Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gargoyles, whiskey and long life

Gargoyle-hunting in Toronto is a challenge. There are faces and some actual gargoyles, but it takes real searching to find them. Gargoyle-hunting in Montreal, on the other hand, is more like shooting fish in a barrel. They’re everywhere. I’ve been shooting them practically every time I’ve been there since 2001, but I somehow missed this guy. He is about half a storey tall, and prominently displayed on the former Seagram House on Peel Street.

For you sticklers out there, he is not an actual gargoyle because he doesn’t have a spout. (There is a spout above him.) He has gargoylian features, however, but he also has the features of a telamon, a support sculpted in the form of a man. (The plural is telamones; when the supporting sculpted figure is a female, it’s called a caryatid.)

Construction of this building was completed in 1929, and remained as Seagram Company Ltd. headquarters until 2002 when it was given to McGill University. It is currently known as Martlet House (so called for the mythical birds on the university coat of arms), home of of the university's development and alumni relations department.

The Seagram Company was founded in 1928 by Samuel Bronfman, after he acquired Joseph Seagram & Sons, which he amalgamated with his own Distillers Corporation. In fact, you can still see a stylized Romanesque DCL on the façade of the building.

The architect was American-born David Jerome Spence, who later worked in partnership with Frederick David Mathias beginning in 1937, but Mathias is credited with designing the façade of the Seagram building.

The building contains several ornamental nods to the Scottish spirit the company produces. It is modeled after a 16th-century Scottish baronial castle (including a portcullis), and features not only the magnificent gargoylamon above, but also a relief portrait of Robbie Burns.

There is also a bewhiskered gentleman just above the gargoyle, with the incised legend “aged 152 years.” (He’s hiding behind tape while renovations are going on. At the moment, the roof is being replaced.) He’s not Father Time (who is almost certainly older than 152), nor is he Joseph Seagram. I suspect he is Thomas Parr, aka “Old Tom Parr” or simply “Old Parr,” born near Shrewsbury who was reported to have lived for 152 years (1483-1635).

However, doubt has been cast for some time on his supercentenarian status.

There is a brand of whiskey named for him although not made by Seagram’s.

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