The decision to annex the Town of Saint-Louis to Montreal was made during the summer of 1908; it would come into effect on January 1, 1910. Mayor Napoléon Turcot decided to use the last months of independence to provide the residents of what would soon become Laurier Ward with one last major civic accomplishment, apart from the Saint-Laurent Boulevard underpass: a public bathhouse. He announced his plans at a town council meeting held on August 18, 1908. It was a necessary public health measure, he said, one which would benefit the working-class population, “given the great number of homes without bathtubs.” This new, unexpected public expenditure surprised the town councillors, especially since Saint-Louis was heavily in debt. Turcot assured them: “The project won’t be that expensive, given the coming annexation,” implying that Montreal would absorb the costs.
The Turcot bathhouse on Saint-Dominique Street opened in October 1910. Designed by architect Zotique Trudel, the bathhouse has a Beaux-Arts façade with an oversized oculus window, like a grand theatre. As such, the building is quite different from the utilitarian architecture used for public baths previously constructed in Montreal (though many other striking bathhouses were built during the following quarter-century). In addition to the bathtubs and showers for hygiene, the building included a pool, where neighbourhood children could take swimming lessons. Like many of the public baths of the time, it was given the name of the local city councillor – none other than former mayor Napoléon Turcot, who became the ward councillor after his town was annexed.
In 1937, the bathhouse was renovated from top to bottom at the initiative of city councillor Dave Rochon. It was then renamed in honour of the municipal ward, Saint-Michel (the name of the district, separated from Laurier Ward in 1921, refers to the Irish-Catholic parish of St. Michael the Archangel).
The swimming pool closed in 1994, due to its state of disrepair (once the new swimming pool at the YMCA became available). Bain Saint-Michel was adopted as a performance space by emerging artists in 1998. In 2003, it also became the principal stage for Infinitheatre, an independent English-language theatre troupe.
Due to its poor structural condition, the building closed in 2014, to undergo restoration and interior redesign. The renovation turned out to be much more complex than expected, and will not be completed until 2022. When the building reopens, for cultural use, it will be co-managed by members of the arts community and the Plateau Mont-Royal borough.
Research and writing: Yves Desjardins et Justin Bur, 2018
Translation: Joshua Wolfe, 2021