Skip to content

From Olympic grandeur to fish hut ingenuity

A couple of weeks ago the Laurentian School of Architecture held an auction; for fish huts. I can’t tell you much about it because as of this writing it hasn’t actually happened.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

A couple of weeks ago the Laurentian School of Architecture held an auction; for fish huts. 

I can’t tell you much about it because as of this writing it hasn’t actually happened. As I don’t fish and have cut back on the amount of liquor I consume at any one time, on ice or anywhere else, I don’t believe I will buy one. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important to me.

I got my first view of these Northern icons at the school’s open house in December. They were models of what was to come. I was astonished at how creative one can be with a fish hut. 

The one I liked best had a revolving roof that could open up on a sunny day. A poor man’s Rogers Skydome. I don’t know if it eventually got made.

Often what looks great in theory is impossible to build or to build in time for an auction much less for the money contemplated. I call those dreamy beautiful white elephants MOS’s for Montreal Olympic Stadium. 

The Montreal Olympic Stadium was built not far from where I was born in the east end of Montreal. I used to go in soapbox derby races as a seven-year-old crashing down the hill from Sherbrooke to Hochelaga right where the MOS was built.

The original budget for the stadium was $134 million. It topped out at $1.6 billion, requiring a special Quebec cigarette tax for 30 years to pay for it. For many years, whether you were attending the annual auto show or a Montreal Expos baseball game, you had to dodge falling cement from the stadium’s unique Montreal Tower (the tallest inclined tower in the world at 175 metres) or avoid snow falling through the ripped roof (it rips between 50 and 60 times a year).

It can now only be used in the winter if there is less than eight centimetres of snow which is still out of reach in Montreal, notwithstanding global warming. The truth is it looked beautiful on paper and even better as a model. 

More importantly, it connected with Montreal’s famous mayor, Jean Drapeau, who was looking for something to top his 1967 World Expo extravaganza which had taken the world by storm. It arrived 11 years late.

It is one of the worst architectural disasters in history. What if Roger Taillibert, the Parisbased architect who imagined this boondoggle, had started with a fish hut? He might have been rooted not only in grandeur and ego but practicality and reality. In another part of the forest, many of you who have travelled to Europe will know of Sagrada Familia, the famous Roman Catholic church in Barcelona.

It springs from the imagination of architect Antoni Gaudi. The project was begun in 1882 and the hope is to finish it by 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.

It is an extraordinary undertaking and perhaps one of the most wonderful examples of the journey and not the destination being the point. Can you imagine anything in North America taking 100 years to build? It is spectacular, absurd and fantastic.

The seeds for the Laurentian School of Architecture were sown in Chapleau. David Robinson, our colleague at Northern Ontario Business and a professor of economics at Laurentian, was asked by six small municipalities to consider the plight of the collapse of the forestry industry in their communities. 

He did so and produced a detailed report. In part, it suggested a school of industrial design so that Northern Ontario could focus on looking at wood as something more than board feet and pulp.

Soon enough that morphed into a plan for a school of architecture and the community willed it to be so. You cannot control your future if you cannot imagine it. Our new school is going to have an extraordinary impact on the future of Northern Ontario.

If you would like to see the influences Terrance Galvin, the founding director of the school, is bringing to Northern Ontario, Google Laurentian School of Architecture (it has its own website) and do two things. First, watch the video of the lecture series of architects coming to the school to impart their wisdom. Second, read the bios of the professors.

This is how you build a proactive culture. This is how you build a fish hut.