Canada Research Chair in Built Religious Heritage

Blason de l'Université Laval

Research Chair

in Built
Religious Heritage

Research Themes

In a manner of speaking, the term “heritage” refers to everything a society produces and leaves to succeeding generations. Everything that surrounds us, all human institutions, all of the landscapes that humanity has modified, all of the movable and immovable property that people have manufactured and built over the millennia in any single place comprise the considerable heritage we have inherited from our predecessors.

Contrary to the all too typical reflex of isolating works and objects from their respective contexts, we at the Chair attempt to comprehend the relationships that exist between them. We consider the immediate environment to which they belong, in which they stand, and the circumstances of their production. We seek to explain the ways people inhabit, appropriate, and abandon spaces. In effect, we question the built environment to learn who we have been, who we are and who we wish to become. Our research encompasses extraordinary buildings and landscapes officially recognised as heritage or architectural monuments in addition to ordinary, everyday spaces.

Over the years, the Chair’s research programme has addressed three general themes.


Religious imprints on the built environment

0e99815a7f In Quebec, as elsewhere in Canada and the United States, Churches and religious communities greatly influenced the built environment in the localities in which they established themselves. They built and occupied a wide range of edifices; they acquired and exploited considerable real estate. In spite of the perceived decline in religious practice among certain faith groups, people continue to build according to their religious inclinations, their worldviews. Others, however, give away or sell off the structures and properties they deem redundant. New owners subsequently adapt the buildings and sites to better conform to their specific needs or simply demolish existing structures to make way for new construction projects. In addition to documenting and elucidating the evolution of “religious landscapes” in all of their complexity, be they Catholic or of another religious group, we analyse historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects in order to learn from these precedents and to propose alternative solutions in ways that extend the life of the physical structures and the tangible and intangible values associated with the sites.

Village and Small Town Centers

DSC_0379-1The vitality of modest municipalities located on the peripheries and in the hinterland of the province of Québec is worrisome. The exodus of youth towards larger urban centers, the aging of the population remaining in place, the arrival of former city-dwellers and the settlement of new immigrants to Canada inevitably affect a community’s social and economic dynamics. The importance and significance of local heritage for the collectivity is unsurprisingly contested, sometimes leading to conflict over its values and the financial and human investments required to preserve it. Nevertheless, each successive wave of ethno-religious groups has left its trace on the land: by demarcating their respective parish boundaries, by erecting house of worship, cemeteries and parochial schools. The borders between denominations, however, appear quite elastic and permeable, in retrospect. Every collaboration with a locality brings new perspectives to preserving and interpreting Québec rural local memory sites. Each case study sheds light on the rich and varying ways of expressing faith, religious belief through material culture and the sacralisation of landscapes.

First Nations’ Historic and Contemporary Built Environment and Cultural Landscapes

DSC_0112In their quest to “civilise Indians,” Churches and the State frequently undermined First Nation peoples’ traditions. By imposing foreign ways of being and of building, they effectively handicapped Natives’ abilities to express their worldviews in material form. Today, rapid population growth is putting enormous pressures on public infrastructures and housing stock. Additions to existing reservations and villages call for the design of new educational, administrative and cultural buildings in addition to new housing sensitive to the sustainable and healthy development of Native communities. Important lessons can be learned from rigorous examination of reliable histories of the planning and construction of reservations as a built world. Comparisons between reservations and neighbouring White villages and towns, where a significant number of Natives live, reveal surprising similarities as well as important differences that can illuminate architects and urban designers, government and tribal agencies and band members about past and current practices. Finally, subtle understandings of the evolution of Native built environments and their current states serve as a springboard towards innovation of new architectural and urban forms and amelioration of collaborative working relationships with a goal to create and inhabit spaces that incarnate Native spirituality and values while also sustaining economic prosperity and collective wellbeing.

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Chair's Holder : Tania Martin |