFontaine and his time as a pre-Confederation prime minister. True, it would require some investment at a time when public coffers are strained, but the window of opportunity to act is closing rapidly.

All three levels of government should work together to protect this important site. They have the power. All that seems to be missing is the political will.

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