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Notre-Dame reconstruction plan inspires big promises, unorthodox designs

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  • There are some interesting proposals for rebuilding Notre-Dame de Paris after the disastrous fire that destroyed parts of the cathedral a month ago today.
  • The Canada of today owes a lot to the Winnipeg General Strike — and has much to learn from the events that took place 100 years ago today.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Rebuilding Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame de Paris has always inspired.

And the fire that destroyed the roof and spire of the Gothic cathedral one month ago today seems only to have enhanced that power.

More than €1 billion ($1.51 billion Cdn) of private money has been pledged towards the landmark’s reconstruction, as France’s richest families compete via largesse.

Foreign governments are keen to chip in too. Serbia has pledged €1 million to the cause. And both the U.K. and Italy have offered support from their skilled trades and heritage experts.

Today it was Canada’s turn, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visiting the charred ruins and promising to send “steel or wood, or whatever help we can” to aid the reconstruction.

France’s chief architect of historical sites Philippe Villeneuve, right, speaks to Prime Minsiter Justin Trudeau and Notre-Dame cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet inside Notre-Dame de Paris on Wednesday. (Philippe Lopez/EPA-EFE)

Last Friday, French MPs approved President Emmanuel Macron’s fast-track plan to rebuild and reopen the church before Paris stages the 2024 Summer Olympics. The law is meant to help speed the process by cutting the red tape around planning, heritage and environmental issues.

But the five-year timeframe for repairing and refurbishing an edifice that took the better part of two centuries to build strikes some as overly hasty.

Late last month, close to 1,200 art, heritage and architecture experts signed an open letter, published in Le Figaro newspaper, calling on Macron to slow down.

“Let’s take the time to find the right path and then, yes, set an ambitious deadline for an exemplary restoration,” says the letter. “Let us not erase the complexity of the thought that must surround this site behind a display of efficiency.”

The French public also seems to be cooling on the idea of a quick restoration, with 72 per cent saying they are opposed to the fast-track exemptions for Notre-Dame, according to a recent poll.

Workers sort through debris collected from the centre of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The principle problem is that no one is yet sure what the reconstruction will look like.

A couple of days after the fire, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that there would be an international contest to redesign the cathedral’s spire — an 1859 addition to the medieval structure. And Macron has since expressed his desire for an end product that is “consistent with our modern, diverse nation,” leading many to believe that he’s leaning towards something radical.

Architects have responded to those cues and started releasing a wide variety of speculative designs for a new and improved Notre-Dame.

Paris-based architect Vincent Callebaut is proposing a glass roof and spire, which would function as a greenhouse that produces up to 19 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables each year. Hydrogen fuel cells in the glass would convert sunlight into power for the building, while the spire serves as a thermo-regulator, storing hot air during the winter and letting in cooling breezes in summer.

A proposed design for Notre-Dame’s reconstruction, featuring a glass roof and spire enclosing a greenhouse, by Vincent Callebaut Architectures of Paris. (Vincent Callebaut Architectures)

A graphic artist has suggested a virtual spire made of light.

While another visionary is pitching a stained-glass roof.

One early — and widely panned —  suggestion calls for the replacement of the spire with a giant sculpted recreation of the flames that destroyed it, made from carbon fibre and covered in gold leaf.

And today, a Swedish firm that specializes in whimsical designs has unveiled its bid to place a public swimming pool atop Notre-Dame’s roof.

“We are proposing a meditative public space; a complementary spatial experience to the building with unmatched views over Paris,” says the pitch on the company’s website, promising to let the original bell towers and rose windows “do the talking.”

A mockup of a proposed revamp of Notre-Dame, featuring a rooftop pool, by UMA – Ulf Mejergren Architects of Stockholm, Sweden. (UMA – Ulf Mejergren Architects)

There are also slightly more practical ideas.

Early estimates suggest that rebuilding Notre-Dame in a more traditional way will cost €600 to €700 million ($900 million to $1.05 billion Cdn).

But while vast sums have been pledged towards reconstruction, only a fraction of the money has been collected.

La Fondation du Patrimoine, France’s national heritage body, has received €218 million of the €900 million it has been promised.

While the Catholic Church-run Notre-Dame Foundation has taken in just €13.5 million ($20 million Cdn).

“The greater part of these donations have not yet materialized,” the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, said in a statement. “That is why the collection continues.”

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Striking legacy of Winnipeg 1919

The Canada of today owes a lot to the Winnipeg General Strike — and has much to learn from the events of 1919, reporter Cameron MacIntosh writes.

One hundred years ago today, 30,000 men, women and children (yes, young kids) walked off the job in Winnipeg.

It would come to be known as the Winnipeg General Strike, and its ramifications spread far beyond the city where it began.

I have a story on The National tonight marking the occasion. It won’t be a history lesson or an ode to labour. Rather, we sought to take a modern look at what the lessons of 1919 can tell us about the country we live in today.

While many in Winnipeg are aware that 1919 was important, not a lot of people know the specifics of what happened. The strike left class and ethnic tensions in the city for decades, and for many reasons, in many ways, the events were left to fade into history.

People tip over a streetcar on June 21, 1919, on Portage Avenue during the Winnipeg General Strike. (Provincial Archives of Manitoba)

Now, 100 years later, it seems people want to know more.

So we took a walk, following what has become a very popular tour of the most prominent sites connected to the events that took place leading up to and during the strike. (One good thing about a slowly developing city like Winnipeg is that we are slow to knock our history over to build freeways and condos.)

What struck me and others on the tour was how much of what sparked the events of 1919 we see in Canada today. A shrinking middle class, concentration of wealth, and concerns over migration were all big issues then, just as they’re common in the news now. They made prominent headlines in1919, contributing to the tension that caused so many people to take to the streets.

Meanwhile, the identity politics on display would be right at home today.

The Winnipeg General Strike: Great War Veterans Association parade on June 4, 1919. (Provincial Archives of Manitoba)

In the end the workers lost, but it’s hard to deny that 1919 laid the foundation for some of the labour protections we see in Canada now. Old Age Security, a 40-hour work week, and minimum wage can all trace their history back to the streets and alleys of Winnipeg.

And a century later, the ramifications of the strike for both Winnipeg and the nation as a whole still make for a spirited debate over a pint of 1919 pale ale at a brew pub near where the final riot went down.

In the coming days, CBC Manitoba will be telling the story of the strike from various perspectives, with some unique digital story treatments. In the meantime, come take a walk with us on The National tonight.

– Cameron MacIntosh

A few words on … 

Cartoon love.

Quote of the moment

“For our patients, they age much faster than we do and this really isn’t an issue that can wait for a three-year review.”

– Dr. Sarah Silcox, president of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine, on her group’s ongoing efforts to persuade Parliament to legalize medical marijuana for pets.

What The National is reading

  • “Terrifying” Ebola epidemic out of control in DRC, says experts (Guardian)
  • Five provinces have turfed governments in a year, will N.L. be next? (CBC)
  • Sudan army rulers, protesters agree on three-year transition period (Agence France Presse)
  • Slain woman in barrel was one of accused killers five “wives,” trial told (Winnipeg Free Press)
  • Israel’s Eurovision webcast hacked as protests continue (Al Jazeera)
  • Tabloid talk show in U.K. cancelled after guest’s reported suicide (CBC)
  • The stunning toll of Boy Scout sex abuse: more than 12,200 reported victims (LA Times)
  • Escaped parakeets now naturalized in 23 U.S. states, study finds (Science Daily)

Today in history

May 15, 1963: Life and death in Duvalier’s Haiti

Six years after his election as Haiti’s president, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier is refusing to step down and threatening bloody chaos if anyone tries to force him out of power. He declares martial law and withdraws to his palace to wait out his opponents. The CBC’s Kingsley Brown finds an impoverished and fearful nation, where Duvalier’s personal terror organization, the Tonton Macoutes, kill those who dare step out of line.

On a 1963 visit to the impoverished nation of Haiti, CBC Newsmagazine encounters cockfights, a voodoo ceremony and a fearsome dictator named Dr. Duvalier. 26:59

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