Category Archives: Waddayoutink?

Concrete Blocks (may) Fall Off Building!

The scene around quarter to six in the evening.

I’m going to get a picture!

* Update *

I got a picture!

** Update II **

A security guard yelled at me for taking pictures!

*** Update III ***

The photograph seen previously was in fact the bullet-riddled carcass of a building in Bosnia taken during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. The similarities to what we’re dealing with here in Montréal are…
none whatsoever.

But depending on who you talk to, you may have the impression Montr̩al is in the midst of a massive crisis with regards to crumbling infrastructure. In some respects I think we may very well be Рat least it seems that way in the media:

From the Gazette.

From Spacing Montreal.

From the Toronto Star.

Here’s the basics regarding today’s street closure.

If you followed this story* throughout the day you may have noticed slight discrepancies between the lead and the actual situation. Nothing feel off the ten-floor building at Cathcart and University, a window-washer noticed some of the slabs were loose. That’s pretty much it.

Now, that said no one’s quite sure when the last time the building was inspected, and it got me wondering whether the City needs to go on an all-out inspection blitz, literally inspecting every single building, street, bridge, viaduct and tunnel larger than a bus shelter in the entire metropolitan region. One shot, it would probably take an entire year to complete with a massive team of ‘deputized’ building inspectors. I can imagine a six-week intensive training course and a source of part-time employment for every university student in the city. The following year would be spent analyzing the data and getting those responsible to make the necessary repairs.

Honestly, how else are we going to get our confidence back? Such a study may just be the ticket to, at the very least, have a thorough understanding of the shape we’re in. I would hazard to guess such a report would indicate the majority of structures are sound and in no danger of having pieces fall off, but that said, a thorough city-wide inspection of everything would doubtless net a long list of repairs. It would be a massive wake-up call and may be enough to get the citizens to realize more is needed to keep our infrastructure safe and secure.

What do you think?

Is the media over-doing it? Is this to be expected in any urban environment? Or does the City of Montreal need to take dramatic action to counter years of inaction, as some suggest?

Let me know…

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?

A new Planetarium at the Big O & what will come of Chaboillez Square?

I believe this is a model superimposed onto an actual photograph, likely used in Dow's publicity for the sponsored Expo 67 gift. Not the work of the author.

This is Chaboillez Square, or rather what remains of it.

Technically speaking Chaboillez Square is now the small park in front of the Dow Planetarium, where parking spaces have been placed in the publicity shot featured above. The Planetarium itself was a gift from the Dow Brewery (located behind the Planetarium and currently being converted into condominiums) for Expo 67. With a seating capacity of 375, it is still the largest Planetarium in the country, though the operations are to be moved to a new facility, sponsored in part by Rio Tinto Alcan. While the decision to build a new Planetarium is not an issue of contention, the decision to place the new facility in Maisonneuve Park, adjacent to the Big O, Saputo Stadium, the Insectarium, Biodome, the Botanical Gardens and other diverse diversions is leading some to question whether it is wise to concentrate so many public education and entertainment facilities in the same place. The City is insistent that this plan makes sense as it groups together some of the city’s premiere science-themed museums in one central location, doubtless with tourists and families clearly in mind, not to mention the population balance for the metropolitan region, for which the location is exceptionally well-suited.

But is too much concentration a good idea?

And will a new Planetarium be enough to reverse the fortunes of this still somewhat blighted area? And what underlies this reactionary feeling against placing cultural institutions ‘in the East End’?

The blue star indicates the new site of the Planetarium - not the work of the author

It’s discouraging that so many major cultural venues have been moved here, a still somewhat disconnected island of high-density and urban modernism detached from the city, and painfully so. The Olympic Stadium and the grounds around it always seem cold, sterile and lifeless to me, and you can’t help but feel you are in the presence of a somewhat well maintained monument to a bygone age when walking around the site. Sure, there are times when it looks good and it works, but those times don’t come nearly as often as they used to. There are oft-repeated claim that centralizing these institutions and entertainment venues will have major economic spinoffs for the community, though they hardly seem to have been fully realized as the Olympic Stadium and Maisonneuve Park facilities are, to a degree insular, and appear to have little interaction with the built environment around them. The Olympic Stadium alone was supposed to act as the focal point for a major East End renovation and spurn the gentrification of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve; what seems to have occurred instead is the gradual recycling of lands once set-aside for new civic institutions and the centralization effort – a use it or lose it situation doubtless a result of the Big O’s big debt. What’s certain is that whatever happens at this site (on the whole) tends to have little impact on the surrounding community, and the reach of Montreal’s downtown urban tapestry has yet to extend this far East. Imagine if all this was concentrated to the West of the CBD – say in NDG, Lachine or LaSalle? I can imagine it would look about as hopelessly disjunct as it does where it is. So the question is, how do we better integrate the Olympic Stadium and its related facilities into a new, more cohesive urban tapestry? A well-designed Planetarium may, at the very least, provide some proportion and a new focal point for orientation within the greater sphere of the design. I suppose that would be rather a pro pos of a Planetarium, and certainly of the ‘orientation through exploration’ design of the greater portion of the city.

Of course there’s not too many places to put large facilities such as these, but it feels as though the density of this sector of the City is still quite imbalanced, and perhaps a city effort to increase residential density with new medium and high-income high-rises in this sector may subsequently trigger at least a partial gentrification or a more proportional sense of scale. A better surface link to the rest of the City, as was attempted, in a manner of thinking, with Corridart.

Then there’s the issue of Westside Montrealers getting the shaft, losing another cultural venue ‘to the East’ as it were. It’s unfortunate that most of the complaining comes from West Islanders who aren’t even citizens of Montrealers, but the fact remains that there are over a million people living East of the Main. The Big O location is surprisingly central, though many loudmouths would like to convince you that East Enders don’t go to museums. The racism I’ve seen in various comment sections is wild – hard to believe some people still think so poorly of Francophones in this day and age.

There is a practical concern however, in that a balance needs to be established between cultural concentration (as you might find in the sprawling, multilevelled Quartier des Spectacles & Place des Arts complex) which is easily accessed and integrated into a high-density urban tapestry, as opposed to the Olympic Stadium site, which seems accessed for the most part via the Pie-IX Métro station and lacks other key services around the site as you might find downtown. It’s tricky, but consider the distribution of universities and how they anchor four distinct parts of the city, or how the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts defines what remains of the Golden Square Mile. Moving the MMFA to any other location seems irresponsible, perhaps inasmuch as moving hockey away from the Forum led to a prolonged, highly localized depression on Ste-Cat’s West.

The situation at Chaboillez Square (the historic name for the large open space where the Dow Planetarium was built in the mid-1960s) is fascinating and particular. While Heritage Montreal has listed the building as threatened and historically valuable, the neighbourhood around the square changes and modernizes dramatically. In an area once defined by industry and poverty, new institutions and neighbourhoods have sprung up. The Quartier des Multimedias, ETS and new residential developments on Notre-Dame and St-Jacques are slowly transforming the area immediately south of the Central Business District, and this area will likely become highly gentrified over the next few decades. The focus on high technology jobs and recycling old buildings has given the sector a noticeable aesthetic, one which is particular to Montréal. That being said, there is a dearth of cultural space, community infrastructure (such as public schools, parks, playgrounds etc) and large, open green spaces. Chaboillez Square, or perhaps a heavily remodelled version making use of space above highway on and off ramps, could support these activities for a new neighbourhood.

Consider it for yourself: here is a link to a bird’s eye perspective from Bing Maps. Compare the area being redeveloped with the large public spaces to the East and North and ask yourself what the future of Chaboillez Square ought to look like.

Then attend the public consultation meetings. Your opinion matters.

What to do with the Shell Refinery

Credit to Kristian Gravenor for highlighting the region

A little while back I saw this post on Coolopolis and it got me thinking – what would I do, if I were Mayor, with this rather fortuitous recent development.

As it stands, my understanding is that there is only one fully operating refinery still functioning on the Island, though there are still plenty of oil storage sites. The area highlighted in the aerial perspective is an absolutely massive piece of property, which also happens to include two old quarries, a railyard, an industrial zone and the metropolitan golf course.

So what would I do? It’s largely dependent on what Shell wants to do, but if they have no actual inclination to resume refining operations and would rather sell their land to the City for redevelopment, I would gladly enter into an agreement to assist Shell in decontaminating the site. This would be vital if there is an interest to convert the site for eventual settlement, really of any kind. It has tremendous potential as a new high and medium density urban residential zone, being as large as the Plateau, Mile-End, Villeray, Rosemont and Parc-Ex combined. Moreover, it would certainly justify expanding Métro access along several corridors into the Eastern portion of the island, and is already easily accessible by road. Imagine what another 500,000 people could provide for the City in terms of tax revenue. Part of the problem is that part of this sector actually belongs to Montreal-East, a separate municipality. A voluntary annexation plan would have to be drafted, though I can imagine now that Shell is packing up its operations, there may be a new enthusiasm to be part of the City’s Master Plan.

But in order to get here, we’d have to aggressively decontaminate the soil, and a measure that could be used to do just that could also provide Montréal with a massive new nature park. I would use the opportunity, and our province’s cadre of university-graduate forestry engineers, to design and build a massive new ecological preservation zone on this site. It wouldn’t be forever, as there would be far too high a demand to re-develop the site to generate a steady tax revenue. But for the amount of time that it takes to render the area useable, we may as well try to return the land to its natural, pre-development state. I would go so far as to hire students to plant all varieties of flora for the entirety of a summer to help speed-up the process. It couldn’t hurt. And why stop there – animals, reptiles, birds, fish and amphibians ought to be re-introduced to help develop the area into a stable, sustainable eco-system. Not only could it potentially help clean the soil quicker, but it will also allow for the creation of a new geography and ecology for the area. In order to properly return the area to its pre-development state, we’d have to include ponds, streams, creeks and brooks, a varied topography, areas of dense forest, marshland and open fields.

I would look at it as an invaluable tool for the study of conservation, preservation and ecological regeneration methods. We’d have a golden opportunity to become world leaders in this field, and could support the project through research grants at the provincial, national and international levels.

But perhaps most importantly – when it does eventually come time to redevelop large sections of the sector for residential purposes, we’ll have already taken care of an important element in community building – having a large green space and having something beautiful to look at, play in etc. I would hope that future urban planning and residential development would be able to better integrate itself into an established large ecological zone, in a manner quite different from the slash and burn methods of previous generations.

Something to think about I guess.

Why Trams Work in the 5-1-4, No.2 – Historical Perspectives

Place d'Armes in the 40s or 50s, back when it was a major transit hub. Not the work of the author.

At left is a neat picture I found recently depicting Place d’Armes before the Métro, back when it was a vital link to the city’s public transit infrastructure for trams and buses. Today there’s so little traffic in this sector the city can afford to close down streets to allow for a major renovation of the Square, something I doubt could have been done when this picture was taken. I could do without the overhead wires personally, and the trees look sickly, but I do love the dynamic nature of this street-scene.

Consider as well that the trams are operating on congested, narrow, Old Port streets and doing so with a fair number of cars and pedestrians. Horse-drawn carts would have been considerably more common back then as well, and we managed pretty well.

Mount Royal tram tunnel, 40s or 50s - not the work of the author.

I both love and hate this picture as well. Here’s the hate: Drapeau built a trans-mountain parkway in the late-1950s and named it after his former political adversary Camillien Houde. Houde, incidentally, had been against a proposed parkway over the mountain for years, and Drapeau named it after him posthumously as a kind of sick joke. What a character!

The Parkway is useful and has become a practical method of quickly getting across the city. Apparently it’s useful to ambulances, hacks and the fuzz as well. Moreover, I gotta say – crossing the Parkway with a jazzed-up young cabbie blasting Dire Straights in the middle of a storm a few years back was thrilling. That said, I don’t think the total traffic usage has ever really justified the Parkway’s existence, and there aren’t nearly enough tourists going up the mountain for the ‘bus-access’ argument to be fully justifiable either.

Consider as well the total surface area atop the mountain currently used for parking purposes. It’s a significant waste of space, and worst of all, the park is disconnected from the cemetery and the lands behind the Université de Montréal.

This leads me to why I love this picture. As we can see above, before the Parkway, the route was used by a tramway. Moreover, the city was conscious not to disrupt the ‘natural flow’ of the park – as we can see, there’s a guy walking along a trail above the Tram Tunnel. The tunnel was located close to the Eastern Lookout – you can see where they blasted out the rock. This means that back in the day, the total green space of Mount Royal Park was considerably higher than it is today and further, that this space was a continuous green zone. I can imagine that this would have provided additional space for local wildlife, as there is a somewhat large sector of green space in Outremont, behind the university and adjacent to the cemetery which is still quite ‘raw’ and somewhat difficult to get to. I look at a picture like this and it makes me think of those ‘green crossings’ they build over highways in rural area to allow animals continuous access to green spaces.

As you can probably imagine, I’d vote for tearing out the parkway and replacing it with a tram line, and then building a new tunnel so as to accomplish the ‘continuous green access’ we had back when the picture was taken. This would mean that the parking lots would be disconnected, and that would be great too – more park land. I’d keep the road access to the Western-most parking lot (near Beaver Lake) and by extension access to Cote-des-Neiges with the tram line merging onto CdN Boulevard – ideally the new ‘No.11 Tram’ would link Guy and Mount-Royal Métro stations.

In any event – all this to show that we once used trams effectively herein Montréal, and further, that Trams may be a legitimate traffic-congestion solution on Montréal city streets. Our city is very particular, and I can’t imagine a well-designed public transit infrastructure would actually be feasible if we only ever focus on specific transit types. We need multiple types, and should look to see which routes might be better served by different technologies. The Old Port and the Mountain seem like two areas where vehicular traffic is too problematic and destructive/disruptive, but that may nonetheless potentially draw more people if access to cars were limited and replaced with excellent tram service. The call to make more of the Old Port ‘restricted access’ is a strong one – but in order to accomplish this goal, something needs to be brought in to help move the large quantities of people who live, work and play there.

Food for thought – let me know what you think about all this, and the pics too!

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.