Words & Photography: Sarah Boumedda
With its imposing red brick walls and forest green motifs, it’s hard to miss the former mansion on downtown Drummond Street that houses the Consulate General of Italy.
The history of this architectural gem is still foggy in places, but intriguing in others.
View of the Consulate General of Italy in Montreal, from Docteur Penfield Avenue. The flags of Italy (left) and the European Union (right) frame the northern entrance of the building.
“The building was built in 1898,” said Lorenzo Solinas, Consul of Italy, during The City’s visit. “The building was built as a private property. It was the home of a wealthy family, as you can see, especially from outside.”
View of the first floor of the Consulate, past the main hallway. The building, previously a private home, went through many changes to fit the needs of the Consulate.
However, it seems like the current owners of the building aren’t so familiar with its first owners. “I’ve looked for documents, archives. What we know is more the tale of legends, more or less,” said Solinas with a chuckle. “We know it was [owned by] a wealthy family, probably of Scottish descent, or Irish.”
The staircase of the Consulate, right at its center, leading to the house’s second floor.
According to Solinas, the house might also have hosted Irish writer Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. “Legend says that Bram Stoker spent some time here, with his relatives that lived [in the house],” he said. “There are stories of an affair with a maid, and stuff like that.”
In fact, prominent investment broker Capt. Tom Thornley McGillycuddy Stoker, a nephew of the author, lived in the house until 1937, when he drowned in the East River during a visit to New York City.
Detail of the staircase’s wooden railing. Despite the changes, many original elements of the building’s architecture were kept intact, giving it a unique, authentic look.
The building has retained a lot of its original character: the woodwork of the massive staircase, taking up most of the space at the core of the house; the wooden frames of the doors; even the intricately detailed alcoves in some of the main rooms of the house, notably the Consul General’s office. Despite its modern offices now dominating the space, the architecture of the building still retains its distinctively historical quality.
View of the second floor of the Consulate General of Italy.
In fact, the Consulate’s history with the building is far more recent. Solinas explained that the Italian government took possession of the building in 1972, buying it from McGill University. According to the University’s records, the house was under the Student’s Housing Corporation’s jurisdiction.
Lorenzo Solinas, Consul of Italy (R), stands in the office of the Consul General of Italy, currently vacant.
“In 1972, when we bought the building, we have done some work,” Solinas said. “We had to turn it into a building fit to provide our services. It wasn’t so easy, considering it was very different from what [we had] planned.”
Various medals and coats of arms on display in the Consul General’s office.
Most of the rooms have been turned into offices in order to accommodate the Consulate’s needs. According to Solinas, the main services the Consulate offers relate to bureaucracy: passports, visas, official papers, and such.
Detail of the entrance gate of the Consulate General of Italy in Montreal, from Drummond St.
But most of the changes were made from the inside, the Consul explained. “That was the last time we made major changes to the building. If you see pictures from the 1970’s, you’ll see that it’s almost identical to what it is today.” With one look at the Consulate, it is easy to see the truth to Solinas’ words.