Journal of Canadian Art History / Annales d'histoire de l'art canadien


Vol. XIII:2 / Vol. XIV:1 (1991)


Ernest Cormier et l'Université de Montréal / Ernest Cormier and the Université de Montréal

translated summary:
Ernest Cormier and the Université de Montréal

Ernest Cormier (1885–1980) was an extraordinary figure of his time. As an architect and engineer personally involved in every aspect of the art and science of architecture he worked at the cutting edge of technology, making powerful buildings based on an innovative vocabulary and syntax of architectural forms. This was the first major exhibition devoted to the work of Ernest Cormier – drawn from Cormier's archive which came to the Canadian Centre for Architecture in the six years following Cormier's death in 1980. It focused on one of Cormier's masterworks – the Universite de Montreal, built high on the north west slope of Mount Royal between 1928 and 1943 – and situated the architect and his work within the context of international thought where European and North American cultural and architectural ideas converged.

The Architecture of the Montreal Teaching Hospitals of the Nineteenth Century

Our pedestrian understanding of the hospital is that it is a place to turn for assistance for our bodies and minds. The hospital of today, in symbolic terms, brings to mind images of corridors and beds saturated in whiteness and light, instruments of technology, and a purifying and redeeming antisepticness. In another sense, however, the hospital can symbolize despair. At worst, it is a site of distance, desolation and ultimate detachment of body and soul.

L'architecture hospitalo-universitaire
Le tournant des années 20

translated summary:
Teaching Hospital Architecture
The Watershed of the Twenties

This article will examine the genesis and development of a new building type that brought a medical school and a university hospital together within a single structure. Ernest Cormier was actually one of the first to employ this type of complex when, in 1927, he chose the "compact plan" option for the main pavilion of the Université de Montréal. Most of the examples referred to are American and were among those which the Rockefeller Foundation recommended to Cormier and to the Université de Montréal professors.

Ernest Cormier, un grand professionnel

translated summary:
Ernest Cormier, An Exceptional Professional

This article focuses on Ernest Cormier's professional life in order to elucidate why this exceptional architect did not gain widespread acceptance in Quebec, despite his remarkable career and training in architecture and engineering. Moreover, why did he not exercise decisive influence over the development of modern local architecture, as historians then and now have noted, although he was acknowledged to have designed the first truly modern public building in Quebec? To answer these questions, we must examine Cormier's position in the realm of Quebec architecture and, in particular, his role within the profession. The study centres on Cormier's activities as a member of the Association des Architectes de la Province de Québec (AAPQ), and his contribution to educating architects in his capacity as a teacher and agency head during the 1920s and 1930s, when the main building of the Université de Montréal was designed and built.

The Rediscovery of Art in Healing
Current Issues in University Hospital Design

I would like to take a number of seemingly unrelated threads and weave them together to show their relation in the overall texture of a changing trend in hospital architecture, particularly the architecture of the university hospital. To our amazement we will discover that these threads, apparently totally divergent, seem to mesh in a strange way in Cormier's University of Montreal buildings. They have a new meaning for us today, a meaning that in the past we had overlooked and, as so often occurs in history, we do not see these connections until quite later. We witnessed Modern architecture emerging like Aphrodite out of a sea of confusion, as if unconnected to the past other than through the accident of its birth. We confined architecture to the International Modern style, sanctified by its historians such as Siegfried Gideon. It is only today that we have again recognized its connection with the past. We suddenly see the threads of this Modern movement reaching beyond this confinement and we rediscover such architects as Hugo Hàring and the Russian Constructivists whose works connect to earlier strains and continue a historic relation in architecture that seems to have been discontinued in Modern architecture. In this way we rediscover Cormier's work and see in it these connections to the past but also a direction into the future, a different one than that sanctified by the International Modern.

Ernest Cormier and European Culture
The Influence of French Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Architecture and Theory on Cormier's Designs for the Université de Montréal

In the March 1930 issue of La revue moderne, Henri Girard called Ernest Cormier (1885–1980) "le premier architecte qui a eu le courage de présenter au public montréalais un plan d'édifice moderne." The reinforced concrete construction, the clear articulation of simple forms, the monumental scale and the total integration of ornament with structure in Ernest Cormier's 1927 project for the Université de Montréal indicate that he was one of the advocates of progressive trends in contemporary architecture. Isabelle Gournay has perceptively noted that Cormier's 1927 design for this teaching hospital and university complex represents a synthesis of the traditions of French Classical and North-American architecture. She has observed that the 1927 plan of the Université de Montréal, with its progression of cour d'honneur, vestibule d'honneur, pavilions and wings, reveals Cormier's debt to European seventeenth-and eighteenth-century architecture. Through its site at the summit of Mount Royal, its symmetrical plan and hierarchical massing, the Université de Montréal alludes to the symbolism of the villa, château, monastery and hospital.

1418, Avenue des Pins, la maison Ernest Cormier and the European Context
La revue Vie des Arts et sa contribution au discours sur les arts visuels au Québec dans les années 1950 et 1960

In September of 1930 Ernest Cormier purchased the parcel of land from the Estate of George C. Hague that was to be the site of his own home. He was forty-five years of age, and had in the previous decade established a formidable career and public persona as an architect and civil engineer, exhibiting watercolorist and sculptor.

Apart from his more public persona, there was also Cormier the private man. Cormier's first wife, Berthe Leduc, died in 1918. In the following years when he was establishing his career as architect-engineer-artist, Cormier met Clorinthe Perron with whom he began a lifelong relationship. Clorinthe Perron and her sister Cécile had worked as artists' models for Cormier and his friends Henri Hébert, the sculptor and his brother Adrien Hébert, the painter. While suitable as a companion in the context of the private and artistic lives shared with his friends, at that time Clorinthe Perron was not considered an acceptable wife for the son of a socially-prominent physician whose career as architect-engineer brought him into contact with the established patrons of the ecclesiastical, educational and civic structures he was then building. While the artistic facet of Cormier's life was discussed in the press, as a means of complementing his career as an engineer and Beaux-Arts-trained architect, his personal life was kept from public view. Officially, Mrs. Cormier, i.e. Berthe Leduc, had died in 1918, and there was no second Mrs. Cormier.

L'œuvre d'Alfred Laliberté et les idéologies nationalistes

translated summary:
The Work of Alfred Laliberté and Nationalist Ideologies

We are seeking to delineate the impact of various nationalist movements and movements centered on a return to rural values on the work of Alfred Laliberté. However, we will not attempt to review the economic and social history of the period during which the sculptor worked, as the topic goes far beyond the scope of this study. Instead, we will endeavour to understand Laliberté's work and the ideologies it transmitted.

Entre l'érable et le laurier (avec mes hommages à Paul Morin)

translated summary:
'Twixt the Maple and the Laurel
(With Apologies to Paul Morin)

The title of this article, drawn from the last verse of a poem by Canadian symbolist poet Paul Morin, seeks to provide an ideological context for Ernest Cormier's output. The Université de Montréal, Cormier's major work, satisfied the expectations of French-speaking Quebec intellectuals who were seeking, against a nationalist backdrop, to produce a work which would place them in a complex post-colonial relationship with France, while endeavouring to confirm their adoption of modernity.

Ernest Cormier et la modernité en architecture
Commentaire sur les communications

translated summary:
Ernest Cormier and modernity in architecture
Comment on communications

For those seeking modernity, Ernest Cormier, the man and his work, are not easy to identify. What can reveal personality, social background, professional affiliations, works? The issue is essential for the analysis of modernity's great architect.