So I found this great aerial shot of Montréal’s “new” central business district while munching on poutine and ‘steamés’ at the Montréal Pool Room back two winters ago after a night of dancing at Igloofest – good times and highly recommended. There’s nothing more satisfying than boogying down to the electric boogaloo with tens of thousands of other Montrealers defiant to the last not to be brought down by Winter’s icy catatonia. Who says Winter’s for hibernation? Not I good sir, not I.
Here we can see the new Montréal, springing up along a new commercial artery. In a happy coincidence, the aerial rights over the Mount Royal Tunnel pit were developed at pretty much the same time as Dorchester Street (now Boul. René-Lévesque) was being enlarged into a major urban boulevard. Moreover, the old Windsor Hotel had suffered a partial fire in 1957 which had left a large plot of land open for development at Peel. Thus, between 1958 and 1962 Montrealers were presented with an interesting visual treat – the construction of three skyscrapers simultaneously and the complete and total transformation of the centre of the city, as Place Ville Marie (centre), the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, CN Headquarters (to the East of Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral) and the first ICAO Building were built atop the former ‘tunnel-pit’.
The skyscrapers in this picture, from left to right, are the CIBC Building (1962), Sun Life Building (1931), 1 PVM (1962) and the former CIL House (1962 – currently Telus Tower). Notice the two parking lots at the bottom centre of the photograph. The one at left would become the site of the Chateau Champlain and Place du Canada building in 1966-1967, while the one to the right would remain undeveloped until 1988. Ergo, if you can imagine walking down Peel towards St-Antoine in 1964, and were looking Southeast across these lots, you would have seen the impressive, elegant Tour de la Bourse rising from a mass of old victorian buildings. I believe there’s a five second sequence demonstrating this exact perspective somewhere halfway through Luc Bourdon’s Memories of Angels.
Also missing is the Terminal Tower, which would be built immediately to the East of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1966, filling up most of the block and completing one of the most seen perspectives of Montréal. It is this section of the city which has stood-in for New York City more times than I can imagine, precisely because it is one of the few areas of the urban environment where ‘the cavern effect’ can be effectively demonstrated. And unlike what you would find in NYC, our version is less overwhelming, what with our building height restrictions and what all (jesus, what’s with my interior monologue today?)
So what can I say – go take a walk why not?