Published in the Montreal Gazette on February 16, 2013
As Jules Saint Michel, luthier, is so fond of saying: “The making of a violin is a work of precision, based on ancient proven methods which have remained unchanged for centuries.” Saint Michel should know as he has been in the business for a little over half a century.
For the longest time, my daily wanderings took me by his charming shop and atelier on Ontario Street West but, for one reason or another, I never ventured in. Last Monday, all that changed.
On that day, I spent an hour and half with the artisanal violinmaker who told me all about his passion for the instrument. “You hold it in your arm, you caress it,” he told me with great ardour .
Born in Budapest in 1933, Saint Michel (the French variation of his Hungarian name, Gyula Szentmihály) made his way to Paris shortly after the anti – Soviet revolution in his homeland in 1956. It was in the French capital that he met the Canadian born woman who would later become his wife.
The couple came to Montreal in 1959 where Saint Michel quickly established himself in the musical instrument business. About a decade later, he put down roots at his current location at the corner of Ontario Street and Clark, on the very edge of the Quartier des spectacles.
Jules Saint Michel is an artisanal violinmaker. Much of what he learned in that regard was acquired from his uncle before he came to Canada. So beguiled by the high-pitched stringed implement that he asked for one as a young child. He plays the instrument daily.
However, “Jules Saint Michel, Luthier” is more than a violin shop – much more.
The boutique, for example, both restores and repairs instruments as diverse as violins, violas, cellos, double basses, etc. Furthermore, Saint Michel and his team (his son, daughter, and grandson work with him) offer their expertise to clients seeking an item’s appraisal and, to that end, engage in various consultations with customers on an almost daily basis. They also, of course, both sell and rent numerous string instruments.
Saint Michel, who is the dean of Quebec violinmakers, is also renowned for his adept knowledge with regard to both old and modern instruments.
The city centre musical concern is also home to a Montreal chapter of the ‘Artisans at Work” museum network. The association, known as the ‘Réseau économusée’ (www.economusees.com), is found primarily in Québec but with some representation in other provinces of Canada, and even parts of Europe. The chapters range in nature from chocolate making to fashion design.
Saint Michel’s remarkable contribution to this network deals, of course, primarily with the art of violin making. The museum is found on the second floor, immediately above the shop. The tasteful setting contains a remarkable collection of rare instruments that the gifted violinmaker has assembled down through the years. If lucky, the visitor can also catch Saint Michel on site repairing or crafting a violin, “an instrument whose form has remained unchanged for more than 450 years.”
Approaching 80, and if Jules Saint Michel doesn’t have enough to do with his time, he also serves as Montreal’s Honourary Consul for Hungary, the office for which is also found in the same edifice.
‘Jules Saint Michel Luthier’ is situated at 57 Ontario Street West and can be reached at 514-288-4343.
Their website is www.luthiersaintmichel.com
Opening hours: 10:00 – 18:00, Monday – Friday; 10:00 – 15:00, Saturday. The museum is open from 14:00 – 17:00, Monday – Friday. Entrance fee: $8.00
(below, Mr. Jules Saint Michel, relaxing)