Quebec City mosque to be safer, with 'classic and modern' look, after $1.2M renovation

The brown brick and opaque windows of the Quebec Mosque will be replaced in 2020 by a clean, bright façade, marking a new chapter for Muslim worshippers in Quebec City.

The building in the borough of Sainte-Foy is currently undergoing major renovations, estimated at $1.2 million, that will make the place of worship safer and create more space for the growing number of worshippers, according to the mosque's former president, Mohamed Labidi.

"It is comforting — after everything we went through, we need to have some happy moments," said Labidi.

It will be three years on Jan. 29 since six men were killed and five others injured when a gunman entered the mosque and started shooting into the crowded room.

Even before the tragic event, renovations had been in the works, but Labidi said the attack only reinforced the "need to make the building safer."

In the months that followed the shooting, electronic access codes were added to the front doors, which until then had been unlocked, as the building was always open to the public.

The current renovations are expected to be completed by the end of June.

Additional entranceways will allow people to circulate more freely. A "buffer zone," with a large foyer, will also separate the entrance from the main prayer room.

Submitted by Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre

The expansion will make room for approximately 300 additional worshippers, on the building's three levels.

"On Fridays, all our floors are full. It's hard to find an empty space, so it's necessary," said Labidi, who is now on the mosque's board of directors.

He said the mosque already had "a comfortable cushion" of funds at its disposal to begin construction work but is still raising money across Quebec and Canada.

The organization had to juggle the renovation with another major project, the establishment of a Muslim cemetery in the region. That project, a $200,000 investment, was officially approved by the city in December 2019.

Redesign more in tune with building's vocation

The mosque currently looks like a nondescript commercial building. Once it is remodelled, it will include architectural elements more in tune with its religious vocation, according to Kamel Kheroua, an architectural adviser on the project. 

Ornate designs over the doorways will add a "classic and modern" look to the mosque, said Kheroua.

A minaret will soon tower over the front entrance, mirroring the ruins of the steeple of the former parish church, Notre-Dame-de-Foy, the burnt-out shell of which stands across the street.

"We were inspired by the church next door. It will build a kind of link, in a way," Kheroua said.

Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada

The ruins of the church, destroyed in a fire in 1977, will also be the site of an art installation promised by the city in 2019, which is to be inaugurated in the coming months.

The memorial will be set up on either side of De l'Église Street and will include stone pillars to honour each of the six shooting victims: Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou 'Tanou' Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzedine Soufiane and Aboubaker Thabti. 

'More intimate' commemorative event

This Jan. 29 will mark three years since the shooting. 

The third anniversary will focus on citizens rather than political speeches, according to the organizers of the event, called Commémoration citoyenne de l'attentat du 29 janvier 2017.

The first two anniversaries, held outdoors in 2018 and inside a pavilion at Université Laval in 2019, included speeches from Mayor Régis Labeaume and other politicians and dignitaries.

Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada

Organizers are hoping this time for a "more intimate" event, "to focus on what brings us together," said spokesperson Maryam Bessiri.

The gathering will be held at Saint-Mathieu Church on Ste-Foy Road at 6 p.m., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.

Traditional food from North Africa and Guinea, the places where the victims were born, will be served throughout the evening, said Besiri.

"We figured that food is something that bring people together." 

The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Citizens who wish to attend must reserve tickets through the organization's Facebook page.

Julia Caron/CBC