The Abandoned Canada Malting Co. Limited Factory in Montreal

The derelict silos and buildings which were a part of the former maltage plant

photography by: Omri Westmark

Reading time:

In an era where cities evolve faster than ever before, even the largest of buildings that only a moment ago were economic behemoths can find themselves obsolete in the blink of an eye. That grim fate was exactly what turned one of Montreal’s most successful plants into a cluster of abandoned silos and rusty towers, known collectively as Canada Malting Co.

When looking at the decrepit complex along Saint Ambroise Street in Montreal’s Saint-Henri neighborhood, it is hard to imagine that only a few decades ago, the site was the epicenter of Quebec’s beer industry. Built in 1904 along the Lachine Canal, the Canada Malting Co. was, as its name might imply, an industrial facility where barley was germinated and then dried, eventually becoming malt, a staple ingredient in the production of beer, whiskey, vinegar and other products.

 

Designed by architect David Jerome Spence, the unrivaled centerpiece of the complex was a series of nine grain silos, whose exterior walls were cladded with terracotta clay tiles, effectively insulating its precious content. Additional 18 concrete silos were constructed to the east in 1940, increasing the factory’s annual output to more than 100,000 kilograms of malt. It was for this reason that breweries and distilleries across Montreal relied on the massive plant as their main source of malt.

 

Intriguingly, this malt-producing powerhouse owed much of its success to the strategic location along the Lachine Canal which bypassed the Lachine Rapids, thus linking the city with the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence River. In 1970, though, this crucial waterway was closed, forcing the owners to rely solely on trains to transport their yield. Sooner than later, the company deemed the complex uneconomical and in 1980, relocated the entire production line to a brand-new facility on Mill Street, further northward.

 

The site was then sold to Quonta Holding Ltd which used the silos as storehouses for corn and soy. That, however, didn’t last for long as in 1989, less than a decade later, the once mighty factory was abandoned for good. Since then, the place fell victim to the elements and vandalism, becoming more derelict with every day that passes.

 

In fact, it seems that no amount of security measures and fences has managed to thwart the frequent visits by urban explorers, for whom the site is regarded as the holy grail of decrepitude in Montreal. At the same time, the silos’ outer shell served as canvas for plucky taggers who wish to leave their mark, undeterred neither by the barbed wire nor by the sheer height. In fact, a few years ago, a pair of rooftop cabins turned cartoonish when a group of graffiti artists painted their exterior with bright colors of pink and red.

 

While parts of the complex are designated as protected buildings by local authorities, it is unlikely that the complex will be restored to its former glory anytime soon. Be that as it may, many Montrealers happen to revere the place at its current form, most notably artist Ian Langohr who in 2011, created a whimsical mask inspired by the rundown factory as a tribute to what he described as “a bizarre collage of industrial buildings”.