Written by Ninja IXLocated on the northern bank of the Lachine canal in the former industrial heart of St. Henri in Montreal stands the historical Canada Malting Complex. In 1902 the Canada Malting Company Limited was established and in 1904 they constructed this building, which at the time was the largest modern malt-house in North America. The location of the building on the canal was imperative as the barley shipped from the prairies to the port of Montreal was then transported by barge to the plant. Malting is the process of sorting, cleaning, and germinating grains by soaking them, followed by kiln drying which halts the germination process. Starches are converted to sugars and the malted grain can then be used to make beer and other products. Although most of the equipment has been removed, all of these steps once took place on site. Barley was transported from barges to the 'work houses' located at the top of the silos using conveyor belts. The grain was poured into small holes using hoppers and was stored until it could be malted and then distributed to the local breweries.
iPhone maps aerial screenshot
Designed by David Jerome Spence, this building has many interesting architectural features including the use of terra cotta tiles which were hollow and made of baked clay which surrounded the original nine silos. The tiles were light and helped to reduce the risk of fire and were also insulating to hot and cold. The building was also equipped with a 'Humphrey Man Lift,' an elevating system for workers which was fast, efficient, and occupied only a small space.
In the 1940s the plant was expanded and new concrete silos were constructed. In the 1960s a receiving plant was built at the port of Montreal for grain storage. In the 1970s the closing of the Lachine canal began the demise of Canada Malt as an active building. Grains were subsequently transported by train, however this method was expensive and inefficient. The plant became technologically outdated and unable to keep up with demand and closed in the early 1980s, relocating its operation to the port of Montreal. The building was sold to Quonta Holding Ltd. for $500,000 and used for soya and corn storage until the discontinuation of the CN rail line to the area and by the late 1980s, the building was abandoned.
The photo above, taken by Spek of explorationurbaine.ca in 1996, captured the first large piece of graffiti on the building. SAIKO painted his name atop of the exterior, sparking a procession of visitors that continues to this day. SAIKO began the love affair of urban explorers, graffiti artists, vandals and locals with this historical site which has been crumbling into ruin even since. Much like the grains that transformed through the germination process, this building has seen its own transformation over the years and now sits in a state of disrepair and decay. On a cold day in February of 2013, Jerm and I met with fellow explorer Nel58 and set our sights on Malt. Gaining entry is always a creative endeavour and this day was no exception. Nel58 is no stranger to Malt, she has explored it extensively over the years and knows the ins and outs of the building. She recounted the ongoing “friendly war” with the welder who is responsible for sealing up entry ways that continue to disappear and reappear at a fast rate. The ad hoc nature of these repairs cannot be understated. The effect is one of unintentional artistic expression.
On this day we won the war.
We wiggled up into a silo and perched on some wooden planks installed by previous explorers for comfort and utility due to the funnelling effect. Our whispers were magnified into gargantuan echoes bouncing off the high cement walls which sparkled under the rays of our flash lights. A hole at the very top where hoppers once poured grain into the silo, let in a minute amount of light which illuminated the expansiveness of the space.
Crawling, ducking, squeezing, descending.
Illuminating darkness, treading carefully.
Gripping, climbing, pulling, emerging.
Emerging and rising to our feet in the inner courtyard of the complex. This was an exciting and triumphant moment.
We could not have asked for a more experienced guide than Nel58, who seemed to know every square inch of the complex and seamlessly navigated us through the labyrinth of rooms, warning us of every potential hazard.
Our exploration took us in an upward trajectory which became progressively hazardous. Missing, broken and half stairs and rotting floors required extreme caution and an acute awareness of one's surroundings and position in space. We looked back over the terrain we had succeeded in climbing like proud mountaineers. A raccoon walked by nonchalantly, seemingly unaware of the danger of this perilous environment.
Into darkness, we ascended a narrow spiral staircase that came to an abrupt end. We then continued upward using stairs and ladders until we reached the most ominous makeshift ladder that would make any adventurous explorer squirm: it was evidently made of three different metal ladders which had been welded together. The incline was steep and it hung over a dark abyss. At the base of the ladder, a tenuous glance upward revealed circles cut from the floors, this must have once been the site of the Humphrey Man elevator, we agreed. With Nel58 leading the way without so much as a flinch, a deep breath was taken and one careful step followed the next. Emerging from the first circular cut out, the perilous ascent was rewarded upon entering the workhouses at the top of the silos. Like tongues, long conveyor belts run along the length of the room, from the mouths of machines. Nel58 warned of the many holes where grains once poured into the tops of the silos. She shined her light into the silo we had previously climbed into, revealing the wooden planks deep within. We took the final ascent up a series of catwalks until we reached what felt like the top of the world. We looked out over the city of Montreal, and the old Canada Malt plant, in all its crumbing glory.
Special thanks to our friend and guide Nel58. Geo Klein Boat Co. and Incinérateur Dickson were also explored on this trip.