Category Archives: A modest proposal

Mordecai Richler’s Ghost

Mordecai Richler - 1983 - photo credit to Ryan Remiorz

In case you’ve had your head stuck under a rock for the last few weeks, a petition has been put forth by City Councilor Marvin Rotrand to have something named after Richler before the 10th anniversary of death this July. If you’d like to sign the petition, go here. Among other things considered, Fairmount Street, St-Urbain Street and the Mile End Library.

If you’d like to find out what the President of the St-Jean Baptiste Society thinks, go here. As you can imagine, the mere mentioning of this great writer’s name in certain circles got the Independence-minded swimming in circles, defiant to the last that nothing should ever honour this writer. You see, Mordecai Richler secretly hated all French-Canadians. I say secretly because he was so good at keeping his hatred hidden deep down inside that there are virtually no examples, no even shitty, half-assed examples, of his hatred for all things Québecois.

And, ten years after the man’s death, no one has found anything to nail his ass to the wall, so to speak.

That being said, Rotrand’s proposal has come under fire from the lunatic fringe of the Québec Independence movement, as there is a general perception of Richler, among certain circles, as an anti-Québecois racist.

Unfortunately, when it comes time to deal with that pesky thing called proof, the irrational and misguided Patriotes tend to point fingers in all directions except Richler’s work. there’s a feeling he may be a racist which isn’t backed up by legitimate information. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Could it be as a result of the separatist fringe’s unwillingness or disinterest to sit down and actually read his books, whether fiction or non-fiction?

I haven’t read much of his work, and don’t worry, I’m already on my own case for being so negligent. It’s a New Years resolution of mine. However, I have read his extremely controversial 1992 non-fiction essay, Oh Canada! Oh Québec!, which itself was largely based on a series of essays he penned for some major international publications, such as the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly. When I say controversial, I mean to say it was perceived as such. I personally couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about.

For many years Richler was as much the quintessential Canadian essayist as he was an author of fiction, and herein lies the source of the controversy. He lambasted politicians from both sides of the constitutional debates of the late-1980s and early-1990s, and was vilified by French-Canadians as much as the Jewish community of Montr̩al, which at one point called him an anti-Semite. He exposed the dark and, at times, plain old retarded aspects of the Canadian mentality (regardless of faith or religion Рthe ties that bind in our case can be embarrassing).

Here is a video of an interview Mr. Richler gave to the SRC back in 1991, a year before his essay hit the bookshelves. It seems as if most of the controversy arose from Richler’s claims that many key intellectual supporters of Québec independence demonstrated clear anti-Semitic tendencies. It doesn’t help our cause when we’ve gone ahead and named so many things after these people, such as Lionel Groulx and Henri Bourassa. Moreover, Richler indicates that the rest of the world – his international audience – finds our constitutional problems to be laughable. I suppose they were, especially when you consider we could just have easily have gone down the road traveled by the Balkan States at the same time. Moreover, Groulx and Bourassa were definitely anti-Semites, and they in turn were the product of the Catholic mini-theocracy which existed here prior to the Quiet Revolution (which Richler cleverly points out owed its 1960 victory to Anglophone votes from Montréal, as Francophones were still major supporters of the Duplessis Regime and the Union Nationale). More than anything else, Richler pointed out one effective truth about separatist hard-liners. They won’t allow you to criticize them, and are generally poor at being self-critical. If they were, I doubt they’d be in favour of separation.

And Lionel Groulx was a virulent anti-Semite and fascist. He may have been the first writer of nationalist Québecois history, but he also wrote that Dollard-des-Ormeaux died a martyr to our cause. In reality, he attacked an Iroquois hunting-party and paid for his violent tendencies with his life. But this has been swept aside by so many revisionist textbooks…

In any event, I implore all Montréalers to go out and read any one of his books and write me back if they can find any proof of anti-French or anti-Québecois sentiment. And remember, he was a satirist, so tread carefully.

As far as renaming something in his honour – I have a far better idea. Use whatever money which would otherwise go to renaming something instead to finance a film production of any of his novels. That way, everyone can see his work for themselves, and it would clearly honour his memory while simultaneously making it available for all to see. that, or buy everyone a copy of Solomon Gursky Was Here

A modest proposal { No. 4 } – Port Life

Memories of a sea-going life

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?

Port in Thaw

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.

From King Edward Quay

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.

Five Competing Métro Expansion Proposals

Updated: October 30, 2012

None of these are of my own design; judge for yourselves:

I found this one a while back, seems like an interesting idea. It incorporates three rapid-bus systems plus a Parc Avenue light rail system, with a considerably larger Métro system in general, though with considerable focus on the higher-density regions closer to the downtown core.

The following proposal for system improvement doesn’t involve any non-Métro systems, but has considerably more lines and stations. Also notice how all three airports are connected, and how the downtown would be connected by four parallel East-West lines and seems to indicate a type of network-sharing system where multiple lines would use the same track. Further, consider the number of junction stations:

I also like this proposal because it very clearly allows access to all four corners of the Metropolitan region. Keep it in mind Рthis system is nothing more than a dream, though its always encouraging to see random people envisioning their ideal M̩tro system. If only our elected officials would get the picture and pursue a more ambitious expansion program. Imagine what could be if we were building at a rate of 26 stations every 4 years. We did it without blinking between 1962 and 1966.

October 27th update:

Another find!

Looking at this plan I can’t help but remark on the similarities in the three designs, as it seems to have borrowed from each in addition to the current MTQ plan and elements of very early designs. Among other things, closing the Orange Line loop, extending further into Laval and Longueuil, following bridges and highways, extending the Blue Line East to Anjou, connecting Ile des Soeurs and additional East-West lines to cover the downtown and a Pie-IX line are all featured in these three designs. The first plan is highly reserved and realistic whereas the second is bold (though less accurate than the others), and the third seems constrained by the dimensions of a Métro map poster. That said – check out that Brown Line – it goes everywhere! What a great idea, a ‘sight-seer’ Métro line running from Brossard through the CBD and onto the airport.

I also like the idea, oft repeated, of having additional multi-line hubs East of Berri-UQAM, such as at the Olympic Stadium, and of course the second plan’s design to link all the airports with the urban core. What’s striking is that it doesn’t seem to me like any official plan would even consider the possibility of building entirely new lines and hubs; these plans are realistic given that by 2012-2013, the metropolitan population is going to reach 4 million, and the citizens will no longer be able to rely on their cars to get around the metropolitan region. Public transit will require a massive investment in order for large cities to remain operationally competitive, we just cannot afford the same carbon footprint in the future. Thus, it makes sense to begin a massive development project and wildly expand the Métro, as soon as possible. Any of these designs are feasible as long as we demand it, but we must demonstrate clearly and effectively that we will not stand for anything less than the world’s finest Métro system. It is our responsibility, it is our heritage and a credit to our high-tech industries, but it must be kept at a perpetual ‘state-of-the-art’ status if we’re to make any money off it. The citizens need better than what is currently provided and Métro development needs to become a principle priority for the Mayor. If we were as motivated to build a Métro system today as we were fifty years ago, we could attain total metropolitan coverage within forty years, maybe sooner. That kind of long term steady investment is exactly what we need to keep our economy stable and create real, insurable employment. Public works and infrastructure projects worked in the States with the New Deal, so there’s no reason why we can’t do the same basic thing today on a localized scale. Building a massive new Métro could be money in the bank.

Métro Extension proposal by Matthew MacLauchlin

A very interesting proposal. What I like most: far better commuter rail development is integrated into the project, with multiple AMT-SMT inter-modal stations, vital for traffic dispersion. Given Matthew’s vast and extensive knowledge of the Métro, his bears many of the planned extensions, something else I like – many of the abandoned extension plans were rather well conceived. The Métro and commuter rail network would permit connections to Trudeau and Mirabel, and Matt’s plan further incorporates many closed loops (though, surprisingly, not through Laval, a likely extension to close the Orange Line). I also like how the different lines would have branches in this plan – very unique, it’s as if the colour of the lines define certain geographic areas, corridors of sorts. The magenta line running under Boul. René-Lévesque is an interesting touch, as is the aquamarine line along the northern ridge of the city, something that would be beneficial given the high population density in that sector. It seems as though his plan would opt to either follow existing rail lines, incorporate the Mount Royal Tunnel into the Métro scheme, and further would seek to re-establish rail use at Viger or Dalhousie Station.

Métro expansion proposed by Fouineux

Another fascinating proposal – I’m so impressed with what people can come up with, seriously. This plan does not involve former expansion plans – as you can see, no extension into Longueuil or Laval or Anjou. Instead, multiple ‘scooping’ lines that funnel people onto the Orange and Green lines at multiple stations. I like how this plan features many more multi-line stations, including the proposed super station at McGill with four connections. The extension into the Cité du Multimedia and Griffintown is solid because the area is still oddly detached from the rest of the city. Further, I like how this magenta section would bring a second Métro station to Parc Jean-Drapeau (though I’d much prefer the station to be called Place des Nations rather than Casino) which may finally make the at times desolate park more integrated into the urban fabric.

A question came to mind while thinking about these expansion plans. How quickly could be build any of these expansions? If we wanted it done quickly, would we mandate that the entire expansion operation be conducted at three-shifts per day? How many thousands, if not tens of thousands of people are we willing to hire and for how long? Between 1962 and 1966 we built 26 stations. How much of any of these plans could be accomplished at a similar rate?

How high will gas prices have to rise before these plans are seriously considered? With systems like these (or any amalgam of these systems, in conjunction with commuter trains and buses etc.) we really wouldn’t have much use for cars in the city anymore. It just wont be practical. Further, with Métro expansion comes Réso expansion, and in turn the area defined as being ‘city’ or ‘urban’ increases. With more area coming under the envelope of the city’s high-intensity public transit network, land prices within that area increase as an extension of the added convenience of this heightened level of accessibility. I’m convinced that a better Métro system could be a valuable marketing tool when encouraging people to move back to the city.

The problem with lobby groups…

This story from CBC’s Montréal affiliate caught my attention because its an issue I’ve been considering for some time. The Métro of Montréal was not originally designed for the disabled, and the STM has been trying to fix this problem for the last few years. You’ll notice there are elevators at the main junction stations (Lionel-Groulx and Berri-UQAM) in addition to Bonaventure Station, a principle downtown station with excellent access to the Underground City. Not exactly convenient for the disabled among us. However, its not as though the disabled are completely without transit options. Aside from the fact that most of the Underground City is accessible (with the exceptions of the Métro network) notice that the STM’s bus fleet is largely wheelchair accessible, and there is an adapted transit network, both public and private.

It seems as if the City isn’t planning on sticking to its former time-table, with three new elevators installed at three stations per year until the whole system is deemed ‘accessible’. They have taken a shaky first step several years ago by removing seats from Métro cars (which really only mean they could jam more passengers in during rush-hour since the system still isn’t suited for wheelchair access in general). The lobby group RAPLIQ wants the City to do more to make the Métro accessible, though, with elevator costs coming in at an estimated $15 million per, its unlikely too much money will be set aside to accomplish a full renovation of the system anytime soon.

What bugs me is this: exactly how many disabled people actually live in this city and have a legitimate need to use the Métro? If it were 1% that would mean there are 16,000 fully disabled people needing elevator access. Since I’m guessing the actual figure is less than 1%, we need to use the existing adaptive transit infrastructure as well as possible. Simply put, if RAPLIQ feels as though adapted transit isn’t up to par with their expectations, then perhaps the change ought to be made to the existing service, as opposed to the actual Métro stations.

A suggestion for an interim solution: individual-use lifts which can be fitted over existing staircases with a call-box to the service kiosk. It’s not ideal, and may prove to be a bit of a hassle for the STM employees called out to help people get down into the Métro system, but it will certainly be less expensive than an elevator. Moreover, the current elevators being used are awfully small, especially when compared to much larger express-elevators used in other major transit systems that can transport 40+ people at a time. If the STM wants to continue installing elevators in the Métro, then they should only consider very large capacity systems at a certain number of high-traffic systems. But, given how few disabled people actually live in this city, it makes me wonder whether this money wouldn’t be better spent on extending the system or hours of operation. That would benefit far more people, more often, than elevators.

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.

A modest proposal { No.2 }

Biosphere in Winter

This is the former American Pavilion, designed by Buckminster Fuller for Expo 67. See this site Рperhaps the best Expo 67 website ever created, an excellent resource. Currently, it is the location of the Biosphere of Montr̩al, an Environment Canada museum dedicated to the ecology of the St-Lawrence River Valley.

Originally, the geodesic dome was covered by an acrylic skin, which burned off in an amazing fire (no one was hurt). Fuller had the idea that perhaps large tracts of city could be placed under massive geodesic domes so as to trap pollution within, filtering it out through special ventilation systems which would clean the polluted air before releasing it into the atmosphere. As you can well imagine, such domes would trap greenhouse gases within, so if they implemented this on a larger scale in Montréal, well, winter wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass now would it?

The American Pavilion aflame, 1976

The question that needs to be asked is: should the Biosphere get its skin back? And/or – should we build a dome to cover a part of the city, perhaps a large residential area close to the downtown, and create an artificial environment within? Fuller had some far out ideas for how we should re-organize our lifestyles to anticipate future environmental concerns, and I’d have to recommend Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth as an excellent example of very avant-garde thinking. The effects of our poor long-term environmental planning are starting to manifest themselves, and any move to counter-act the carbon footprint of a major city would be a step in the right direction. And hell, if we built a large dome, people would notice, people would come and visit and ask us for help in building their own. I mean, who’s building gigantic geodesic domes these days? It’d be something…

Expo 67 was a very modernist exhibition of solutions to environmental and design problems discovered over the course of the twentieth century, and the American Pavilion was preserved because of the statement it made – solutions for future problems exist now, and people can orient themselves towards the future in order to anticipate and better react to what’s coming.

So, the second modest proposal Рbuild a geodesic dome over a part of Montr̩al, and create an artificial biosphere within. Demonstrate in no uncertain terms how such a construction can reduce the local carbon footprint, and give our citizens a tropical place we can escape to when its -30 C!