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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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’?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.