More on Boul. de Maisonneuve’s prior history as a massive parking lot

View of Uptown Montréal (President-Kennedy & Aylmer near centre of pic) - 1970 from CIBC Observation Deck; not the work of the author

Man I love looking at this picture.

I mean I hate it as well – what a massive wasteland of parking lots. Look at it!

Today the area is considerably different. Boul. de Maisonneuve was literally carved out of existing cityscape back in the early and mid-1960s at the same time as the Métro tunnel was carved out of the bedrock almost directly beneath. I can understand the argument against this kind of destructive construction in general, but I feel that the city, and this sector in particular, actually benefited immensely from this development.

For one, Boul. de Maisonneuve now serves as a prominent link between diverse neighbourhoods – from NDG/St-Raymond through Westmount, Atwater, the Shaughnessy Village, New Chinatown, the Concordia Ghetto, Crescent Village right into Uptown Montréal, the area largely re-developed as a consequence of Boul. de Maisonneuve’s construction (back in the 1970s it was referred to as Place du Centre and I believe part of the Master Plan would eventually lead to McGill College’s redevelopment in the mid-late 1980s). Extending East, Boul. de Maisonneuve further links up with the Quartier des Spectacles, the Lower Main, the Habitations Jeanne-Mance & Quartier Latin etc. It’s a belt, and this city needs multiple East-West arteries simply to help move the millions of people who flood into the city centre each day.

It’s unfortunate that this sector was developed almost exclusively to serve the skyrocketing demand for retail corporate office space in the 1970s and 1980s, and I think a major fault in that plan – lack of residential housing – is at least partially responsible for the Tremblay administration’s aim to build residential buildings primarily in remaining parking lots in this area. Again, there’s a problem in that most of the new development is condominiums, while the area needs mixed housing and social-services (primary and secondary schools, cultural/community space etc) in order to be a viable neighbourhood with a distinct character, considerations which are vital to its long-term survival.

That being said, we’ve come a long way from above. I would have hated this area back then – I wouldn’t have been able to walk through it without obsessing as to why no one had put a park here (and I think we can all agree this area could use some more public green space). Today, it seems dynamic, clean and well-used. During the day it bustles and it’s pretty clear that the sector is of vital importance to the city’s economy.

What do you think about this picture? Have we been moving in the right direction? Let me know – I’d love to get a better understanding of what the readership honestly thinks about new development in Montréal.

The Montr̩al Tramways Building and Terminal Рor РWhy Trams Work in the 5-1-4

Tramways Building before integration into the Palais-des-Congrés

I hate to say it but I end up having to prove that trams can indeed operate effectively in Montréal. I can’t prove that it works technologically – I don’t need to – I can prove it historically. And historically speaking, the technology used for our tram system back before 1959 pales in comparison to the technology we’ve developed here at home. Don’t forget, Bombardier is a world leader in tram design, yet we don’t even have a local example to demonstrate. Kind of pathetic no?

The building above was once the HQ of the Montreal Tramways Company (MTC), predecessor to today’s STM. It has since been integrated into the Palais-des-Congrés, and by this I mean effectively all that remains is the facade and some choice interior details. It’s lost its function.

Here we can see the Tramways Building and Craig Street Terminus – the Berri-UQAM of its day, it once served 14 tram lines directly into the heart of the financial district. Montreal had a tram for about 100 years up until 1959 when the MTC replaced the entire tram network with GMC buses. read all about the Great American Streetcar Scandal here, our tram met it’s fate for the same reason. But it wasn’t just that new buses were introduced, its that the tram network and infrastructure was destroyed in the process, so it couldn’t be used again. This is the travesty.

Trams were the backbone of the City of Montréal’s public transit network for almost a century. They operated year-round in all conditions. They climbed our steep hills and plowed through the snow. All the natural elements you may think might interrupt service on a tram line were considerably more problematic in the past – even as recently as the late 1950s Montréal’s snow-clearing capabilities were still severely limited. Despite this, the tram functioned flawlessly and effectively. While there are certainly gradients too steep for trams to climb in our city, they are almost by there very definition useless and wouldn’t be involved in a tram-route scheme. Consider that both the Camilien-Houde Parkway and Cote-des-Neiges Road once had tram lines operating on them.

Another concern is unsightly overheard wires – there are intersections in Toronto that seem to have massive cyber-punk esque spider-webs overhead! To my knowledge, there are tram designs which draw power from underground sources, and I would advocate for that type to avoid overhead clutter. Either way, in our day and age there are few even remotely compelling arguments against tramways development.

MTC Tram and Bus route map - 1941

Consider this map and ask yourself how you might design a new tram network for the city and outlying regions. Consider that in 1941, the map above effectively was both city and outlying regions, including first and second ring suburbs. It seems as if the public transit scheme of 1941 was considerably more complete, more wide-reaching, than the model we have today which barely covers the entire island. The STM currently has a fleet of 1,600 buses. Imagine how much farther the STM could reach into the Metropolitan region if it constructed a tramway system to serve the intermediate-urban region between the Métro-served downtown core and the bus-served suburbs.

On a final note, though the STM has been failing at drawing ridership onto the 515, which is supposed to emulate a planned tram route, we can’t ignore the novelty of a new transit system. In other words, people who don’t like the bus or Métro – for whatever reason – may prefer to take the tram. It’ll find a clique of public transit users, and doubtless encourage new riders to commit to public transit. Most importantly, a new tram system, on certain streets, may be more efficient if the tram didn’t have to share the road with regular automobile traffic. In other words, what if we re-designed major urban thoroughfares to be pedestrian/bike/tram only? I can imagine the perennial call to make Ste-Catherine’s a pedestrian mall would gain more traction if high-capacity trams ran down its centre.

What can I say? Shouldn’t this be a major local political issue? I’d like to see an election where at least one party had a sustainable tram-development plan, especially one financed by the city directly, so we’re not sitting around playing with ourselves while we wait for federal or provincial grants. What do you think of the state of our public transit system?

Like Fiery-Sunrise Slashing through the Dim-Blue Dawn…

René Lévesque & Pierre Trudeau - not the work of the author

Separatism is dead. Sovereignty is dying. I’m concerned about the latter; the former is still pointless.

These terms have unfortunately come to be somewhat interchangeable in Canadian political discourse, particularly when it comes to the perennial ‘Québec Question’, though in my eye – and in political/philosophical terms – they are exceptionally different. I would like to devote the rest of life to ensuring each individual citizen comprehends the fundamental importance of the latter, and further ensuring that each individual living in our collective society understands the suicidal lunacy of the former. We are a particular nation – the sovereign collective, the collectively sovereign – and it seems to me that our lack of self-awareness, our seeming lack of a socio-cultural foundation lie somewhere deep in this political reality. We shirk from our responsibility to understand ourselves more fully, feeling ourselves to be presently and perhaps forevermore, a mere accident; Europe’s wasted effort.

Canada is not a nation. We are a collective of nations. We have no Nationalism – and why would we? Destroying the greatest evil Nationalism ever created propelled us from Imperial Backwater to World Power in six years. Nationalism was the 19th century’s mistake, and we were justified in turning our backs on it. We did this years ago. We made ourselves post-national and post-modern back in the 1960s. The good work done then lasted us well into the first part of the last decade; no matter Stephen Harper tells you or makes you think, the Canada you live in is an inherently progressive country. Our laws, enshrined in our Constitution and Charter, make us a leading liberal social-democratic nation. And it was no accident.

I’m not going to whitewash things. We’re not perfect. But we have relatable foundation documents. We have modern foundation documents. No “Tea Party North” will re-interpret our Charter – it’s meaning and intent is clear, and it, like our Constitution and the thirty years’ worth of legal proceedings since its repatriation, remain clear, progressive, inherently liberal. Despite some stand-out historical abuses of power which have marred our country’s reputation, we have managed to create a unique and exceptionally powerful example of a liberal democracy with a social-justice bent.

But we can’t take it for granted.

The Orange Crush of May 2nd 2011 demonstrated a sea-change in Canadian and Québec politics. Québec decided with one vote to forego the continued widespread support of a regionalist-bloc party and instead threw their support behind the dedicated agent of social-democratic change in Canadian federal politics. In essence, the people of Québec indicated that they are prepared to work with all Canadians to ensure Canada does not deviate too far towards neo-Conservatism. This event has heralded the end of sectarian/regionalist federalist parties: no longer can the CPC play the old Tory Populist card of appealing to Conservative rural voters in Québec and the West. The CPC is an alliance of regionalist, non-integrationalist thoughts and perspectives, manifested as a political entity. It is a party of division that succeeded by re-enforcing division. And yet from this we find unison, and surely the Tories could never have expected almost all of Québec to decide, almost overnight, to throw their support behind the NDP. Neither could they have imagined NDP support would grow – nationally – to the point where Jack Layton would retire his two main rivals. He is the undisputed leader of the national opposition, and his powerbase is primarily in Québec, though curiously all of the major cities as well. The May 2nd election was an event of national importance: there are indeed ties that bind and unite this nation. The cities are pan-nationalistic. Québec is the minorité-majeur. The NDP is the future of Canada and the sovereignty of all Canadians is the only major national concern moving forward.

Separatism must die – and it seems that this is the case. The Bloc is a shell of its former self, and péquiste stalwarts are dropping like flies. It’s no longer in vogue for the young and it’s losing whatever academic or economic credibility it once pretended to have. And at the end of the day it is not about whether or not it’s just for the people of Québec to have their own stolen piece of Aboriginal land, their own coins or trade agreements. It’s about what each of us owe to the other in the land we share. It’s about biting the bullet and getting involved, paying your taxes and working hard to support the welfare-state that keeps us safe and secure. It’s also about recognizing where these ideas come from, what their genesis was, and why we live the lives we do.

Canada wouldn’t exist without Québec; neither in our past nor our future. And in this relationship, where Québec sits as a kind of first-amongst-equals with regards to the other provinces, Québec has serious responsibilities – to lead, to mediate, to demonstrate the ancient wisdom of our people, to demonstrate our intractable nature and commitment for the betterment of all Canadians. A separatist is fundamentally a nationalist-capitalist, disinclined to share. A sovereignist by contrast seeks to establish a confederation where sharing is the law, and we all take a little to maximize our collective freedoms.

And as we hit the mid-point of 2011, with news-reports coming in at an increasing rate of police abuses and contested civil rights from all corners of the decadent West, we must ask ourselves just how separate we really want to be. Because, when the state turns fascistic – even if only by a small degree – it is the collective sovereignty of the people that is fundamentally threatened. And the response can never hope of succeeding if it is divided.

This article was originally posted to Forget the Box.

Montréal Kitsch: the Kon-Tiki Polynesian Restaurant

Illustrated advertisement for the Kon-Tiki - located at what is currently the Cours Mont-Royal; not the work of the author

When my parents were growing up, the Kon-Tiki was a top-flight Montréal resto and a true local institution. Apparently it was known far and wide and outlived the 1960s Polynesian fad by a considerable margin. It certainly helped that they were located in one of the most fashionable hotels in the city at that time, not to mention a stellar decor. Kinda wish resurrecting restaurants was a thing.

Is it me or is dude all crazy-eyed looking at that green drink?


Disused rail line, Port of Montréal near Moreau Street, facing West - 1954: credit to Vicky Robinson

When I first came across this photograph I thought instinctively that was from a very early period, 1890s or thereabouts. Closer inspection revealed the Jacques-Cartier Bridge in the background… and then I realized the date included with the rest of the pertinent info. Oh well, only spent ten minutes trying to figure out how old it was.

I can’t tell whether it’s a power line or a telephone line, but either way it was clear rail was hardly the priority. I suppose I could have just shown you a recent picture of the Bell Centre to indicate my personal malaise at the state of rail transit in the city from which once all rail led.

What do you think about rail access in Montréal? Will the Train-de-l’Est spurn additional AMT development? Will we ever build a high-speed link from here to anywhere else? And what about the long-talked about high-speed train to NYC? It’s been on the books for twenty some-odd years!

Is this picture an appropriate metaphor for how our city deal with new technologies? How apt is it?

The longer I look at this picture the more it seems to mean to me…

Demolishing Burnside Place to build Boul. de Maisonneuve

Here’s something to think about. The above photo was indicated as taken in 1959 and is pointed East along the street which would eventually become Boul. de Maisonneuve (which was largely carved out of the existing cityscape while the Métro was being constructed in the mid-1960s).

On the right side of the picture (which was taken from about Stanley Street; we’ll use Burnside as our left/right dividing line) we can see two large buildings. The one in the foreground is the Hermes Building, where Copacabana Night Club is located. Behind it, hugging the right side of the image is what was once the Mount Royal Hotel, today the Cours Mont-Royal. The intersections, as you proceed up the street is, alleyway, Peel, Metcalfe, Mansfield, McGill College, Victoria, University at which point there seems to be row houses either at Union or Aylmer. The whitish building on the right is probably the Eaton’s Dept. Store with the darker building behind it being was is today the Bay.

Just past the Mount Royal Hotel, home of Montréal’s once-famous Kon-Tiki Polynesian restaurant, is another former culinary institution, Ben’s Delicatessen, visible to the right of the street, about half way up the centre of the pic. Everything else in this picture, including everything to the left of Burnside, has been demolished. What was developed in its place was an entirely new financial core known at the time as Place du Centre, a massive development scheme which used Maissoneuve and McGill College as its focal point. Beginning with the demolition of Burnside, the creation of Boul. de Maisonneuve and the development of the Métro in the mid-late 1960s, this sector was then transformed by new commercial real-estate construction which lasted up until the major renovation of McGill College in the late 1980s. Twenty years of sustained development, based off a master plan, and almost all residential housing in this area completely erased.

I’m not sure if this is a cautionary tale – city’s need to build, and the area looks great. Still, it gives one moment to pause. If almost everything in this picture can be erased and replaced within twenty years, how will other parts of the city look twenty years from now?

And by the way, it took me the better part of an hour to figure out exactly where this picture was taken and which way it’s looking. Look at it and ask yourself where else in the city this picture might fit.

This picture shows the demolitions necessary to create Boul. de Maisonneuve to the West of Stanley, where Burnside terminated. Note that this picture, much like the last one, was taken from the roof of the Drummond Court building, in the middle of the street. As you can see here, the building stood up until about ten years ago when it was demolished, along with the old YMCA building, to make way for the Lepine Condo Towers. The city punched a hole through the building’s main floor to allow thru-traffic on Boul. de Maisonneuve.

There’s a lot more in this photo which was saved from destruction, but then again the downtown can only have so many ‘cores’ right? Two buildings stand out here, namely, the Royal George Apartments at top left (now integrated into the Concordia Library Building) and Guy Tower, before its 1990 renovation at top right (both are noticeably white on a grey background). I’d date this picture about the same time as the last one, late-1950s, though likely early 1960s.