David P. Monteyne
For the Temporary Accommodation of Settlers: Architecture and Immigrant Reception in Canada, 1870-1930
McGill-Queen's/Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History, 2021
The 2022 Abbott Lowell Cummings Award for “the book that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes” is presented to David Monteyne’s, For the Temporary Accommodation of Settlers: Architecture and Immigrant Reception in Canada, 1870-1930 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021).
David Monteyne’s study of Canadian immigration architecture built from 1870 to the mid-1930s and the spatial practices it shaped, opens up an entirely new way of understanding the lived experience of immigrants drawn to the promise of opportunity in Canada and largely welcomed by its government. Monteyne notes that Canada’s relative openness to newcomers meant that the Dominion Government prioritized the construction of immigration infrastructure which resulted in a broad network of facilities stretching from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. Canada designed and built structures to welcome and assist newcomers such as pier buildings for immigrant reception in Canada’s ports and Prairie immigration halls to help new arrivals become established in rural provinces. At the same time, quarantine facilities and immigrant detention hospitals helped the government to sort and select migrants who were deemed desirable from others who because of their race, poverty, health or politics, were perceived as “undesirable.”
Monteyne confronts a set of questions central to the concerns of vernacular architecture scholarship. He writes: “[This] book addresses … how people experience, navigate, transform, and produce meaning in the built environments they encounter.” Of course, questions such as these are not easy for any scholar of vernacular architecture, but the transient occupation of immigration buildings by people who were literally “passing through,” makes finding satisfying answers especially daunting. Monteyne impressively meets that challenge with theoretical rigor and innovative methodology, painstaking research and fascinating source material, and with polished, engaging, and evocative prose. All of this is also presented in a richly illustrated and beautifully designed volume.
The committee particularly admired Monteyne’s ability to balance evidence and arguments concerning the design and programming of immigrant infrastructure – largely told through the architectural drawings and reports by architects and bureaucrats in the Dominion’s Department of Public Works – with the voices of immigrants themselves – discovered in a wide range of first-person sources. The interplay of these two very different types of evidence is what enables Monteyne to deftly and provocatively capture the spatial practices shaped by the built environments of immigration, but negotiated, challenged, and modified by the immigrants transiting through those environments.
We would do well to attend to Monteyne’s careful exploration of Canada’s historic immigrant architecture. His work reminds us that architecture designed to engage with new arrivals -- whether it’s pier buildings and Prairie halls for welcoming newcomers, quarantine stations and immigrant detention hospitals for excluding “undesirable” immigrants, or the United States’ 30ft-high border wall and child detention facilities encircled by chain-link fencing – the built environment of immigration both structures a country’s interaction with potential future citizens and signals a country’s ability to show compassion for the wrenching experiences of global migrants.