Category Archives: Cultural commentary

Is it time to create West Island transit authority?

So I just saw this post from the West Island Gazette concerning the problems commuters can expect what with the commencement of major renovations to the Turcot Interchange next year. Apparently, the MTQ will allow an eastbound lane on highway 20 to be used exclusively by buses, which will certainly be a benefit to West Island commuters. However, there is also a proposal to cut back on one lane on St. John’s Boulevard so that it can be used exclusively for buses; this will no doubt add to the gridlock experienced by West Island motorists on its North-South Axes. The illustration above is a proposed roadway designed to serve as a new North-South axis connecting highways 20 and 40 in addition to Gouin and Pierrefonds boulevards, on the western edge of residential expansion on the West Island. Doubtless, construction of a large suburban boulevard would certainly lead to additional development further West, on effectively what is one of the few large open tracts of raw Montréal wilderness left on island. I can imagine the land between this proposed road and the Anse-a-l’Orme Trail could see a rapid and degenerative transformation within a few years unless certain protective practises were adopted, such as those observed in the United Kingdom with respect to the established green belts. In spite of this danger, this new roadway would at the very least help minimize congestion in the West Island. And if I’m not mistaken, this seems to be the same location for the once proposed highway 40 to highway 440 link, a project which has been dormant since about 1977. See more about that here.

This plan would see a major highway built to run from the 40 up along the Timberley Trail, across Ile Bizard (effectively bisecting the island) towards Ile Bigras and then through Laval-des-Rapides to join Highway 440. Now while I’m generally not in favour of new highway construction, if we were to go forward, developing with ecological and economic sustainability in mind, we can built efficient roadways and integrate public transit systems as well. The biggest issue for me is that Montréal is missing key links to create an effective ‘ring-road’ system, and this route could alleviate congestion on highways 40 and 440, not to mention the other North-South axes serving the West Island. With an southern extension, it could intersect with Highway 20 as well, which would be even more efficient.

That said, planning highways through residential zones with ecosystems that need to be preserved presents additional complications which need to be taken into consideration. As an example, given the experience with the previous pedestrian crossing at Woodlawn and Highway 20, we know that highway traffic needs to be isolated from residential traffic, and so such a project would necessitate a service road, underpasses and overpasses, not to mention a couple of bridges as well. We also know that building an elevated highway is problematic, and not only because they’re eyesores that can negatively impact land values on either side. Moreover, additional new residential boulevards will be required to help with alleviate congestion on the three current principle arteries. As an example, Jacques-Bizard/ Sommerset should be extended to connect Gouin, de Salaberry, Brunswick and Pierrefonds Blvds with Highway 40 while Antoine-Faucon should be developed into a boulevard in its own right, to connect with the Anse-a-l’Orme trail.

Planning with this in mind would be made easier if the West Island communities consolidated their efforts into a single collaborative transit and transportation authority designed to administer road and highway development, public transit and transportation infrastructure. Imagine a West Island version of the STM, STL or RTL, with the added responsibilities of planning and executing the construction of new roadways (with public transit in mind). West Islanders need to plan for roadway construction with new development in mind, but this shouldn’t preclude us from integrating ecologically sustainable public transit systems into our new roadways. No matter which way you cut it, we need to be masters of our domain, and can no longer depend on others to solve our planning and transit problems. A West Island transit authority could do just this.

Depending on how you define the West Island, it’s population ranges from 225 to 300 thousand people and there is plenty of room to grow. It’s largely flat with long, wide boulevards and streets and there is a considerable amount of daily internal movement, making public transit a necessity both within West Island and between the West Island and the City of Montréal. Furthermore, West Island residents commute in large numbers; the two most used AMT commuter train lines both serve the West Island. Despite the generally good public transit coverage offered by the AMT and STM, many West Island residents feel public transit options are limited and roadways are as overly congested as the express buses and trains running between the city and suburbs. With all the new highway work projected over the next few years, residents have a pressing reason to unite and begin developing sources of revenue to build new roads, highways and public transit alternatives. Simply put we need our own lobby and leverage group, and taking on this responsibility will, at the very least, allow us to develop a system appropriate to our own needs.

Consider the following:

A) West Island residents have a legitimate reason to ask for a Métro connection to the West Island, ideally to Fairview along the Highway 40 corridor. Whether this comes to be as a new line or an extension to an existing line (such as the Blue Line, which could pass through Airport on the way to St. John’s Blvd), we have a large enough population to make good use of it, and this in turn would cut down on commuters using their cars or the multiple existing express bus lines. That said, unless the West Island municipalities are willing to develop a significant portion of the construction capital by themselves, the STM will have to focus on its chief customers; that is to say, the residents of the City of Montréal. A unified West Island transit authority would be in a better position to administer such a large project, and the transfer of public transit responsibilities to the new body may in turn liberate additional funds from the STM to help in the development of a new Métro line. But we need to be able to stand on our own two feet.

B) The West Island’s geography and urban planning have produced a large area defined by its flat topography and wide streets – ideally suited for a large surface tram or trolleybus network. Two dozen lines could cover all the principle North-South & East-West axes, in addition to express lines running along the highway service roads and a ring-route using Lakeshore, Beaconsfield, Senneville, Gouin and des Sources boulevards. Such a system would mean the STM and AMT could move away from using express buses given that the trams would connect to major transit junctions, such as the Dorval Circle area, Cote-Vertu Métro station, Bois-Franc station etc. The STM could then re-focus its West Island operations away from the major thoroughfares and instead better serve the vast expanses of suburbia. Trams have the advantage of carrying more passengers than regular buses and are quieter, more efficient and could more effectively shuttle West Island commuters into the higher capacity systems, such as the Métro and AMT commuter trains.

Either way – just like Laval and Longueuil, the West Island has particular transit and transportation needs, and we should form a collaborative organization to support the sound development of a better local system. We should do this not out of frustration but because we need to take responsibility for our own development, and such a large enterprise gives us real economic power, not to mention potential political leverage. We should do this ultimately to help empower ourselves, and potentially improve public transit throughout the region as a result of our inspired leadership.

This is something that we can accomplish and it would be a great credit to our community. We’re only going to get bigger, so we can’t rely on outside agencies and land speculators to dictate development any more. The West Island needs to recognize it is a viable community now, with a history and a culture all its own. We aren’t merely a local Levittown, a random collection of houses built according to market directives, and so we need to start thinking bigger, and thinking more precisely about what we can achieve and build for ourselves, together. We may be inclined at some point in the future to unite the independent communities of the West Island into a single urban agglomeration to best represent our needs and desires on a larger scale. Frankly, I think it’s inevitable that this will happen. Building our own transit agency is a good stepping stone to realizing this goal, not to mention a strong foundation on which to base it. And if we were to embark on such a plan, there’s no doubt in mind we can conspire to make public transit the preferred method of getting around the West Island and for commuting into the city. It would help stimulate our economy and ultimately lead to better living and healthier lifestyles. These are but a few reasons, I’ll elucidate the rest later on.

The White Horse of Fort Senneville

Is it me or are we lacking in ghost stories in this city?

Every year Halloween comes around and I get asked if I know any decent local ghost stories. Each year I come up short. It’s a problem for me, because in my opinion it’s a demonstration of a slightly larger, more complex problem – lack of local folklore. What we know about our city is very often defined in terms of what can be demonstrated – we speak of our city in scientific terms, in measurements, in percentages. When we discuss culture, we often tend towards using scientific terminology to discuss our society. There is a reason for this, or perhaps there once was, when it was necessary to demonstrate our local society as a measurement against a larger, more imposing cultural mass. But I firmly believe those days to be of another era, and that we have the cultural and societal strength and confidence to begin loosening our previous approach. What I find odd is how little is written on points of common cultural experience, of shared history and discourse between the two majority-minority groups that so define our peculiar nation of nations.

Folklore is cultural currency. A strong local appreciation of a city’s folklore, it’s common history, will provide the local arts community with a strong foundation of reference material. Look back at the works of some of our great artists, past and present, many have demonstrated in their seminal works a profound attachment to local culture and society through an understanding of our folklore.

Folklore is extremely important. Its typically packaged as morality tale wrapped in pertinent historical and cultural information, designed to convey an idea about why we live where we do, and why our society is how it is. Montréal, as a result of its history and linguistic divisions, has so far largely turned its back on developing the common folklore. Perhaps this is as a result of the Quiet Revolution, which aimed to turn away completely from the Grand Noirceur and the perceived backwardness of our provincial, agrarian past. But if there is a legitimate interest on the part of Québecois nationalists, sovereignists and/or cultural enthusiasts to protect the local French dialect and the cultural heritage of the people of Québec, what would be better than developing a local folklore, in which the stories are designed to be as relatable to the Montréal experience as possible regardless of which language they’re expressed in. For this, we need to take a good long look at who we were as a city, as a people, hundreds of years ago.

Montréal’s colonial era history has always fascinated me, though partially as a result of it being so overshadowed by American and Spanish colonial era history. We were intimately involved in the early history of the United States, Great Britain and the halcyon days of the Bourbon monarchy in France, and yet we retreat from the realities of the colonial experience.

When I was younger I heard stories of frontier folklore with an American colonial bent, whether in literature or through television and movies. It made me wonder what life was like back then, only here. Who were the ghosts of our past, and what perspective on the human experience could be gleaned through such stories. In my search I came across one story that’s always stuck with me. It’s the story of the ghost of a white horse, said to run down Gouin Boulevard in Ste-Genevieve. There are rapids in the Back River by Riverdale High School, by the park at the top of Boul. des Sources, and they are named after this galloping spectre.

As best I know it, the story goes like this. There are the remnants of a fort built by the French colonial administration in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, once called Fort Senneville. The fort has been destroyed twice, once by the Iroquois (in 1691) and then by Benedict Arnold in 1776 (though at the time it wasn’t in use by any party, and Arnold destroyed it so it could not be used by the advancing British regulars, Canadien militia and Iroquois warriors making their way up from Les Cédres). It was built to defend the vital trading post and community at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, not to mention the king’s road which linked Ste-Anne’s with Ste-Genevieve to the North and Pointe-Claire, Lachine and Ville-Marie to the East. It was during this first attack on the fort in 1691 that a dispatcher was sent out along the King’s Road to Ste-Genevieve, to warn of the possibility of attack. Riding a white horse he sped off down the trail, only to be killed by the attacking Iroquois. The horse carried on, terrified from violence and the deafening blasts of muskets, galloping down the well-trod trail until it eventually came upon the sleeping village of Ste-Genevieve. As one might imagine, a terrified horse would make enough noise to wake up the residents, and they were able to piece together what had happened what with the mangled corpse I can only assume was being dragged by the horse. The story goes on that the horse dies of exhaustion and that the spirit of the terrified horse would surge forth from the powerful rapids nearby each year on the anniversary of this fateful ride, determined to simultaneously remind the inhabitants to be vigilant and to look for his dead master.

Anyways, that’s what I heard. Two cops my brother found creeping around the fort a few years ago related it pretty much as I just did.

Something tells me it’s a bit of a mess story-wise, perhaps the synthesis of a variety of different local legends. I’d certainly like to know more about this if any of you know.

And aside from that, as far as ghost stories go, well, what would be worse than finding yourself on Senneville Road or Gouin Boulevard only to see the white flash of a mad steed barreling down you? I guarantee at the very least this spirit has certainly caused a couple traffic accidents.

Besides – when was the last time Mary Gallagher turned up? It’s time we find ourselves some new ghosts, no?

Reflections on Occupy Montréal

A couple of weeks ago I took a walk with my roommate down to Square Victoria in the middle of a downpour to see if the police had taken any precautions, set up barriers or were otherwise surveilling the area in preparation for the confrontation I was fairly certain I would witness the following day, when Montréalers from all walks of life would participate in an international day of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. I think I was legitimately concerned the SPVM would take a cue from the OPP/SQ/TPS G8/G20 playbook and we’d have a repeat of any anti-police brutality march in this city (that is to say, mass police brutality). Instead I found nothing, no precautions. I was surprised.

The next day the weather was generally cooperative, though at times unsure of itself, non-committal. It provided a hallucinatory experience as I crossed René-Lévesque to make my way to a late lunch with some friends, looking West along the boulevard into a sea of golden raindrops filling the cavernous corporate trench with a universe of temporary stars. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen lately.

My first experience with Occupy Montréal had been earlier that day when it was just getting going. It was so typically Canadian, so typically Montréal – overt contrasts, peaceful cohabitation, clean, neat, orderly, pleasant. There were very few police officers, though an unfortunate number of individuals who felt compelled to look like an anarchist stereotype ripped from the pages of a hysterical RCMP training manual from the last Red Scare. My previous concerns about the possibility of any real aggression from police were mitigated when I observed a grandfatherly police captain making gooney faces with a toddler, the child’s mother, a demonstrator, was laughing warmly. We had nothing to worry about.

I returned later in the afternoon to find myself involved in a march that tore through the retail heart of the city, blocking traffic and effectively stopping all activity on Ste-Catherine’s as we barrelled down towards Concordia. Then we looped on Mackay back onto Ste-Catherine’s, made our way down past the Place des Arts, into the Old Financial Quarter on St. James and finally back to the Square. If I didn’t know any better I could swear that the SPVM planned for this and let it happen in order to let the crowd diffuse its frustrations. I’m almost certain it had a police escort come to think of it. What I found curious and clever was how they managed to keep the demonstrators and the Habs fans separate. The numerous people I saw walking around the tent city earlier with head-sets must have had something to do with this very peculiar march. I smell smart, subtle policing, if such a thing can exist.

From what I’ve seen since, I would suspect local authorities are under the impression once Winter sets in most will clear out, as that is without a doubt the path of least resistance. As I walked around on the 15th and since, I’ve noticed that the membership of the MPQ were eager to set-up camp – part of me wondered whether or not it was just exceptionally opportunistic. The MPQ isn’t much more than an army surplus store owner and his merry band of grown-up toy soldiers. The RRQ was around, as were a bunch of unilingual Anglophone student activists missing out on a real opportunity to get to know their new Francophone brothers and sisters. Perhaps things have changed since then, I’ve only passed by a few times since. I was put-off by some drunk shmuck I encountered in the formidable tent-city who was wondering (aloud) why there was gender segregation in the tents. I didn’t want to acknowledge him, so I just looked directly in his eyes and gave him a ‘move along’ look. Hard to resist. It’s part of a common theme I saw throughout my time there – it was almost as if pot consumption was about to become a death-penalty offence, and everyone was doing their utmost to consume as much as they could before the law went into effect. My personal philosophy with regards to the consumption and distribution of narcotics notwithstanding, there was far more consumption than demonstration; I suppose we can just lump antiquated laws regarding marijuana consumption in with the very new laws that make corporations people and allow governments to play fast and loose with the People’s money as just another injustice against the working man by the hypocritical elites, but I’d prefer to stay more focused.

Yes, it’s been said before ad nauseum, but let’s face it – lack of focus is an easy problem to pick at by the mainstream media. If the direction was in place the collective would ensure it had both a list of short and long term demands, in addition to an exit strategy.

Without an exit strategy, there are only two options, one of which you can almost bank on. Either the authorities let it fizzle out on its own (which will be very demoralizing for the movement and the youth), or they clean house. Without an exit strategy, demands, and a cohesive (though, probably multi-faceted) argument, this movement, regardless of where it finds itself, is doomed to fail.

We are fortunate we have been spared the violence that has befallen Oakland, Rome and New York City. Its too early to say what will happen here.

There is something worthwhile in this local version of the Occupy Wall Street protest; it unites youth, it allows the frustrated public a chance to vent. People learn, people teach, people work together. Pass by Square-Victoria and see a veritable self-supporting community in the midst of a commercial no-man’s land. Witness the industrious 99%, backbone of the modern, stable social-democracy. Times are tough and the tent-cities are doing a good job providing. Let the example shine.

I feel compelled to end on a cautionary note, however. It is fundamentally important that the demonstrators, the protesters and occupiers out there know why they personally are participating. It’s all you need to know. Don’t speak of vague notions, don’t list all the problems with the world from a progressive-socialist perspective, just know your own personal reason. You will doubtless find many people who share your point of view and can relate, but to each his own. What is important next is maintaining the media’s focus. Let us show ourselves to the media, to show our personal reasons for protest, and let us go forth and tell them precisely we, as a collective of individuals, would go out and live in a tent city in solidarity with this growing and impressive social movement.

There can be no question we have a legitimate right to protest our current conditions here in Canada. Government is both corrupt and repressive, civil liberties are squashed in the name of public security, our economy is too reliant on corrosive American investment and trade, we allow social policy to be dictated to us like children by Washington and frankly, the less said about what we’ve allowed to happen to our once world-class healthcare and public education services, the better. It is only within the last few years that I have begun feeling ashamed of my country and my people. We’re better than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.

I’m also less than convinced Stephen Harper is the economic mastermind he purports to be. The middle class is disappearing faster here than South of the 49th, and our elites have a far greater stranglehold on our political and economic machine than I think we care to admit. Our media has been taking cues from the worst shlock you’d find on Fox News; in sum, there’s plenty to complain about, plenty that requires urgent and dramatic action.

But this movement will go nowhere unless those already mobilized can effectively articulate their own messages of protest, justified in media-savvy terms designed for maximal political impact. We have to play the game better than those who are already the established experts.

More on this later.

Sun News Network, where facts take a back-seat to convenience…

I guess I’m first to catch the glaring flaw here. Yay for history majors!

To begin, I watched the interview and I agree in principle that men can sometimes get the shit end of the legal stick when it comes to custody issues following a divorce. This is partially a reaction to having a justice system which at one point in the past uniquely served the interests of caucasian heterosexual adult males. Times have changed and we’re better off for it.

But theres a huge problem here.

Ms. Titus’ argument is in part based on the idea that the media doesn’t report the male victims of crimes or injustices of a psycho-sexual nature, that the victims, from a mainstream media perspective, seem to tend towards almost exclusively being women. As for the aggressors, they almost always seem to be men. Ms. Titus, in an effort to bring her point home refers to the four un-named male victims of the Montreal Massacre (aka Polytechnique Shooting) on Dec. 6th 1989. Her credibility then nose-dives because…

It never happened.

There were no men killed at the Polytechnique, save for the lone gunman. The four men she refers to were killed, wait for it:

a) three years later
b) at a different university
c) with a different weapon
d) for a fundamentally different reason
e) from a different person (also a man, now in jail, likely not to be paroled)

Ms. Titus used a tactic which has been well-used by Sun TV, Sun News, CNN, Fox News etc etc etc for years. It’s called ‘conflation’. Since most people can’t remember what happened last week, most people simply smush events together for their own convenience. Ask a history prof how maddening this is.

There’s absolutely no debate when it comes to the victims list from the Polytech Shooting – they were all women killed for being women by a man who claimed feminists had ruined his life. He stated as such in his suicide note. He only shot at women, he only killed women.

I cannot stress this enough. But because the Polytechnique Massacre and Concordia Massacre happened relatively close together, Ms. Titus has decided to apply four senseless male deaths at Concordia University to a crime committed three years earlier in hopes of bolstering her weak position and lack of credible evidence.

*** Author’s Note – October 10th 2011***

I’ve been corresponding with Ms. Titus and she alleges that she had received the incorrect information from students she interviewed. There was a linguistic barrier, as Ms. Titus cannot speak French, and she further alleges that the students led her to believe several men had been killed in the incident, though they could not pinpoint precisely where they had heard this. Ms. Titus insists that she corrected these statements, though I’ve yet to ascertain where such a retraction would have been posted.

That said, I don’t have much too say, I think she’s already done a number on her own credibility by admitting to using less than satisfactory research methods. While I can understand there is a pressure of sorts while appearing on unscripted live television, there is no excuse to use such flawed ‘information’ to form a core component of your argument. Frankly, if more people working in the 24-hr cable news industry made more of an effort to censor themselves and try, sincerely, to only speak the truth, or, to ensure that points are based on demonstrable facts, our society would be considerably less polarized. Instead, such infotainment organizations (like Sun News Network) are driven by spurious scandals and invented controversies. Facts take a back seat because pundits have no interest in finding the truth. This is a distinction between ‘media personality’ and ‘journalist/reporter’ our society must recognize, but unfortunately we are still functionally illiterate when it comes to most media and communications issues. Too many of us still only trust the town crier, and we need to evolve past this. Ms. Titus should have refrained from using this example to build her argument, but ultimately my objection lies not chiefly with her, but rather with Sun News for their selective omission, selective fact-checking, and custom-fit misinformation they traffic in.

But to ensure the record is clear, she does acknowledge the mistake and has apologized for making the assertion, incorrect as it is.


It’s not like Fox News North is going to do a god damn thing to help her get her facts straight and this in turn weakens us. We can’t have random, opportunistic people like this being supported by equally opportunistic assholes like Michael Coren, Sun News, Quebecor etc.

This is hardly great stuff, but I suppose I wouldn’t nearly be as disappointed if it weren’t for the fact that men’s rights forums and other commentators are falling-in step behind this, calling it good stuff, a decent argument etc. No one has noticed this crucial fabrication.

As a proud man, I choose to honour my pride by ensuring I know the facts before I open my mouth, and certainly before I go on TV in front of the 20 or 30 people who may or may not be watching Sun News.

Let’s make this an election issue {no.4} – Montréal’s Victoria Rink, birthplace of hockey.

A fancy dress ball at the Victoria Rink, Montreal (circa 1865, or, when Jefferson Davis lived here).

So a recent article on Coolopolis piqued my curiosity. It features an interview Kristian Gravenor did with a man by the name of Billy Georgette, who has been doggedly pursuing local officials, politicians and people of influence to do something about the former Victoria Rink.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rink, it is the long, squat brownstone building between Stanley and Drummond, just north of Boul. René-Lévesque. It is currently a parking garage, a role it assumed in 1925 when the arena closed to the public as it had become obsolete. It was first built in 1862 at what would have then been the very heart of the Square Mile neighbourhood. It was an instant success, with the Victoria Skating Club reaching some 2,000 Montrealers by the 1870s. It was a natural ice rink, meaning that it could only be used when the surface could be frozen over. Though this is impractical for a modern professional arena, back then hockey was in its infancy, and this arrangement would have made it exceptionally easy to use the space for other purposes, such as concerts, receptions, congresses and the like. It was first in a long tradition of multiple-use venues in Downtown Montréal.

So what? It’s an old rink, what’s so special? you might be asking. Well, it is at the Victoria Rink that the first organized game of modern ice hickey was played, in 1875.
That, and it set the dimensions for the modern ice-hockey surface – roughly the distance between Stanley and Drummond.
Oh, and it was also the location of the first Stanley Cup game (which we won).
And it was the first building in Canada to be electrified.
Then Edison and Tesla showed up.
Not to mention Lord Stanley, who took in his first hockey game (which we won) at the rink, and was reported to have been thoroughly delighted with the spirited game.

Suffice it to say, this building is a major historical landmark, for Montréal, Québec and Canada.

And it sucks that it has survived for no other reason than the fact that people need a place to park. Oh well, at least its still with us. And it deserves better. This building ought to be a shrine, and there’s a movement afoot to do just that. The word is that certain people may be interested in seeing this building converted into a new facility, though the question remains as to what exactly it ought to be.

So, on a lark, here’s what I’d propose.

We need look no further than the building’s history to see what should be done with this building. What if we were to convert it back into a functional ice-rink? Take it a step further – what if we were to endeavour to bring the building back to its original grandeur? An authentic Victorian skating rink, renovated to look as it did in 1875, when the first hockey game was played. Perhaps we’d choose to forgo the gas-light chandeliers, but you get the idea. In the spirit of urban architectural heritage preservation, this project has all the potential to be a great achievement for the citizens of Montréal.

In addition to recreating the ice surface, a portion of the building, or perhaps an adjoining structure (there’s a big empty lot immediately to the North), could feature a ‘Montreal Hockey Museum’, though I can imagine the main draw would be simply to skate around a beautifully restored antique skating rink. A similar idea has been applied to the design of modern baseball stadiums in the States, and there are specially designed ballparks for the modern deadball leagues becoming popular down South (in essence, its baseball played the way it was when originally created, in the Antebellum Period). I have a feeling it wouldn’t be long before ‘old-time-hockey’ leagues were formed here – what a draw that would be!

And finally, much like the original, it would be a multi-purpose facility, and could easily be used as a medium sized general-purpose venue, which our city happens to be lacking. The location is exceptional, and there’s a well-developed local industry capable of not only thoroughly renovating this building, but further able to restore it to its former grandeur. From everything I’ve read, the building, due to its prominence in the lives of the late-19th century Montréal bourgeois is well described, was quite beautiful. There’s no question it is a heritage building, but like too many other heritage buildings, it survives without sufficient recognition of its historic importance. The best way to this history justice is to ensure the building’s use, in perpetuity. Moreover, Montréal needs a hockey museum, because hockey is a social phenomenon here, and a quintessential part of our lives.

What can I say further? What do you think we should do with the Victoria Rink?

In Search of Urban Community in a Societal Wasteland

Boul. René-Lévesque West

A friend of mine recently asked me what I’d like to see happen to Griffintown.

I said: the Plateau.

How’s that saying go, brevity is the soul of wit?


But seriously now. We were talking about looking for apartments and she was wondering what I thought about the area currently being marketed as ‘Griffintown’ along Notre Dame West. Admittedly, this would have been the northernmost extensions of Griffintown, and would likely have been considered a part of Little Burgundy that last time there was a stable local population. Keep in mind, a good stretch of this area around the new ETS building was once a CN stockyard; this is why the buildings on the northern side of Notre Dame are all new construction, whereas those on the southern side tend to be renovated industrial buildings. I’ve had the chance to pass through the area a few times recently, and will be going back soon to document the street-side ballet of this new urban neighbourhood. It strikes me that this area may one day soon become a vibrant community, but as it stands right now, there is something palpably missing. There are people here, it is defining itself, but it has yet to acquire all that is needed to be considered an actual community, a neighbourhood.

Part of the problem lies in what kind of living arrangements are currently available here. Its almost exclusively condos, and these tend to be rented almost exclusively by students, young couples etc. There seem to be very few families around here, and scarcely any family-oriented services, such as schools, libraries, cultural centres, clinics etc. While a stretch of Notre Dame West in Little Burgundy has enjoyed recent success developing into a chic strip for night owls and the socially-inclined, other parts of the new Griffintown are eerily quiet and devoid of life between certain hours on most nights. Public transit doesn’t seem to have kept pace with developments here, and at times it seems to suffer from the same fundamental deficiencies as the Quartier des Multimedias further East.

Clark Street looking South, 1976 - not the work of the author.

The plan for Griffintown seems to be more of the same – large condo buildings and renovated former industrial sites. It’s market-driven development with only the bare minimum of municipal involvement. So the question I asked my friend, as I would ask anyone thinking of moving into Griffintown and potentially considering purchasing a condo, is whether or not they think someone else is going to want to live there at some point in the future, in short, what is the re-sale potential of the unit?

And without the necessary societal anchors that are guaranteed to stimulate the growth of a viable community, the Griffintown redevelopment runs the risk of loosing its lustre. If the development is uniquely driven by market forces, so is its lifespan, and this is dangerous if the area suddenly falls out of fashion. That or we discover that the condo market is over-saturated. I don’t think we’ve yet to reach this point in Montréal, but I would caution against pushing it too far. If the market tanks and the area falls out of favour, the area may become scarred by unfinished construction projects – consider the stalled Ilot Voyageur behind the bus terminus and the surrounding Northeast corner of the Quartier Latin – new residential developments seem stalled as well, and the vast empty hulk is degenerating whilst simultaneously negatively impacting the residential market around the site.

Stalled Redevelopment at the Dow Brewery - not the work of the author.

Now, the Berri Square area suffers from other problems as well, but the Ilot Voyageur isn’t helping. Griffintown has a stalled project along Peel with the plan to redevelop the old Dow Brewery – the area can’t afford to let this continue, as it places an unfortunate obstacle for further development – consider the negative effects the abandoned art store across from the former abandoned hulk of the Seville Theatre on Ste-Catherine’s near the old Forum. One abandoned building can have a detrimental effect on the land-value of adjacent buildings. A good portion of Griffintown remains abandoned or underused, and unless the city plans on moving in and directing urban residential redevelopment, the market may not be stable enough to guarantee long-term investment. Ergo, the city needs to stimulate investment by demonstrating to developers their intention to craft a viable urban community.

The Halcyon Days of Victoria Street; the Eaton's Centre now sits in its place.

In order to accomplish this, the City’s going to have to take a good look at what makes our best urban communities work so well. What makes the Plateau what it is, what makes it so desirable, and can knowledge of these key characteristics be successfully applied to a new cooperative development scheme, where the City leads developers into a sustainable development model? The City should use its resources and contacts to develop the services that will stimulate the creation and growth of society, and not just a collection of places where people eat, sleep (and maybe build little forts!) The question I’ve been asked is why use the Plateau design model? In sum, residential housing design in Montreal from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, though by no means perfect, has some particularly interesting advantages, namely: the orientation of homes onto shared spaces (streets, alleys and parks), medium-sized housing density which allows for enough sunlight to penetrate shared spaces and stimulate local flora, and the availability of rental units for small-scale businesses, which are in turn oriented towards the needs of local residents. Moreover, areas of neighbourhood designed based on these concepts have proven themselves to be popular and developmentally malleable throughout the generations. It’s tried, tested and true and leaves enough breathing room to be highly adaptable. I can imagine an ideally designed Griffintown which blends this model with the industrial lofts and new condominiums.

Old Port Living - not the work of the author.

I’ve identified an area roughly bounded by Sherbrooke, St-Antoine, Mountain and Bleury wherein we find almost all new high-capacity residential development. Its this same area that happens to have a large quantity of open spaces for development, most of which are surface parking lots. This same area has no public schools, no libraries, no grocery stores as far as I’ve seen, and pathetically few options when it comes to affordable fine dining, especially after regular business hours. What’s especially maddening is that this same area is the very core of our city. It is a societal wasteland, and I would know – I’ve been told for some time I come from one.

While there is a vast difference between the West Island Suburbs and Montréal’s CBD, I would say the chief point of commonality is the similar lack of cultural venues and creative spaces in both areas. That said, at the very least, the West Island supports a large middle class community where neighbourhoods are well defined and in many ways unique from each other. They further benefit from ample social and community services. Now why can’t we offer the same in the heart of the City?