Adjusting the lighting on the Tower façade, installing the brass handles on the Friendship Hall doors, carefully positioning the Lingbi stones in the Entrance Courtyard, brushstrokes in the Springtime Courtyard – over recent days, the teams involved in the restoration project of the Chinese Garden have multiplied their efforts, because after several months of work, the biggest traditional Chinese garden in Canada will be reopening its doors to the public.
Not your average worksite
A project focused on renovating the Chinese Garden pavilions took shape in the early 2010s, the structures having been damaged by the passing of time and the harshness of our climate. Cracked columns, leaky roofs, peeling paint, crumbling foundations: the challenge was daunting. More than anything, the question driving the guardians of the place was this: how can we restore this site while at the same time maintaining its character and preserving its authenticity at all costs?
Surrounding themselves with the very best, the Space for Life teams got down to the job, and work kicked off in June 2015. That summer, a delegation from Space for Life headed to Shanghai to negotiate the most sensitive part of the project: the trip to Montréal of a team of Chinese tilers, who would be entrusted with the finishing of the roofs on the seven pavilions and the crowning of the inner-courtyards walls.
Lengthy administrative procedures got under way, and close to a year later, the first cohort of Chinese craftsmen landed in Montréal. Between our teams and theirs, the beginnings were slightly chaotic, because the Chinese had to be persuaded to work according to our rules and in line with certain of our methods. Then, as the days went by, the right rhythm took hold and the efforts bore fruit. At the end of the summer of 2016, when the scaffolding was dismantled, the first restored pavilions were magnificent!
When the West meets the East – or the story of unlikely friendships
In the spring of 2017, when the first magnolia buds appeared, the Chinese craftsmen were here again in order to complete the roofing on the remaining pavilions. The reunion at the airport was all smiles and hugs. And while masons, painters, carpenters, electricians and other technical experts worked away on the site under all possible conditions, our Chinese friends quickly hauled their trowels and mortar back up on the roofs.
This time, the pace was more fluid: people knew one another – and appreciated one another. True friendships blossomed, despite the language barrier and cross-cultural differences. Some now considered themselves “brothers,” and sometimes gathered on neighborhood terraces at the end of a long day to down a “píjiǔ” (beer)!
Looking back, I find it hard to believe how much ground was covered in what was truly a unique project. I’m overwhelmed by pride and deep gratitude for these exceptional beings who were essential to its success. This page of history is one where everyone succeeded in working together, despite their differences. When the curtain rises, on September 1st, we’ll be able to say, rènwù wánchéng – mission accomplished!