Category Archives: Worth reconsidering

Montréal in 1900

The Royal Victoria Hospital, Montréal ca. 1900

I was gifted a picture-book from around 1900, technically a ‘souvenir’ book all about Montréal dating from the turn of the 20th century, a few years back, but never got around to scanning the pics. It’s amazing how things have changed, though I’m certain you’ll all be glad to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s fascinating how elements of our culture, society and general characteristics haven’t changed a bit, even though in some areas the urban environment is completely different, seemingly changing with every generation. What a paradoxical city we live in! With regards to the above, notice how clean it looks, the well-manicured lawns and the subtle curves of the paved walk. Also, check out the gatehouse. Is it any wonder, upon visiting my brother for the first time here in 1988 I asked my father ‘why we were visiting a castle?’

Place d'Armes, looking Southeast, ca. 1900

Here’s the financial centre of Montréal, circa 1900. The New York Life Insurance Building, to the left, was the first skyscraper in Canada. Built between 1887 and 1889, it would house the premier legal library in Canada on the 9th and 10th floors, just below the clock. Also found on this square back in 1900, the Bank of Montréal’s head-office, the Post Office, numerous smaller banks and insurance companies, let alone the still-dominating twin spires of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Bank of Montréal head-office and Post Office building, Place d'Armes ca. 1900

Sherbrooke Street, ca. 1900

Even though it clearly states ‘looking West’, I can imagine it would’ve looked about the same facing East. Can’t figure the cross-street though. Love the residential character of Sherbrooke Street back then.

Peel Street High School, where the Cours Mont-Royal now stands

I wonder if downtown public schools will ever make a come-back. It feels odd living in a city where the only downtown schools are generally private, or FACE. May become a necessity if the city is successful in encouraging more people to emigrate back into the city.

Harbourfront, Montréal ca. 1900

This picture looks as though it should be in the dictionary next to the expression ‘hustle & bustle’.

St-Catherine's looking east from Peel

Again, notice the residential feel to some of our busiest, highest capacity urban streets. Seems quaint by comparison.

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.

Expo daydreams & Montréal Magazine – worth reconsidering

I came across an interesting little bit of nostalgia a few days ago, in the form of an online copy of Montréal Magazine dating back to February of 1967. They couldn’t possibly have had any idea at the time of just how successful Expo 67 would ultimately prove, yet were nonetheless optimistic hopeful it would get the new Montréal on the map.

Going through the magazine and I couldn’t help but wonder why the city doesn’t pump out more propaganda praising the people and places that make up our city. What’s more, 43 years ago they had no problem issuing a fully bilingual monthly review. But I bet you people would say it couldn’t, or shouldn’t be done. It seems as if we hit a high water mark that year and have been retreating, in some senses, ever since. We’re still a kinda-global city which occasionally makes itself relevant, but we seem to have a hard time sustaining interest the way we used to. Perhaps a result of too much navel-gazing, too much existential angst.

I hope these photos – none of which are my work of course – at least convey an element of the excitement felt that fateful summer, as all too many people have told me the air was electric, and everyone was really happy to be a Montréaler. Who wouldn’t? I always ask, despite not knowing what the sensation is like in real time. I suppose all I do know is that I prefer what I see above as to what I see below:

Though to be fair, Calder’s Man is an awesome monument. I just wish we had more and they were more prominent within the cityscape.

Place Emilie-Gamelin: broken space

Monuments by Melvin Charney in Place Emilie-Gamelin

This is the view from the centre of Place Emilie-Gamelin, a major urban square in downtown Montréal directly above the most important Métro station in the whole city, Berri-UQAM. Informally, the area is referred to as Berri Square, though many more simply, dismissively refer to it as Berri, an unavoidable place, very useful, very well connected, but ultimately, undesirable.

Berri’s a bit of an anomaly. I like to call it Montréal’s Ellis Island, as it serves as a major transport hub. In the picture you can see the entrance to the city’s main bus terminal, chariot of the poor to all destinations near and far not important enough to have an airport. The bus terminal is small and in dire need of improvement, so a few years back before the economy tanked, the provincial government got involved with a project spearheaded by UQAM and the city to build a massive new bus terminal on the block behind the existing one. It was designed to include student housing for UQAM as well. Once the new station was to be completed, the old one would have been knocked down and replaced with an office tower. I’ve heard this argument, from several people, that there exists a conspiracy to ‘pull’ the downtown away from its ‘traditionally English’ sector to a ‘primarily French’ one. These terms are all very noted, as actual Montréalers know the subtleties of local living – that is, we know the lay of the land. I don’t believe there’s anything sinister about, Berri Square is a natural pole of attraction, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be as proud, declarative, and well-respect as Dorchester Square downtown.

Place Dupuis from across Place Emilie-Gamelin

However, just because it shouldn’t be this way doesn’t explain why it is. Here’s a link to a Le Devoir article concerning the stalled Ilot Voyageur project which is currently a large empty shell of what would have been an impressive building. You can see a construction crane behind the bus station in the top photo. Apparently, talk of not building a connecting Métro tunnel was batted about as a means to cut costs. This is beyond stupid – the current station connects directly!

Before the renovation of Berri Square and its transformation into Place Emilie-Gamelin in 1992, several proposals had been floated around about installing a new concert hall for the OSM on the site, but if the Olympics taught us anything, its that you don’t build on public space, you build beside it.

1984 Berri-UQAM site proposal for new concert hall

Fortunately it never came to fruition on this site, as I believe well-designed parks, plazas, squares etc provide much needed relief, and space to congregate. People do use Berri Square, but it has a bad reputation, Indeed, the day I shot these pics I spent three hours observing the space, watching how people interacted with it; here’s an abridged version of what I saw:

– 16 y o up-and-comer in the drug trade chasing off old woman who was photographing buildings around the square

– police cruiser, parked, empty, sitting in the middle of the square, by the giant chessboards (no pieces out that day)

– somewhere in the area of thirty to fifty bums, vagrants, drunks, hobos etc, probably getting the best use out of this space presently – everyone else walks around it, few cross. Those who do are either a- very aware of their surroundings, b- completely unaware of their surroundings and for that reason quickly leave or c- in the process of doing, aquiring or selling narcotics.Watch out for a rookie mistake – never buy anything in Berri, never tell anyone to go buy in Berri. You’ll get robbed, or worse.

– an urban square so completely disconnected from its surroundings it actually denigrates the value of what’s around it. A total waste of potential – considerations such as: make sure sight-lines can be maintained and ensure the plaza is open and accessible were cast aside for the purposes of an artistic statement. It’s a shame, I don’t know if Charney’s installation will work elsewhere, but its got to go for the sake of this space.

When you consider just a vital a space like this, you really wonder why they wanted to stick a concert hall right on top of it. That being said, because of its condition, I’m sure their are many people who would like to see something work here.

Worth reconsidering { No.1 }

A grainy proposal drawing for the never-built Labatt Stadium

I often wondered why Jean Drapeau poured so much money and interest into the Expos, and then one day it hit me – it keeps American eyes on us, means we’re a place worth knowing something about, and doubtlessly the kind of place one would consider visiting. Imagine the picture above beaming into homes and bars across the US of A – that’s a view, a potential team and a potential stadium that could have generated a lot of tourism money for this city, and for that reason, Montréal needs to get back into the business of baseball.

I happen to have recently discovered I enjoy baseball quite a bit, and the more I learned about the Expos, the more I came to realize the Expos were robbed of the pennant (at least) in the 1994 season.

Clearly the Big O was not the ideal venue for a baseball franchise, as the enormous stadium was generally impossible to fill, and offered those in attendance no real view, aside from the imposing enormity of the Olympic Stadium. The planned Labatt Stadium (which you can read all about here) would have had a capacity of 36,000 – roughly half that of the Big O.

Now, the site where this stadium would have been constructed is currently condo towers, though there are sites large enough to accommodate a stadium, such as between Duke and St-Henri along William in Griffintown, or at the site of the old Canada-Post sorting facility (incidentally, any re-development of the Griff should consider a ballpark, given the availability of large tracks of land owned by Canada Lands Corporation). Either way, the success of any new version of the Expos, should the citizens of this city ever make an attempt to get back into pro-ball, would be highly dependent on the stadium, its design and the view available to the spectators. A new ballpark would also create many new jobs and further serve as a potential venue for a variety of performances – in essence, a well-designed and strategically placed ballpark could act as a neighbourhood anchor, exactly the kind of thing the southern portion of the downtown could use.