What exactly does it take for us to decide to protect heritage in Quebec?
This is the question that arises when we learn of the recent sale of the historic Chevalier house, this superb heritage complex that borders the ruelle des Parapluie, in the heart of Place-Royale, in Old Quebec.
What is called the Chevalier house is in fact made up of three residences: the first, which gave its name to the place, was built in 1752, ravaged by flames and then rebuilt in 1762. The other two date from 1675 and from 1695. The set was sold to Gestion 1608, the real estate arm of the Tanguay Group, owner of Ameublement Tanguay, whose head office straight out of Las Vegas with its mirrored storefront is visible when driving on Highway 40 , in Quebec.
Until 2015, the Maison Chevalier offered exhibitions organized by the Musée de la civilization, owner of the building and responsible for programming.
But in recent years, only the vaults were accessible to the public, who could attend cultural activities.
How did we get there ? How can we let one of the cornerstones of the “cradle of French America” go to a private company?
We are told that originally, it was the Liberal government that imposed budget cuts on the Ministry of Culture and authorized the sale of Maison Chevalier. After several approaches with public bodies and NPOs, the Musée de la civilization, which was responsible for the sale, finally turned to the private sector.
The Tanguay family, which is also a shareholder of the Capitole in Old Quebec, intends to install the head office of Gestion 1608 in the Chevalier house.
They want to reassure us by insisting that the emblematic building will always be subject to the law on cultural heritage. But that’s not really where the shoe pinches.
What is distressing about this sale is that a public good of such quality passes into the hands of the private sector, which will now decide whether or not it allows access to the place. And who will define the terms.
Let’s be realistic, yes, heritage is expensive. And no, we will not be arguing for the purchase of all the heritage buildings in the province. But we are not talking here of an obscure shack of questionable interest. We are talking about a heritage gem whose value and richness are unanimous among experts. A privileged place to tell the national history so dear to the Caquist government.
Ironically, it was under Maurice Duplessis (yes, him again!), In 1956, that the law was amended to allow the Commission des monuments historique to expropriate the owner of the Chevalier house. A strong political gesture which then made it possible to promote Place-Royale.
For 65 years, the Quebec government has invested considerable sums to maintain this building valued at 2.2 million. The value of the transaction is not yet known, but it should be around this amount.
It is an understatement to say that in this story, Quebec taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth.
It is all the more disappointing that the Legault government is preparing to invest more than $ 200 million in a network of blue spaces supposed to showcase our national heritage in 17 regions of Quebec.
There is therefore a cognitive dissonance between the government’s current discourse on national pride and the sale of Maison Chevalier. This building must remain in the bosom of the Quebec state. And if the private sector has the protection of heritage at heart, nothing prevents it from making a donation to ensure its conservation.
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