The Ignatian Centre began as a house built in the countryside near Montreal West about the year 1910. It was the first house built on the unpaved West Broadway Street, where planks were placed over puddles in wet weather. Loyola College and High School were located nearby a few years later.

The house originally contained two separate flats. The upstairs flat had a basement in the back section, reached by a jerry-built staircase hidden in the wall. Each flat had separate furnaces and hot water tanks in their respective basements. The house had a garden that reached all the way to where St. Ignatius Church is today.

After the First World War the Loyola Jesuits bought the building. It then became a rooming house for individuals (some of them with their families) who worked at the College over many years. In 1932 the downstairs flat was occupied by the St. Ignatius Elementary School. From 1933 on, the house saw many families living in both flats.

In the 1970's, Bishop Leonard Crowley had urged the English-speaking Jesuits to offer spiritual direction to Anglophones in the Archdiocese. In 1976 Loyola College had merged with Sir George Williams University (to become what is now known Concordia University), and was no longer directed by the Jesuit Order. The Jesuit Superior, Jack Belair, s.j., decided that the building would be turned into a centre for Ignatian spirituality. The building was completely emptied and then renovated to the then astronomical sum of $40,000.

Like the space directly above it upstairs, the main meeting room had been divided by a wall which was removed. The workmen said this removal would cause no difficulty, but after about a year the ceiling began to sag noticeably. A support beam was installed, but incorrectly. Two years later, a three-inch sag had opened ominously again, and a more thorough effort was undertaken to repair the structure. A newly placed beam was inserted, side columns were fixed at the walls, and basement supports were shored up.

Around that time, two houses full of fine old furniture had been willed to the Jesuits and the new Ignatian Centre received the bulk of it. Much of the furniture in the centre, such as the ornate table and the escritoire in the large office (upstairs, front) came from this estate.

The two basements (front and back) had been joined by means of a doorway opened through the central wall. This large area was dirty, low-ceilinged, filled with abandoned materials on rickety shelving, and ill-lit. The floor was bumpy mud. The walls were unfinished stone. Pipes were much in evidence, and in the middle was an ugly steel support. It was a very damp and shivery place.

The front room of the basement would be eventually transformed into an area for art activities, and many "poor artists" would eventually use the space as a studio. In 1980, it was still a damp and chilly place, when Elise Maxelhau installed a full-sized loom and a second, smaller loom. She worked at textiles, drawing and painting, clay sculpture, gradually developing one-to-one and small group ministries, always enshrining the art work within a context of prayer. Many individuals who were incapacitated by illness or suffering from spiritual wounds were able to relate to Elise, who was very intuitive and compassionate. Thus, the Centre became blessed with the presence of healing and nonverbal activities of art expression by individuals and groups devoted to their faith.

Eventually the entire room was transformed. The wooden stairs and beams were stripped and treated, new flooring, walls, lighting and electric heating installed. In December 1990, the remaining two-thirds of the basement floor was lowered by 4 feet. Pipes, wires and furnaces were moved, all with a view to expanding the facilities. A new washroom was installed, and a new concrete floor and stairs were covered with carpeting. The walls were painted white and eventually decorated with paintings and hangings. The section not dug out became a storage area and still holds the centre's hot water tank. By September 1991, acoustic ceiling tiles and recessed lighting were installed, the new basement was ready for use for larger group activities and courses.

Three or four different rooms in the building were used at different times as the chapel. Eventually it was decided to make the front room downstairs a permanent place of prayer and liturgy, which had been used mainly for spiritual direction. With a $1,000 grant from the Jesuit Community, a soft rug and the grass-style wallpaper was put in place in order to create a "holy atmosphere" of simple beauty. A rather unpleasant looking iron fixture in the mock-fireplace was removed and the space boarded up and covered with rug material. Later a crucifix was commissioned. Many colourful pictures and pillows have been introduced in recent years from Latin American sources. The blue stained-glass Our lady in the window came originally from the "hermitage" experiment in the Laurentian region north of Montreal.

By the mid-eighties the number of staff members began to increase, the upstairs reception office was created. The four rooms at the back of the house (two upstairs and two downstairs) and the two at the front upstairs, plus the present library room (seven rooms in all) were bedrooms. Various guests occupied these bedrooms from time to time.

John Wickham, the centre's director at the time, had moved from the Jesuit residence and occupied the bedroom opposite the present reception office. This was because he thought the premises required a regular occupant - for protection, and in case of fire. But after four years the upstairs part of the centre became so busy that he decided to move back into the Jesuit residence. This room was then turned into the library. A $5,000 grant was obtained from the Spiritual Exercises Endowment Fund in order to obtain basic materials. Various assistants worked on it, including a professional librarian. To this day the library is very specialized and still works on the honour system.

Because the building had two separate flats, the room directly above the downstairs kitchen was also a kitchen. This was eventually converted into a meeting room for small groups. Cursillo teams were often crowded in, and the centre's first "spirituality and social justice" course was held there. In 1989 the increased needs for typing and other secretarial work (until then using the reception and library areas), as well the introduction of a photocopy machine and other computer equipment meant more space was needed. Eventually the former kitchen became a staff multipurpose workroom, where many sorts of materials are assembled.

On the wall may be seen our large map of "the territory." An original purpose was to locate parishes and identify the locations of directors available for matchups with directees. That never quite worked out, but the vision of where we all live and work and where the Lord calls us to serve is still alive. To this day it helps us to appreciate the old building, made available for this ministry, which is located at the "centre" of our place in the world.