At its 2011 conference titled "Ways of Memory: the Montreal Experience," held at Concordia University, architect and heritage activist Michael Fish was presented by QAHN with a special lifetime achievement award, in recognition of his long-term efforts to preserve Montreal’s built heritage, efforts which date back to the early 1970s.
QAHN president Kevin O’Donnell made the presentation and there was a standing ovation in the room as Michael Fish accepted it. Fish has been defending built heritage in Montreal for almost 40 years. He is noted for being instrumental in protecting the Windsor Train Station and for being a founder of Friends of Windsor Station. He also helped found Save Montreal, which has worked with Heritage Montreal and other groups to protect historically relevant sites such as the Redpath Mansion and to raise awareness about the importance of cherishing our past. As recently as February 2011, Fish was standing in solidarity outside the LaFontaine Mansion as part of a student-organized peaceful advocacy for the preservation of the building.
In his acceptance speech, Fish said: “A lot of historians want to sit back and chronicle, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t be afraid to be engaged. Stand on the corner next to the guy with the picket sign.”
Fish also stirred up the room a bit by saying that Mayor Drapeau had been a great conservationist. He explained that the former mayor of Montreal wanted to protect double the area of Old Montreal when he was in office but the business community wouldn’t hear of it. “He prevented the Ville Marie expressway from running along the harbour,” Fish went on in his defence of Drapeau. “He did all he could when no one would support him.” After his speech, he told QAHN that he was very flattered to receive the award. “It’s not so much the award as the spirit in which it is given,” Fish said. “I’m just a soldier marching along with a very good troupe of people that do the same thing I do,” he added.
When asked if he thought of himself as an activist he had this to say; “Depends what you mean by activist. I’ve always considered myself a pragmatist. I was as much in the development business as I was in the business of picketing with a sign to save a building. I never figured that any property owner should be penalized because somebody was asking him to save his building. And I never tried to save a building without making sure that it would make money. Am I an activist? I dunno. You have to learn a bit about writing if you’re going to do anything, so I consider myself, to a certain extent, a pamphleteer.”