One of the most spectacular structures in Montreal’s Saint-Henri neighborhood looks like a supervillain’s lair. Dozens of tightly-packed silos form a massive wall, flanked by two derelict towers. The Canada Malting Silos have been described as a “cathedral of industry.” For Montreal’s urban explorers and graffiti artists, they’re more of a Mount Everest.
The silos’ resemblance to a pack of beer cans is entirely appropriate, as Canada Malting was once a key supplier to many distilleries and breweries. Built in 1905, its first 11 silos were insulated with terracotta tiles. The factory’s capacity doubled in 1963 with the addition of 18 concrete silos, which were used to store barley. At its peak, the plant produced an enormous 250,000 pounds (110,000 kilograms) of malt per year.
Built to take advantage of the Lachine Canal, the factory’s fortunes have been closely tied to shifts in transportation. When the canal closed to shipping in 1970, Canada Malting was forced to transport its product by rail. Soon afterwards the company moved to a new factory elsewhere in Montreal, and the silos were repurposed to store soya and corn. They were abandoned again in 1989, when the Canadian National Railway ceased servicing the area.
Today, the Canada Malting Silos are one of the most prominent remnants of Saint-Henri’s grittier, grimier past. The Lachine Canal has been transformed into a National Historic Site, landscaped with park benches and bike paths. Saint-Henri is bustling with hip restaurants and bars, including one right in the shadow of the silos. There’s also a brewery just down the street, though it gets its malt elsewhere.
Despite being fenced off, the vacant factory has attracted street artists for decades. Many have climbed to vertigo-inducing heights to leave their mark – notice the enormous faded flower on the sheer brick tower. But few of these stunts have been as brazen as in September 2019, when anonymous artists transformed two sheds atop the tower into bright pink and red cabins, complete with shutters, curtains, and flower boxes in the windows. A few months later, one was decked out with a Christmas tree.
Oh, and this isn’t the silos’ first brush with kitsch—several scenes from the notorious box-office flop Battlefield Earth were filmed inside.
Know Before You Go
The site is barricaded from visitors, but can be easily viewed from the Lachine Canal bike paths or St. Ambroise Street.