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University Club of Montreal

Updated on November 24, 2016
University Club Logo blue enamel on gold pin
University Club Logo blue enamel on gold pin

A Brief History

This is one of the last remaining Clubs of it's kind in the city of Montreal. 2016

In 1906, some of Montreal's leading University graduates, including Stephen Leacock, Dr. John McCrae, and W. Graham Brown, launched a project to establish a university club that would become a gathering place for graduates of all universities.

I have had the distinct pleasure of working at this historic establishment; discovering its history, its accumulation of architecture, timeless pieces, and a century of artwork and literature donated by its members.

How I wish I could return to this cherished place. I just love the architecture and the history. It feels so warm and cozy!


My Favorite Place to Work

Working at the University Club of Montreal with my sister, who's been a host/captain for 19 years; and my brother in law, a sou-chef and chef for over 35 years: The days I worked there were the best months of my life.

Yes, it was hard work! The restaurant industry always is. YOU CAN NOT SIT DOWN until everyone in the banquet rooms have been served. It takes hours! And then there's the next course, the next wine, and dessert. Finally, two or three hours of coffee, or other,..

Even now, in 2015, I sometimes dream that I am back in that wonderful place, working with The fabulous people I worked with, in a place that is like a museum!


University Club of Montreal
University Club of Montreal

Historic Building

100 Years

In 1908 the first Club House opened in a three-story house. As membership increased, a larger Club House was required and a site for the new building was chosen, on the corner of Mansfield Street and President Kennedy Avenue, just a block down from the McGill Campus.

The new club was designed by professor of architecture, Percy Nobbs, who also designed eight buildings on the McGill Campus as well as some impressive interiors on campus. Some of his better known buildings in Montreal include the Student Union building, now the McCord Museum, the University Club on Mansfield, the Drummond Medical Building and the Birks Building.

From 1913 till today, the University Club that Percy Nobbs created is spacious, warm and personal in design and detail in every room, lobby or hallway ~unique furniture pieces, ornate fireplaces, brass railings, stained glass windows, heraldic ceilings and the grand stairway.

The Founding Members - McCrae Library

University Club of Montreal Library
University Club of Montreal Library

The McCrae Library has two arched windows with French-style doors facing the front of the building, and a full-size billiard table at its center which transforms into a large reading or dining table.

Among the Club's original members and founders was: Dr. John McCrae, who wrote the most famous of all war poems "In Flanders Fields". The Club's library is named for him and has a dedication to him on one of the libraries walls. (see the left side of the photo)

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Montreal - Restaurants & Activities Galore

Spring 2013 marks the launch of the new Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. Montreal's social calendar weilds the unveiling of the Grevin wax museum at the Eaton Centre, the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Place des Arts, and the new Point Zero hotel, owned by the eponymous fashion label.

Leacock Room

University Club's Leacock room
University Club's Leacock room

The large Leacock Room has multiple leather chairs, an ornate fireplace and bar, and three tall windows with French doors.

Perhaps no member has ever spent more time within the Club's walls as did Stephen Leacock ~teacher, political scientist, and humorist-author of over 50 publications. After his last lecture of the day in the McGill Arts Building, he would head for the Club and take to a big leather chair with his closest friends, Ren du Roure and John Culliton, drinking in the Club's atmosphere with stories and laughs.

Club House - The Main Lobby

UCM main lobby
UCM main lobby

The lobby's reception area is on the ground floor, as are the separate members, guests and staff coat rooms, dressing quarters, lounges, bathrooms and showers. The ground floor also houses the staff lunch room, the building's maintenance department, laundry room, storage, and an extensive wine cellar.

Over the mantel piece in the lobby is a relief map that recalls that the Club stands on the site of the Indian village of Hochelaga, the village visited in 1535 by Jacques Cartier. In 1797 Lt.-Colonel The Honorable James McGill (1744-1813), founder of McGill University, purchased Burnside Place, his summer home and farm, which is now the site of McGill University, as well as the University Club, in Montreal's Golden Square Mile.

The grand stairway
The grand stairway

The First Floor

At the top of the curved stairway on the first floor is an entrance hall or lobby. Percy Nobbs designed a specific table to fit in the curve of the brass railing along the top of the stairway. At the back of the entrance hall is a century-old wood and brass elevator and next to that behind the scenes is an extensive bar which leads and connects to a kitchen and service area along the side of the building through to the end of the Billiard room.

The Billiard Room

UCM Billiard room
UCM Billiard room

In the forefront of this photo is the University Room and beyond the columns is the vast Billiard Room. Together the two rooms plus the lobby, the Leacock Room and Library make quite a large party venue. Sometimes it's a business buffet, other times it's a wine and cheese tasting, or a wedding with an orchestra. The setting is grand, the food superb.

UCM Main dining room
UCM Main dining room

The Second Floor

What is special about the second floor? The main kitchen. The chef and the many cooks who create French & Canadian culinary masterpieces, French pastries, and out-of-this-world salads of every kind.

On this floor the Main Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from extensive a la carte or daily menus.The double doors to the kitchen service area on the right, and the open French doors to the second floor lobby on the left.

At the Top of the Stairway

Stained glass window displaying the names of members of UCM who were killed in the war
Stained glass window displaying the names of members of UCM who were killed in the war

The top of the Grand Stairway from the doorway of the Main Dining Room.The back wall is curved, like the stairway. So is the stained glass window displaying the names of all the members who were killed in the war. This work of art is difficult to capture in a photograph because it's back-lit. See the curving brass rail of the balcony at the top of the stairway in front of the elevator. There is no shortage of brass in this Club. Some brass is being polished on a daily basis. It's no small task to keep this House in order!

Carol Houle All Rights Reserved
Carol Houle All Rights Reserved

The Third Floor

The third floor isn't the top floor. There is another floor which is perhaps two thirds the size of the building. That floor can't be seen from the facade of the five story building because the front of the roof of the building is a terrace housing the fireplaces' chimneys, as well as the immense exhaust outlet from the main kitchen.

On the right of this photo is Hyde's Room. Only seats four. As does Stern's Room, off in the corner of the building with a window overlooking President Kennedy Avenue. It is said that Mr. Stern liked looking down this street from his telephone seat by the window. I have enjoyed that view myself on a couple of occasions.

The Wall

UCM Third floor hallway with the wall of names
UCM Third floor hallway with the wall of names

"The Wall" of names printed in gold ~at the back on the right of the photo: On that short list are the names of Club personnel who have worked at the University Club for 25 years or more. It's a weird sensation to look at the top names and wonder how different it must have been for the staff back then.

The Club members were all male back when, strolling in with long coats, top hats, white gloves and walking sticks. Female members have been included for some time now.

I have had the pleasure of working with the guys at the bottom of that gold list, and many others, who are still at the Club today; continuing to make it great!

The stairs from the second floor to the third floor rise in four sections and are adorned with decorative hand drawn images and maps of Montreal's beginnings. There are service stairs for the staff, but it occasionally happened when I was inexorably drawn to have a closer look at these works of art-history.

The Founders Room Annexes The Boardroom

UCM The Founder's room
UCM The Founder's room

This Founders room handles huge gatherings every day. Next to it is the Boardroom which opens its French doors for gatherings and drinks before a meal. It usually includes a bar and even a table of hors d'oeuvres, everything according to the members' preferences.

The Top Floor

I've only been there a couple of times, and not with my camera. There are offices for the Club's manager, chef and maitre d'hotel, as well as the members coordinator, accounting, purchasing, etc. There are also several bedroom suites available for traveling members of this non-profit organization.

University Club of Montreal
University Club of Montreal

Etiquette and Protocol

There is a great importance on manners, protocols and etiquette, at events, and functions, and also in more private situations. From basic common courtesies to an unwritten code of conduct, dress and service. Every staff member in the building has a uniform pertaining to his or her role in the establishment. Black jacket and tie for manager, maitre d, bartender and reception. White smocks and hats in the restaurant, red and blue for housekeeping and maintenance. Vests and ties for service.

But how do those hot dishes get to so many tables on three different floors? Dumbwaiters are small freight elevators (or lifts) intended to carry objects between multiple floors. The lifts at the Club join the first and third floor kitchens to the main kitchen on the second floor. There is a large one specifically for firewood, trash and laundry. The smallest runs through the building from the ground floor, the main bar on up through the kitchens to the top floor. No need to navigate the stairs with your cappuccino and risk spilling some on the carpets.

The tables must be formally set with fresh linen, polished silver, spotless wine glasses, a bread basket, a light or candle and flowers. Food dishes are served to the right of the member, removed from the left. There is also a dress code for members and guests in the main dining room, though I'm sure there always was since the University Club's very beginning.

UCM is the Oldest Social Club in Montreal

University Club of Montreal at Night
University Club of Montreal at Night
University Club events
University Club events
McGill University main entrance in winter.
McGill University main entrance in winter.
View of Montreal from the Clock Tower
View of Montreal from the Clock Tower

© 2013 Carol Houle

Guestbook Comments - Ever been inside this museum-like establishment?

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    • Sawilem profile image

      Sawilem 5 weeks ago

      The article is very useful and nice.

      Thanks in advance ,Carol

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Montreal used to be so close when we lived in Ottawa. We sometimes went for dinner there. Very thorough and well written Enjoyed reading your hub.

    • profile image

      DebW07 3 years ago

      Absolutely beautiful!

    • profile image

      Patou 4 years ago

      i have worked at this club. i do love it. this is the first time that its history and photoes become interesting.good job.

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 4 years ago

      Impressive and classy, but I live too far away for a visit...

    • profile image

      Sundaycoffee 4 years ago

      I've been living here for nearly 10 years and didn't know of this building. It looks absolutely beautiful.