I remember, at a rather young age, feeling disappointed when visiting the Old Port, especially when walking along the boardwalk. While the summertime crowds would grow more impressive with time, and my personal associations with the space changed as I matured, I still couldn’t shake those early impressions of loss. Perhaps it was because my impression of that space was tainted by my father and grandfather, who both reminisced as to the old days when that same space was filled with longshoremen, mariners, and a bustling open-air market in Place Jacques-Cartier. They both seemed wistful for the emotive qualities the Port used to emit, the action and frenzy of a massive industrial and commercial operation which operated almost constantly. The Port of Montréal is actually busier now than it has ever been, and is ranked among North America’s leading ports. It’s still the only major inland port in North America, still feeding and serving central Canada, not to mention the American Midwest and Rustbelt. Moreover, the Old Port of Montréal is thriving as a major tourist destination and, in my personal opinion, has only grown over the years, offering generally excellent services and events. There’s no question the Old Port of Montréal is a desirable, perhaps enviable addition to our fair city.
But, could it have more of a ‘port’ feel I wonder? What port services could be blended into the current incarnation of the Quays of the Old Port?
The photo above gives an excellent view of what’s behind Grain Silo No.5, a heritage site no one really knows what to do with. It’s a heritage oddity, given that its a former industrial building and can’t be converted into anything else without significant renovations. Regardless, its one of three principle properties owned by Canada Lands Corporation; CLC is now in charge of the ‘New Harbourfront’ initiative, which aims to develop these areas in and around the Old Port into viable communities and residential areas. Among other things, it may spur a partial redevelopment of the western tip of the Port of Montréal, while providing a foundation for a new Griffintown project. It seems pretty clear the City is looking to increase density between Old Montréal and the Shaughnessy Village area, with many new residential projects and a lot of generally good urban redevelopment along this diagonal corridor over the course of the last decade.
It seems unlikely that the Old Port will retain any current Port functions with an increased population base, as with an increase to population, sites like Point-du-Moulin may be redeveloped for commercial and cultural purposes.
In effect, there’s only one pier left in the Old Port which seems without a purpose, or perhaps investment. The Alexandra Quay is occasionally used to take in cruise ships. When I was younger I used to do a variety of odd-jobs during the summer for the dozen or so small cruise ships which would dock in Montréal, either at the beginning or end of a gambling cruise which would either begin or end up in New York City. Our port lacks a proper passenger terminal, and its about time the City did something about it. As it stands now, the Alexandra Quay is severely cut-off from not only the City, but even the Old Port. There are no services provided at the terminal – the café closed some time ago, and the two (previously free and open) lookouts at the end of the King Edward and Alexandra Quays are not only in desperate need of repair, but are also (apparently) private, and for the exclusive use of those employed by the Port.
The city would stand to benefit from a major investment in a new passenger terminal, and could further provide a source of funding to secure increased cruise-ship traffic (not to mention regular, functional use) by establishing a passenger ferry component to our city’s public transit infrastructure. Imagine you live in Chateauguay, Dorion, Les Cedres or St-Lambert – taking a ferry to the Old Port would be a very nice way to start your day, not to mention, with crossing time relatively low, such a service would doubtless encourage many South Shore resident to leave their cars at home. And that’s just the South Shore, there’s no reason why regular passenger ferry service couldn’t be extended to the West Island, Beauharnois, Vaudreuil or Repentigny as well.
What ought to concern us as citizens is when large spaces are only partially utilized, and/or experience periodic bursts in activity, traffic or economic stimulus. When tourism dollars don’t materialize, the Old Port suffers, so a regular source of traffic entering the port year round (ie, via a passenger ferry service and additional cruise traffic) would go a long way to proving the areas economic vitality. And on a final note, before you even think it remember that winter ice can easily be broken, and Montréal is accessible by a navigable waterway year-round.