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RAZA, ALPHONSE, architect; b. 7 Oct. 1846 in Montreal, son of Pierre-Hyppolite Raza, dit Ranjard, a carpenter, and Elmire Méret, dit Lépine; m. there 4 May 1875 Almira-Lucretia Montrait, and they had three daughters; d. there 13 Aug. 1903 and was buried 17 August in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery.

Alphonse Raza’s great-grandfather, who was born in Spain at the beginning of the 18th century, arrived in New France in 1721 and started raising a family. Alphonse was the son of a Montreal carpenter who over the years had become a builder and contractor, and he learned the basic techniques of construction at an early age. He furthered his education at the Catholic Commercial Academy of Montreal under Urgel-Eugène Archambeault. When he was 15, he began studying architecture with the firm of Fowler et Roy. In 1864 he entered the employ of the two sons of William Thomas*, William Tutin and Cyrus Pole, architects of the classical school who chiefly built churches. After 11 years of experience with the best architects of the time, eight of them with the Thomas brothers, Raza went into business for himself in 1872 and opened an office in Montreal.

From 1872 to 1881 Raza concentrated professionally upon residential, school, and religious architecture. His major achievement was the construction in 1874 of the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Montreal (burned down on 29 Jan. 1898), whose imposing façade displayed much eclecticism. The complexity of the design and structure of the enormous bell tower showed that Raza was mastering not only the technical side of his profession, but also various styles. These characteristics would be seen again in all of his work, and especially in the conception of his luxurious residences.

After confederation, the Canadian government decided to seek a higher profile throughout the country and strengthen its image through the medium of architecture [see Thomas Seaton Scott*]. Public buildings in the major cities had to be renovated to carry out new functions and meet federal requirements for space. In 1881, because of his experience and reputation, Raza was engaged as a superintending architect by the Department of Public Works, a responsibility he would continue until 1895. In his capacity as local architect for the Montreal region, he was involved in such projects as enlarging the former custom-house, restoring the barracks and powder magazine on Île Sainte-Hélène, and constructing the drill hall and armouries, as well as in supervising the enlargement of the Montreal post office.

During this period, and particularly in 1889 and 1890, Raza also drew up the plans for many commercial buildings and a number of private residences. His biggest project was undoubtedly 385 Place d’Youville, which was under construction from 1888 to 1890. In this “business centre,” with its austere style dictated by functional, structural, and aesthetic considerations, the architect demonstrated his technical and stylistic knowledge of American architecture, especially of the Chicago School. In the field of residential architecture, Raza’s house on Rue Saint-Marc and that of flour and grain merchant Robert Somerville Oliver, both built in 1889 in an idiom similar to the Victorian eclectic style, express the wide variety of architectural vocabulary he used in designing homes.

In 1890 Raza broadened his knowledge by visiting England, France, Germany, and Italy. That year, the spectacular rise in construction starts (due to massive immigration, the building of the transcontinental railway, and rapid industrial progress), as well as the growing number of engineers, made architects feel the need to define the conditions of admission to their profession and their spheres of practice. To this end, the Province of Quebec Association of Architects, composed of influential members of the profession, was formed on 10 and 11 October. Raza, who was among them, was elected to the council of the association in 1894, and served as second vice-president in 1896, first vice-president the following year, and president in 1898–99. He took a particular interest in drawing up and revising building regulations and in raising professional fees. He also concerned himself with the training of young architects, including Joseph-Albert Karch, the renowned Joseph-Alcide Chaussé*, who was associated with him in 1894 in the construction of the École Sainte-Brigide, and Alfred-Hector Lapierre, his most faithful disciple and the official heir to his office and practice.

After the federal government, the city of Montreal, and the Montreal City and District Savings Bank, the provincial government took its turn in calling on Raza. In March 1892 he was invited to supervise the work at the Montreal court-house involving the addition of a storey, the construction of a cupola, and the complete renovation of the interior. Raza also undertook many other projects during the last decade of the century. Stores, banks, warehouses, schools, and luxurious residences followed one another at a frantic pace. His mastery of different historical styles of architecture reached its high point with the construction of a house for contractor Arthur-Édouard Dubuc in 1894 and one for manufacturer Olivier Faucher in 1895. Dubuc’s home combined Victorian eclectic and Second Empire; Faucher’s (which was demolished in 1973) was inspired by the Romanesque manner of American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. This combination of styles clearly shows Raza’s versatility and bears witness to his intensive quest to create something new and original in the late 19th century.

In 1901 Raza returned to Europe along with one of his daughters and architect Joseph Venne*; in Rome he had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. He died two years later in Montreal’s Hôpital Général. Apart from his busy career and his role in the architects’ association, Raza took an active part in the social and political life of his region. He was, among other things, a justice of the peace and a member of the Chambre de Commerce du District de Montréal and of the Club de Chasse et de Pêche de Saint-Jérôme. In politics, he was a faithful supporter of the Conservative party; he was a founder of the Société de Publication Conservatrice de Montréal in 1894 and party treasurer in the city during the federal election of 1896 and the provincial election of 1897.

Montreal owes to Alphonse Raza a large number of its stone buildings. Stone was his favourite medium and he mastered it with a brilliance seldom equalled by the architects who followed him. His buildings, done in an accomplished manner, demonstrated great originality in the design and composition of their façades, with ornamentation accentuating structural elements. Honest and trustworthy, Raza enjoyed the esteem and confidence of the Montreal community, and hence had a great many clients. Through his exceptional talent, creative mind, and thorough knowledge of construction and architecture, he carved a niche for himself among the great Quebec architects of the second half of the 19th century.

André Chouinard

AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Montréal), 17 août 1903; Minutiers, A.-D. Jobin, 26 sept. 1889, 27 sept. 1895. ANQ-M, CE1-35, 4 mai 1875; CE1-51, 7 oct. 1846. Le Journal (Montréal), 14 août 1903: 8. Montreal Daily Star, 14 Aug. 1903: 6. La Patrie, 14 août 1903: 8. La Presse, 14 août 1903: 1. É.-J. [-A.] Auclair, Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal; monographie paroissiale, 1874–1924 (Québec, 1924), 16–31. N. R. Ball, Building Canada: a history of public works (Toronto, 1988). Pierre Beullac et Édouard Fabre Surveyer, Le centenaire du barreau de Montréal, 1849–1949 (Montréal, 1949). Can., Dept. of Public Works, Annual report (Ottawa), 1881–95. Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins). Canadian Architect, 2 (1889)–16 (1903), esp. 11 (1898): 190–96. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Communauté Urbaine de Montréal, Service de la Planification, Architecture civile I: les édifices publiques (Montréal, 1981); Architecture civile II: les édifices scolaires (Montréal, 1980); Architecture commerciale I: les banques (Montréal, 1980); Architecture commerciale II: les hôtels; les immeubles de bureaux (Montréal, 1983); Architecture commerciale III: les magasins; les cinémas (Montréal, 1985); Architecture domestique I: les résidences (Montréal, 1987); Architecture industrielle (Montréal, 1982); Architecture militaire (Montréal, 1982); Architecture religieuse I: les églises (Montréal, 1981); Architecture religieuse II: les couvents (Montréal, 1984). Le diocèse de Montréal à la fin du dix-neuvième siècle . . . (Montréal, 1900). Phyllis Lambert et Robert Lemire, Inventaire des bâtiments du Vieux-Montréal, du quartier Saint-Antoine et de la ville de Maisonneuve, construits entre 1880 et 1915 (Québec, 1977). Qué., Parl., Doc. de la session, 1893–98

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

André Chouinard, “RAZA, ALPHONSE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/raza_alphonse_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/raza_alphonse_13E.html
Author of Article: André Chouinard
Title of Article: RAZA, ALPHONSE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1994
Year of revision: 1994
Access Date: October 24, 2014