Ostell's architectural training remains unclear, but soon after he arrived in Montréal in 1834 he received his "brevet de cléricature," having apprenticed to André Trudeau, arpenteur, in order to learn land surveying in Québec (which was different from the British practice).
John OstellJohn Ostell, architect, surveyor (b at London, Eng 7 Aug 1813; d at Montréal 6 Apr 1892). The most important architect in Montréal between 1836 and 1859, Ostell designed the Custom House, Place Royale, the McGill arts building, the Episcopal Palace, the Grand Seminary of St-Sulpice, the Court House and the Church of St-Jacques.
Ostell's architectural training remains unclear, but soon after he arrived in Montréal in 1834 he received his "brevet de cléricature," having apprenticed to André Trudeau, arpenteur, in order to learn land surveying in Québec (which was different from the British practice). Ostell established himself professionally and became an active member in the community.
On 8 Jan 1837 he married Eléonore Gauvin, whose brother, Dr Alphonse Gauvin, was a leader in the 1837 rebellion (seeREBELLIONS OF 1837). Although Ostell was an Anglican, the service took place in the Catholic church. Through marriage into a well-positioned French Canadian family, Ostell secured his foothold in a world that was essential to him professionally.
Unlike most other English-speaking Protestant architects, Ostell moved easily in French-speaking Catholic circles. Eventually he served as the diocesan architect for Montréal, whose chief patron was the formidable Reverend Ignace BOURGET. Between 1836 and 1859, when he turned away from architecture to concentrate on business, Ostell had designed more than 2 dozen civic and ecclesiastical buildings, which made him the city's foremost English-speaking architect.
Ostell's last major civic commission, the Court House, has been described as "after the Grecian style of architecture." Critic Arthur Sandham believed its most striking feature to be "its large Ionic portico and the bold projection of the pediment which gives the central portion of the principal front a noble appearance." He further praised the Court House as free of the "monotony" he believed marked Montréal's earlier public buildings.
In addition to his architectural practice, Ostell played an active role in the political and cultural life of Montréal. In 1840 he was appointed Roads Inspector, responsible for the building and maintenance of city streets. In 1842 he was named City Surveyor and between 1848 and 1851 was Provincial Surveyor. As City Surveyor, Ostell sat as a member of the Corporation of Montréal, the chief administrative body of the city. In Sept 1843 he was chosen as one of 40 justices of the peace, meeting men who were his patrons at various times throughout his architectural career. He was a member of the Mechanics' Institute (1845) and in the same year was named to the council of the Natural History Society of Montreal. That he was a respected associate of the city's business elite is confirmed by his membership in the St James Club of Montréal from the year of its inception, 1857.
By 1859 Ostell had entirely given up his architectural practice to concentrate on the lumber business he had established in 1853. The factory and sawmill at the St Gabriel Lock along the Lachine Canal made doors and window sashes and joinery for export to Upper Canada, the US, Australia and Great Britain. During the 1860s Ostell was involved in the railway boom. He became president of the Montreal and Champlain Railroad (1859-65). In 1861, along with William Molson and others, he founded the Montreal City Passenger Railway, providing horse-drawn public transportation. Upon his death in 1892, an obituary in La Patrie summed up Ostell's importance: "Son décès est la disparition d'une grande figure dans notre monde sociale et politique (His death marks the disappearance of an important figure in our social and political world)."