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17 December 2010

Heirs Want Say on Royal Vic Site

Elspeth Angus, 81, studies a topographic map from 1879. Her family donated the land where the Royal Victoria Hospital stands, and stipulated it could be used only for the hospital itself. Angus and the rest of her clan are determined that the Mount Royal site not be consigned to private development.

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Montreal Quebec - Blood doesn't come any more blue than the blood that runs through the veins of Montreal blueblood Elspeth Angus, 81.
Her paternal grandfather was R.B. Angus, after whom the old Angus yards in Rosemont were named.
And maternal grandfather George Cantlie was the eldest nephew of George (Lord Mount) Stephen, whose former home on downtown Drummond St. is now home to the Mount Stephen Club.
But Angus isn't just a living link to Montreal's past, when Scottish immigrants like her two famous ancestors, both original investors in the Canadian Pacific Railway, held sway over the Canadian industrial economy.
She is also a living link to the city's future, specifically to the future of one of Montreal's most respected public institutions, the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The Royal Vic was built up on Mount Royal where it is today as a result of a land donation in 1891 from Stephen and his more famous cousin, Donald Smith, a.k.a. Lord Strathcona.
Also an original CPR investor, Smith is best known as the man who drove in the ceremonial last spike in the first transcontinental railway link across Canada in 1885.
But as Angus is now reminding people, the Royal Vic land donation came with a string attached, namely, that the land can only be used as a site for the Royal Vic itself.
But with the old hospital preparing to move in 2014 or 2015 to the new McGill University Health Centre facility under construction in the Glen Yards, there isn't going to be a Royal Vic anymore on the land that Stephen and Smith donated.
So what will become of the site?
As a descendent of Stephen, Angus has quietly begun organizing other members of the Stephen clan to block a potential sale of the property to private investors looking to redevelop the land and make a profit.
Stephen outlived his children, and Angus, as a direct descendent of his eldest nephew, has collected letters of support from other direct descendants of Stephen's seven brothers and sisters.
They all want to see the land saved from private development.
"I don't want to see it turned into condos, or student residences," Angus says.
"What I would like to see happen is that the Royal Vic be turned into a research facility. It's surrounded by the Allan Memorial Institute on the one hand and the Montreal Neurological Hospital on the other hand, and by McGill University, which makes it ideal for a research facility."
Just how much of a say Angus and the other heirs will get to have remains to be seen.
In 2001, a lawyer for the MUHC, Barry Cappel, wrote Angus saying that nothing can be done with the Royal Vic property "without respecting the conditions of the Deed, unless the court would order otherwise, and that would only be after the heirs have been notified."
So far, no such notification has been given.
Public hearings held a decade ago on the question of RVH reuse, headed by Montreal lawyer Roy Heenan, lead partner in Heenan Blaikie, found widespread public support for the idea of some kind of public vocation for Royal Vic reuse.
MUHC official Julie Paquet said the current reuse plan for the RVH is as follows: 
Plan A:  Offer the property to the government of Quebec for health purposes.
Plan B:  If the government doesn't want it for health purposes, offer the property to the government for other purposes.
Plan C:  If the provincial government doesn't want the property, offer it to other potential buyers in the public sector.
Plan D:  If no public buyer can be found at all, entertain bids from the private sector.
"And even then," said Paquet, "there would be a lot of restrictions, because we're talking about a heritage property and we are talking about Mount Royal."
Asked for a fresh comment specifically on the rights of the heirs, Paquet forwarded a statement from the office of MUHC associate director general of redevelopment Yanai Elbaz, which said in part:  "We are very sensitive and respectful of the original donors and recognize the importance of engaging all the right individuals to the table."
Whatever happens, Angus says, she won't be hiring any high-priced lawyers to represent her.
"I can't afford it," she says.
She says she's used to people asking her why an Angus like herself doesn't have the money for expensive lawyers.
"It's the old saw, from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in four generations," she says.
Angus lives comfortably, but modestly, in a rental apartment in Westmount.
Lord Mount Stephen had seven brothers and sisters, who in turn brought forth many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
And so his estate has been diluted down through the generations.
"Nobody is after money, as such," Angus says.
"What we want is respect for the intent of the original donors, and the intent was for the land to be used for the benefit of the community, not for some developer to make a bundle."
David Johnston.

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