Traditional tinsmithing, a profession that is being lost in Quebec
A new college program is struggling to recruit future artisans to restore heritage cornices.
Tinsmith Pascal Grenier (right) operates a folding machine.
Pascal Grenier places his large hand on a copper lion's head installed on the table in his studio. The strikingly realistic piece is the size of a melon.
It went in front of a cornice in Old Montreal. There are 60 or 80 of them going around the building. A few were loose because at some point the copper is so thin that there is nothing left to hold.
The restoration just one of these lion heads can take nearly 200 hours. This must have been reproduced using the stamping technique on a plaster mould.
Up to 200 hours can be spent restoring just one of these lion heads, says tinsmith Pascal Grenier.
Listen the report by Philippe-Antoine Saulnier at 15-18
This is the trade of ornamental tinsmith that Pascal Grenier has been practicing for thirty years. A profession to which a specific training is about to welcome its first cohort of students.
My father was a tinsmith and roofer, of course I too started by installing flashings and counter-flashings, says Mr. Grenier, who today runs the MBR workshop, in Repentigny.
He got hooked on heritage restoration while working on rooftops. I have often repaired cornices when going on flat roofs. My dad was a little less patient and he was like, “Go fix it!” By dint of repairing certain cornices, I started to look at how it was done, to reproduce them.
Tinsmith Pascal Grenier taught himself how to reproduce heritage cornices.
But tinsmiths who specialize in the restoration of heritage elements are becoming increasingly rare. At the Montreal Construction Trades School, only 14 students are enrolled in tinsmithing this year. This program offers opportunities especially in the areas of ventilation ducts and conventional roofing; only one course is devoted to heritage.
In the greater Montreal area, only a dozen tinsmiths master traditional techniques, according to Pascal Alarie, architect specializing in heritage with the firm C2V Architecture.
It's a job who is aging. There's not a lot of new talent, we don't see that much. And we know that inevitably, the oldest retire.
In the 1970s and 1980s, many cornices were eliminated, recalls Pascal Grenier. Today, you have to substantially reproduce what you think was there originally.
And this know-how in ornamental tinsmithing is not easily acquired. You cannot improvise yourself as a tinsmith of an old work of art overnight. It takes at least someone who will show you the basics of the trade, explains Pascal Alarie. 150 years ago, it was simple: the craftsman was his job. He was not told how to do his job, he knew it and he organized it.
In addition, the demand for specialized craftsmen and architects is growing due to the requirements of certain Montreal boroughs, which force owners to restore their buildings to the appearance they had before. the origin. There is a residential clientele that was not there before, explains Pascal Alarie. Previously, we focused on bigger buildings.
Pascal Grenier's studio in Repentigny is not meeting demand. We are "booked" until the end of May next year, he says.
“There is a critical shortage of #x27; work, the profession is unknown, like the majority of professions in the restoration of heritage, we do not provide. »
— Pascal Grenier, tinsmith
It is to tackle the lack of manpower in the skilled trades that the Conseil des métiers d'art and the Cégep du Vieux Montréal have set up a new training program .
Last year, training in stone cutting and traditional carpentry was provided to the first cohort. This year, we are offering training in ornamental tinsmithing and traditional carpentry. For the moment, however, the tinsmithing group has only one registration out of six places.
Pascal Alarie, who participated in certain training courses last year, nevertheless think that young people are showing a renewed interest in this field.
There are younger people who are rediscovering these professions. The manual side of the task, the importance of the gesture. There is like a memory in this gesture. They're going to learn it and do it again, and do it again… And at some point, that's where you develop quality. Because each piece made by a craftsman has his signature. They are able to breathe a soul, a spirit into the work they do.