Slated for renewal – Grain Silo No. 5

Montréal's Grain Silo No.5

Montréal’s historic Pointe-du-Moulin and Grain Silo No. 5 has recently been purchased by the Canada Lands Corporation, and I for one am rejoicing, as this is a major step towards seeing a major renovation of several large properties in the Griffintown/Cité-du-Havre area. The CLC’s plan can be found here – this would be one of five sites destined for renovation. As iconic as this building is, the space is generally dead, and the South-Central re-development, which began in earnest ten-fifteen years ago in the Sault-aux-Recollets neighbourhood, needs to be propelled West to assist with the transformation of Griffintown, and later, Pointe-St-Charles. But I would hope that every effort is made to integrate Pointe-du-Moulin with the rest of the urban core, so public transit to this area will need to be ameliorated, if it is to become an extension of the city, as opposed to a segregated wasteland. Moreover, such a location seems ideal for a major tourist destination, and I know the idea of a multi-purpose museum (including ‘traveling’ exhibits from the city’s principle museums – I’m glad this didn’t go too far) at the site was batted about a few years ago. Spacing Montréal provides some analysis and some great shots of the complex, and Héritage Montréal has considered the site to be threatened for some time – I think it’s pretty clear the prominence of the site, and our fascination with the rugged beauty of it, the juxtaposition of an island of rusting industrial calm surrounded by the polished facade of the Old Port – a dark and quintessentially modern Montréal aesthetic. In sum, I’d hate to see condos here, but what’s for certain is that a massive industrial ruin is far from ideal given it may impede development around it. However, if it was a functioning building that retained the aesthetic of an industrial ruin, well, I could certainly live with that. For the time being, the CLC could do the city a favour and allow more access to the site. Public consultations next year won’t be worth much if the people don’t have a good idea about what’s feasible here, and what this space is like, up close and personal.

Montréal’s Close Encounter

With many thanks to the public broadcaster that put this up gratis on the interwebs; amazingly the public broadcaster didn’t have this video in their archives…

On November 7th 1990 a couple was out for a swim in the heated rooftop pool of the Bonaventure Hilton. Looking up, they saw a large metallic shape with several bands of glowing lights, slowly hovering around the as-yet still incomplete 1000 De la Gauchetiere. Alarmed, they contacted hotel security, which in turn contacted the authorities. Police arrived on the seen and a small crowd gathered on the roof. They were all seeing the same thing – an immense, aerial vehicle, slowly maneuvering around the tower. The constables contacted their brass, including the commanding officer of the local police station, who in turn put a call in to the military base at St-Hubert, and then to Mirabel and Dorval airports. Nothing on radar, no military exercises, nothing official and no idea what it was that, at least officially, 300 people saw that night. Over the course of a few hours, the object slowly drifted across the city, moving northeast before taking off over the Big O. The police even went so far as to turn off the floodlights at the construction site across the street – it made no difference. It was generally silent, and even caused a power failure in the East End.

Some argued that it was a highly localized type of Aurora Borealis, though as someone who has watched the famed Northern Lights, I can say that no one calls the RCMP or the Canadian Air Force for suspected Northern Lights, especially not high ranking police officers.

The following is a great video with additional interviews made by Canal D (so its en Francais), check it out and come to your own conclusions, but for the record, this one is still one of the most well-known unsolved flying object cases ever recorded.

Crime in the City { No.1 } – Dunie Ryan’s Revenge

All you see is, crime in the city...

With the recent assassination of Nicolo Rizzuto Sr. according to Montréal’s Gazette, an ‘alleged’ Mafia boss, and our city’s retarded fascination with legitimizing (or romanticizing) organized crime, I thought I’d point out a rather infamous event from our dark past.

On November 25th 1984, a bomb was delivered in the form of a VCR to an apartment at the Le Maisonneuve apartment building, killing four and injuring eight. Those killed had themselves participated in the assassination of Frank “Dunie” Ryan twelve days earlier at a no-tell motel on Upper Lachine. Ryan, the reputed leader of the West End Gang, at the time one of the most important crime syndicates in the city. The blast was powerful enough to destroy most of the floor, though mercifully no civilians were killed, and the building didn’t collapse. Of note – the the time, a police station was located across the street at de Maisonneuve and St-Mathieu!

As Montréalers gathered to gawk outside Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense church in Little Italy, I wondered just how bad crime will have to get in this city before the citizens decide to react. The Biker War began to end when a twelve year old was killed by a car bomb, and admittedly, we have extremely low murder rates here in Montréal. But it wasn’t always this way, and the recent string of bombings and targeted assassinations should be considered as a potential harbinger of a larger gang war. But as long as idiots think of people like Rizzuto as akin to Marlon Brando in the Godfather, expect it to get worse. There’s a video posted to the CTV site in which Rob Laurie questions those outside the church as to what they thought – one individual referred to this guy as a ‘historical figure’, while others drew comparisons, endless comparisons to Marlon Brando. Makes me wonder if people are actually capable of discerning fact from fiction…

A Modest Proposal { No. 3 } – Windsor Station & The Forum

Windsor Station, with John A. Macdonald memorial in foreground, Place du Canada

The last thing Brian Mulroney ever did as Prime Minister was to officially break ground at the site of the Molson Centre, now the Bell Centre, current home of the Montréal Canadiens. It was one of those great photo-ops, as ‘the Chin’ heralded in a new era for his favourite city’s favourite sons. Progress, development, and a PM delivering a gift to the city (though of course he had nothing to do with it officially, but given his method of slime-based business practices, it wouldn’t surprise me if he made some backdoor profits). What he didn’t know is what it would cost us in the future, as Canadian Pacific would vacate Windsor Station, its home for over eighty years, four years later. In addition, the placement of the Molson Centre immediately to the west of the station severed it from CP track, which now stops at an open platform on the east side of the venue. I doubt Mulroney had any notion rail travel would be so important seventeen years later, and that if the city has any real interest in expanding service and operations, another station would be necessary. What makes the Molson/Bell Centre so infuriating is that it added nothing to its surroundings in terms of business development, as a stroll down the south side of St-Antoine will attest to. So we got a state-of-the-art venue, but we lost the functionality of a landmark, a major corporation, and by extension, the move from Atwater further led to the detriment of the neighbourhood (let’s face it, the Pepsi Forum is an eyesore and the whole western edge of the city has slowly eroded since 1996).

Pepsi Forum, an 'entertainment complex'...

There’s no doubt the Bell Centre is a success unto itself; it’s an excellent hockey rink which has sold out every game for the last four years – certainly the Habs have a lot to do with it, but if the building weren’t well designed and an experience unto itself, I’m certain more people would stay home to watch the game. Moreover, it’s also a half-decent music venue, attracting the overwhelming majority of the city’s big-name acts. This last point is contentious, as many hard-core concert goers have told me the acoustics could be better, but I digress. The question is – is the Bell Centre replaceable?

I’d argue that it is, that its probably already being discussed and that the further inconvenience of its placement is justification alone to demolish it and have the Habs play somewhere else.

Architecturally, I’d say it offers nothing to the cityscape. It is a purely functional building with a design and style thoroughly influenced by commercial concerns – it’s not a landmark, it’s already beginning to look dated, and has all the soulful expression as a highway 40 turnkey warehouse built by Broccolinni!

So perhaps its time to move hockey back to Atwater?

Montréal Forum, 1970s, from a postcard

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Atwater area is in dire need of a major overhaul and renovation, especially considering that this used to have a very different aesthetic and character – it was upscale, a prestige address. With the Montréal Children’s Hospital set to vacate their Cabot Square address in a few years when the Super-hospital is completed, the area is going to need a few new anchors to inject new revenue into the area. Recycling the existing Pepsi Forum into a new sports and entertainment venue seems logical, given the attachment the area has with such diversions. Moreover, the Forum block is a very large piece of property, one of the few within the urban core capable of supporting such a large building. Ideally, a new Forum would be built to accommodate some of the current tenants, while others could be moved to Place Alexis-Nihon, or integrated into an expanded Atwater Underground (why the Forum isn’t directly connected to the Metro never made any sense to me, this could be fixed).

Now, with the Bell Centre demolished, Windsor Station could be renovated into a fully functional train station, meaning that Central Station could move some of its VIA operations to make room for additional AMT operations, allowing for the expansion of Montréal’s rail capacity by having a segregation of services between two dedicated stations, each connected to the other, the Underground City and four Métro stations. The concentration of services, hotels, connections etc between the two stations is exceptional, and a fully functioning Windsor Station could provide the necessary localized economic spin-off an insulated building like the Bell Centre could never offer.

Food for thought – I think we had it right back in the day, and this is something worth reconsidering.

Reach the beach!

Water's Edge, St-Anne-de-Bellevue, at the Western tip of the Island of Montréal

I took this picture several years ago as part of series I took in and around John Abbott College, a CEGEP, or state-funded post-secondary community college, I attended between 2002 and 2004, at the western tip of Montréal. The town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is an independent community whose population swells considerably from September through May during the school year. It’s a key component of the culture and society of Montreal’s West Island, a massive traditionally Anglophone though multi-cultural suburb west of the City of Montréal. Of the dozen or so communities which constitute the West Island, St-Anne’s is a very particular place, about as distinct from the rest as one could imagine. During the summer, it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and a pleasant escape . I’ve often wondered what it would take for the town to reclaim its former status as a sort of micro-resort. Indeed, back before the Second World War, most of the north shore of Lac-St-Louis was lined with vacation homes and lakeside cottages. As the suburbs developed thanks to better, more efficient transit infrastructure in the post-war period, many of these homes became prized jewels for the suburban upper-class. So, to an extent, the transformation from country-escape to wealthy suburb has been successful in that the aesthetic character of the suburb is reminiscent of rural settings. But increased human traffic and pollution has lead to a loss of the West Island’s once-famous and well-frequented beaches.

So what would it take to get them back?

Lac-St-Louis is notoriously polluted, thanks primarily to years of dumping raw-sewerage directly into the Saint-Lawrence River and having it collect in this pond of a lake. Massive water-treatment plants in addition to the construction of new beaches and wetlands would be necessary to restore the lakeside eco-systems so heavily damaged by years of mis-use.

I find it odd in general that Montréalers could be so cognizant of the raw natural beauty of this island so as to build massive parks to protect it, and then drive several hours north on congested highways to escape it. If only we better recognized and understood the value of having clean natural wilderness nearby. A start would be to clean the lakes and rivers around the city, and though the process would be long and costly, the potential economic benefit of a “Montréal-as-Eco-Resort”  development program could lead to less volatility and higher general sustainability for Montréal’s tourism economy. And all of this is aside from just awesome it would be to live in a major city with clean beaches on a freshwater lake 20 mins from the Downtown.

I think St-Anne’s could use a re-branding of sorts. It is spectacularly beautiful at all times of the year, and benefits (tourism-wise) not only from two colleges (with dorms), but a massive veteran’s hospital, an arboretum, an eco-museum, marina, adjacent golf courses and the spooky remnants of Fort Senneville, the former veterans hospital and a very old church. The concentration of unique cultural and societal institutions and artifacts in this area means there’s plenty to do and see, and yet the community has struggled with a recent dip in tourism dollars.

So there it is – Montréal should think about making itself an Eco-tourism destination sans pareil, and an on-island resort community in St-Anne’s ought to be the jewel in the crown. Take the 211 from Lionel-Groulx and see it for yourself.