David Culver was an athletic man who liked to keep trim by walking to work from his house in Montreal’s Westmount neighbourhood to his office at what was then the headquarters of Alcan Aluminium Limited, downtown in Place Ville Marie. When he became the chief executive officer of Alcan in 1979, one of the perks was a chauffeur to drive him to work.
Instead, Mr. Culver, who died on Feb. 6 at 92, would walk his two black labs over the mountain and have the chauffeur meet him on Pine Avenue – to pick up the dogs and take them home. Then he would continue down the hill on foot.
“It was the best 30 to 40 minutes I spent every day, giving me time to contemplate big issues and small and do it on my own,” he wrote in his autobiography, Expect Miracles: Recollections of a Lucky Life. He added that once in the office, life was taken over by phone calls, meetings and office politics. It was before the age of e-mail.
It was on those walks that he became familiar with some of the historic mansions and other buildings along Sherbrooke Street. When McGill University pulled down the Prince of Wales Terrace, a row of Edwardian townhouses on Sherbrooke, he described it as “an act of vandalism unworthy of such a great institution.”
But it was another building’s demolition that moved him to action. When a developer tore down the Van Horne Mansion at the corner of Stanley and Sherbrooke, Mr. Culver was shocked.
“He also heard about it at home as his children were outraged that the Van Horne Mansion was gone and we were protesting it at McGill,” said his daughter, Diane Culver, who was a student at the university at the time.
That set in motion a major preservation of buildings along Sherbrooke Street. Once Mr. Culver became the CEO of Alcan, he came up with a plan to buy three old houses and a newer hotel and convert them into the company’s world headquarters.
One of the reasons he wanted a new building was to make a statement: Alcan was staying in Montreal. The Parti Québécois had won the 1976 election, and companies such as Sun Life and Royal Trust moved to Toronto.
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