An Art Deco Skyscraper in the Heart of Old Québec
The Price Building is the only skyscraper within the walls of Old Québec. Its only competitor is the tower of the Château Frontenac. Its Art Deco architecture—similar to that of the Empire State Building in New York City—is a radical departure from the style of the other buildings in the area. In fact, its construction in 1929 sparked a heated debate on the need to preserve the distinct character of this part of the city.
On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the day of New York City’s famous stock market crash, the cornerstone of the Price Building was laid on rue Sainte-Anne, in the heart of Old Québec. The work was supervised by the Montréal architectural firm of Ross & Macdonald, which had made its mark by building the Royal Bank in Toronto, Canada’s tallest skyscraper at the time.
Price Brothers, Canada’s leading newsprint producer with 10,000 employees, particularly in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, where it owned enormous tracts of forest, backed this prestigious million-dollar project. In 1927 the company amassed revenues of $11 million and decided to move its headquarters to a location befitting its success.
A luxurious skyscraper
Rue Saint-Pierre, Québec City’s business district, was cramped, so for their innovative project, the company’s directors chose an uptown location. The 16-storey skyscraper (82 metres) was air-conditioned, and its stone walls were independent from the structural steel frame.
Despite the crash, the Prices went ahead with the project. The building went up so quickly that the limestone supplier in Saint-Marc-des-Carrières, not far from Québec City, could not keep up, and material had to be imported from Queenston, Ontario. Construction was completed in one year.
Discrete motifs are carved in the stone cladding—palm leaves, stylized flowers, and a few Aboriginal heads. The roof, like that of the Château Frontenac whose central tower was built five years earlier, is copper. Inside, the impressive entranceway with bronze doors opens on to a luxurious hall. The ceiling is embellished with gold leaves, and the walls are decorated with bas-reliefs illustrating the paper-making process. The presidential suite on the 14th floor has oak and mahogany panelling.
A controversial endeavour
The building was in the Art Deco style of New York City skyscrapers. It resembled the Chrysler Building constructed a few months earlier and the Empire State Building, whose construction began the same year. But in Québec City’s oldest district, this much modernity raised eyebrows. The buildings around the skyscraper rarely had more than four or five storeys. The city’s urban planning and conservation commission opposed the project. Unsuccessfully.
The new building contrasted so dramatically with the surrounding buildings that the debate continued even after it was constructed. This resulted in the first bylaws to preserve Old Québec’s unique cachet. In 1937 the city prohibited buildings over 65 feet (20 metres) in this part of the city.
A legacy that is much appreciated today
It is said that time heals all wounds. Today many consider the Price Building a paradigm of integration with the surrounding environment, mainly for its architectural nods to the Château Frontenac. It stands among the city’s loveliest buildings, so much so that in 2008 the city used LED technology so that the building’s distinctive silhouette would light the sky every night.
Contemporary use and a tribute in stone
In 1983 Ville de Québec acquired the building for office space. It was later bought by the real estate subsidiary of Québec’s public pension fund management company. In 2005 an extra floor was added (without changing the building’s exterior appearance) as the Premier of Québec’s official residence.
Note the monument entitled L’Homme-Rivière between the Price Building and the adjacent building, depicting a log driver hard at work. This 2002 sculpture pays tribute to the Price family and the work of its numerous employees.
This beautiful workspace is a wonderful representation of the period when the Price Building was built.