Point St. Charles / Pointe Saint-Charles

Patricia and I bought a duplex in the Point St. Charles (Pointe Saint-Charles, in French) district of Montreal and moved in on October 1, 2010. The building dates from 1893, according to the elegantly handwritten first deed I picked up from the notary. The building, which is attached on both sides, suffers from a pinkish brick front that covers the original exterior of honest red brick. The side and rear walls’ deterioration is masked with vinyl siding but betrayed by a slight outward bowing. The foundation is stone and about 20 inches thick, and there is no footing. The height of the basement varies from about 5′ 8″ to 6′ 2″ and the basement floor is about 1 1/2″ of rough concrete poured directly on grade (on the earth). Few improvements or changes have been made to the building in the last hundred years or so. By and large, that’s good. No one has ruined structure to run plumbing or electrical cables, for example. Still, it is old. Beams are cracked and twisted, joists are split, the floors have sunk, and the plaster is falling off the lath.

The yard is a no-man’s-land of weeds, mislaid patio stones, old bricks, and howling cats. Neither floor has a modern bathroom. Instead, there’s a tiny WC and a separate, tacked-on shower room. On the door of the first-floor WC, someone has attached a sign with a plastic Mannekin Pis endlessly relieving himself at eye level. Upstairs, a brass plaque on the WC door declares “HEAD.” This particular head isn’t very thoughtful. It’s so small that I can’t lean forward on the toilet. I have to open the door and grab the door frame to stand up. The upstairs walls have been beautified with stucco popcorn, textured paint, and fake brick. The roof needs new skylights and flashing. Nonetheless, it has–as real estates agents say–great potential. We’ll see. 

“The New Point” will share the experience of renovating this old building with next to no budget, and as few contractors as possible. It will also share the experience of living in The Point and will wander off track when we want it to.

About Terence Byrnes

Terence Byrnes is a writer and photographer who teaches at Concordia University in Montreal. Visit www.terencebyrnes.com to see his photography.
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