The Darling Foundry: Once Heart of Industry Now Home to Artists

In the mythical Griffintown, just south of downtown Montreal, there lies a fortuitous space for contemporary art. Part gallery and part studio, the Darling Foundry is well known in art circles around the city – its history, however, remains somewhat obscure.

This sector of the island of Montreal really began thriving during the industrial revolution, in the first half of the 1800s, which transformed our beautiful city into Canada’s main industrial metropolis. With major construction projects in the shipyards and the opening of the Lachine Canal,  industry generated huge demand for metal to use in the building of  machinery, ships and a railway between Montreal and Lachine. This demand pushed the Darling brothers to jump into the foundry business.

In 1880, the first phase of their foundry was built at the corner of Prince and Ottawa Streets. With the business in full swing, the Darling Foundry expanded multiple times from 1888 to 1918, eventually reaching its full four-building complex, each serving different purposes of the foundry process. At this point in time, the Darling Foundry was the second biggest foundry in Montreal, and until the 1970s, the Griffintown complex was at full capacity, mainly producing machinery and employing up to 800 people.

The Darling Foundry back in the day - photo courtesy of the Darling Foundry

However, following the decline of the industry in this sector of Montreal (mainly caused by the closure of the Lachine Canal in 1970) as well as in Canada generally, the Darling Foundry was sold to the Pumps & Softener Company in 1971. The factory’s buildings officially closed their doors in 1991 and sunk into despair for 10 years.

Around the same time the Darling Foundry was abandoned, the Quartier Éphémère Association was born from the cooperation between a French and Quebecois art association. The new association managed to convince the city to lend them an abandoned warehouse for free, in exchange for its use and reparation. Quartier Éphémère ended up moving into 16 Prince Street in 1994.

In 1995, Quartier Éphémère expanded to its current size, adding another building from the old Darling Foundry complex, which includes another gallery and production studios for artists. It took a few years, however, to get proper financing for the renovations of both buildings. The first phase was opened in 2002, and the second phase was opened in 2006 after the budget was unlocked in 2003.

The Small Gallery - Photo courtesy of the Darling Foundry

This is where Darling Foundry stands out among Montreal’s long list of art galleries: not only does it feature two beautifully renovated galleries available for art shows, product launches and everything in between, but the Foundry actually hosts artists for extended periods of time. In other words, artists from around the world actually live in studios at the Darling Foundry in a space reserved for “exchange artists.” The Darling Foundry regularly houses contemporary artists from Australia, India, France and the Americas (excluding Quebec) for various lengths of time, while providing studios for local artists at a small cost. This stimulates a very dynamic environment for the artists to continue to be creative and innovative while simultaneously exhibiting their art in the gallery.

Be on the lookout for shows on their website, and if you are looking for a studio, you can apply for one at the Foundry here. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait, as the next call for studios is in 2015. In the meantime, there’s plenty of art to go around.

Photos courtesy of the Darling Foundry.