Tag Archives: Métro

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism*

Conceptual rendering of planned LRT station, possibly at Bridge and Wellington
Conceptual rendering of planned LRT station, possibly at Bridge and Wellington

Michael Sabia can’t catch a break.

First he faced opposition for even being considered for the role of CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) back in 2009. It was quickly pointed out that an English-speaking Canadian, born in Hamilton, would become the head of the Caisse, the institutional investor that manages a portfolio of public and para-public pensions in Quebec, arguably one of the province’s greatest economic accomplishments. Seven years ago, former premier Bernard Landry was concerned Sabia would bring in unwanted “Canadian national culture” (whatever that means) and poison the well of the cornerstone of Québec, Inc.

And how!

Under Sabia’s leadership, the Caisse has grown considerably since losing $40 billion in 2008. At the beginning of this year, it managed net assets of $248 billion.

Now the Caisse’s leader wants to invest in public transit development in Montreal, proposing the single largest transit development project since the first iteration of the Métro was built fifty years ago, not to mention the prospect of 7,500 jobs created over the next four years. If everything works out, within four years a vast geographic area within Greater Montreal will have access to a twenty-nine station mass transit system connecting the urban core with Brossard, Deux-Montagnes, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and the airport.

And we’ll likely be riding in automated trains built by Bombardier.

Nonetheless, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, among others, is concerned the new system ignores the central and eastern parts of the city. The Parti Québécois leader undoubtedly wants some kind of commitment to the long-planned Blue Line extension towards Anjou, as the PQ got the ball rolling on studies for this long-planned extension with much fanfare back in 2012.

But let’s be real for a moment: all of Greater Montreal has been neglected vis-a-vis public transit development for quite some time, and it’s entirely a consequence of the unending public transit ping-pong match between competing parties and levels of government. The Caisse’s plan is ambitious, but right now is no more real than the Blue Line, the Azur (still haven’t rid it despite near daily Orange Line use… it’s a ghost) or a catapult to the Moon.

It’s completely unreasonable to suppose any part of the much-discussed light rail system proposed Friday is in any way, shape or form politically-motivated.

If anything, the proposed light rail system seems motivated chiefly by keeping costs comparatively low. The plan, if realized, will use existing, automated technology (likely the Bombardier Innovia Metro design) on track largely already owned by the Agence Métropolitain de Transport. The provincial public pension investor has proposed a five and half billion dollar public transit expansion project, the single most audacious plan seen in Montreal in fifty years, and is volunteering $3 billion to kickstart the program.

And this is precisely what we want the CDPQ to do: invest our pensions in necessary mega-projects that will create local jobs, employ local expertise, and are based on prior recent successes so as to guarantee a strong return on investment. The CDPQ is one of the financiers of Vancouver’s Canada Line, a light rail line that connects the city’s downtown with Richmond and the airport, opened in time for the 2010 Winter Games.

So they’ve done this before and it works, and Sabia’s recent success at the helm of the CDPQ gives us reason to be hopeful this proposal will succeed.

If the full version of the project is realized by 2020, Michael Sabia and the Caisse will have managed to out-do the comparative light-speed pace of the construction of the first iteration of the Métro, and a vast swath of Greater Montreal could be served by this system within four years.

Though the proposal does not include branches towards the eastern sectors of the metropolitan city, the sheer number of people this system could conceivably serve would be so great there would ultimately be a net benefit to all sectors of the metro region by virtue of fewer cars on our roadways and highways on a day to day basis.

Crucially, given the expected use of existing railway infrastructure, it’s entirely conceivable this system could be expanded to all corners of Greater Montreal. Moreover, light rail systems (such as this one) can share the track with larger heavy rail, such as the AMT’s current commuter train network. Either the Caisse’s LRT will gradually replace the AMT network, or they’ll share the track and compliment one another.

Either way, if this system is fully realized, we all get to breathe a little easier, and congestion becomes less of a problem.

The new LRT system route and the LRT combined with Métro and AMT commuter rail lines
The new LRT system route and the LRT combined with Métro and AMT commuter rail lines

But herein lies the rub: though the CDPQ’s plan is ambitious and headed in the right direction (both in terms of how it will be financed and what parts of the city it will connect), it needs to be integrated into the rest of the city’s mass transit systems from the get-go.

I was very happy to see that the Caisse has indicated a desire to do so in that they listed two potential stations (Edouard-Montpetit and McGill) that would allow the light rail system to connect directly to the Blue and Green lines of the Métro. This not only makes the LRT system more useful and accessible generally-speaking, it would also permit the Blue Line to connect more or less directly to the urban core, long the line’s major handicap.

I’ve always been in favour of extending the Blue Line to Anjou if the line is first connected, by means of the Mount Royal Tunnel, to the city centre, as this will help get that line’s ridership up to where it ought to be. As it is, it’s the least used line in the Métro network. There’s no sense extending it if the root cause of its underperformance isn’t addressed first.

So if I could make a very strong suggestion to the Caisse it is this: work with the STM and AMT and ensure the whole plan illustrated above is realized as the first phase, and seek the greatest possible degree of integration with the extant Métro and commuter rail network. In this way, and perhaps only this way, will they quickly recoup their investment and lay the foundation for the Blue Line’s eventual extension.

I really can’t imagine it working out in any other way.

I’m oddly hopeful politics will not rear its ugly head and screw up this plan, as I’m convinced we can’t afford to wait much longer and that it would ultimately prove exceptionally useful in accomplishing what should be a clear goal for our city: get cars off the road and increase daily mass transit system usage. I find the Caisse’s plan very encouraging, despite my near endemic cynicism and the ample proof we’re not very good getting things built or delivered on-time.

But who knows, maybe things change.

Or maybe once in a while it takes an outsider to get us back on track.

Initially I wanted to write about how this proposed system will work in the broader scheme of things, what this might mean for homeowners living in the expansive corridor to be served by this light rail system, and what kind of organizational response is needed to provide a truly world-class mass transit system at large. But given that we’re already 1300 words in, that’ll have to wait for another time.

*One of former US Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s more colourful quotes. Agnew was the second and most recent VP to resign from office, and so far the only to do so as a result of criminal charges, these including: extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy, all while he was holding office as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland and Vice-President. Journalist and historian Gary Willis described Agnew as “No man ever came to market with less seductive goods, and no man ever got a better price for what he had to offer.”

Snowdon Theatre Fire, The Lowest Point & Social Media

Still frame from Snapchat of the Snowdon Theatre Fire - posted to mtlurb
Still frame from Snapchat of the Snowdon Theatre Fire – posted to mtlurb

Generally speaking, I’m a fan of urban exploration.

However, there’s a few golden rules we should all keep in mind when it comes to exploring the secret and unseen parts of the city: don’t leave any trace behind, don’t hurt yourself, don’t inconvenience others, and above all else, don’t negatively impact the place you’re exploring.

Say, as an example, by starting a fire that may threaten a vintage theatre and the residents of the adjacent apartment complex.

But if you are so inclined to start a fire in an abandoned building, for the love of all that is good and holy, please share a video or photographs of your illegal deeds on social media, so you can be found and eventually prosecuted.

At this point you may be asking; “but who on Earth would be so foolish to do such a thing?”

The answer: teenagers. Boneheaded teenagers. And apparently some hotshot young videographers as well.

In an astounding coincidence, on the very same day that photographs, like the one above, emerged online of several teenagers apparently starting a fire on the second floor of the abandoned Snowdon Theatre, this video of several people galavanting through the Métro tunnels was posted to YouTube and widely distributed on local social media networks.

Montreal police are now both searching for the teens suspected of starting the fire and have opened an investigation into how the Métro tunnels (and trains) were accessed by the creators of ‘Lowest Point in Montreal’.

In the latter case, the film crew accessed one tunnel while the Métro was still in operation, and then proceeded to make their way into the rear conductor’s cabin of an operational train, locking the door when accosted by an STM employee. As La Presse notes, there’s a safety issue inasmuch as there’s a security issue. It was just last week that Daesh sympathizers detonated bombs in a Brussels Métro station; the film crew in the ‘Lowest Point’ video had access to Métro controls, the track, and service tunnels and the various equipment kept in those tunnels. My guess is they were probably down in the tunnels for more than hour, and evaded STM security throughout.

Unless of course these are off duty and out of uniform STM employees who happen to be urban exploration enthusiasts; that would be one of those ‘everything worked out better than expected’ conclusions I don’t think is terribly likely.

I’m torn, really. I feel creeping adulthood and my gut says “don’t go exploring Métro tunnels”, especially not when the trains are actually in operation. It’s immensely dangerous, not to mention inconvenient for thousands or tens of thousands of people who may be affected by a temporary line closure. I think the code ‘900-02’ announces a suspected infiltration of the tunnels; if either an STM employee or the system’s CCTV system suspects there’s someone in the tunnels, they have to call it in, close it down and investigate.

So while I find this video intriguing and interesting, I can’t in good conscience recommend others do the same. The risk is far too great.

That said, the STM could probably make some coin offering after-hours behind-the-scenes tours of the city’s transit infrastructure. I would pay good money to get a guided walking tour of the Orange Line, and am certain many others would too.

It’s remarkable to me that two different groups of people, in the same city and at essentially the same time, both recorded acts of trespassing and other illegal activities and then posted it to social media, seemingly oblivious the video or photo evidence could be used against them.

***

Kristian Gravenor has weighed-in on the Snowdon’s fire, but places the blame for the building’s slow demise ultimately on the city and borough government. In his opinion, neither have been proactive with regards to saving this building, and he suspects the borough will now announce it can’t be saved, and that as such it ought to be razed to fast-track new construction.

Gravenor insinuates that there’s “…a conscious or subconscious will to eradicate this beautiful Art Deco building and what it symbolically represents.”

I would like to hope he’s wrong, and that this is simply a matter of local government lacking in vision and hoping for ‘free market’ solutions to solve problems that clearly fall within the public domain.

But when you consider that the Snowdon is the latest in an unfortunately long list of landmark Montreal theatres abandoned to ignoble fates without even an iota of effort by municipal officials to save them, it makes you wonder. This isn’t a new problem, it dates back forty years to the destruction of the Capitol Theatre, arguably the grandest of them all. More recently, the Seville and York were pulled down (to build condos and a university pavilion, respectfully), while the Snowdon, Cartier and most importantly, the Empress, lie abandoned and in ruin (and there are maybe a dozen more scattered elsewhere about the city).

In a city known for its nightlife, live entertainment and general cultural engagement, why is it very nearly impossible to renovate and rehabilitate old theatres and make them useful elements of the community at large?

Mo’ Métro blues…

Azur Métro train rendering

The first Azur Métro train is set to start rolling Sunday at 10:00 am on the Orange Line.

Huzzah!

The Quebec government awarded the contract to build 468 MPM-10 (Azur) Métro cars (forming 52 nine-car trains) to the Bombardier-Alstom consortium back in 2010 at a cost of $1.2 billion.

Deliveries were expected to begin in 2014, and one prototype was delivered to begin in-tunnel testing. This led to the discovery of unexpected complications, namely insufficient electrical power. Prior complications included the discovery a 200-meter section of the Orange Line was a touch smaller than the rest, requiring renovations to prevent the new Azurs from ‘grinding’ against the tunnel walls or ceiling.

In January of 2015 work on the project was suspended for six months in order for the consortium to work out problems with the trains’ automated switching software.

And now, one completed train has been delivered for entry into service. It is the first new Métro train in forty years and the third generation of trains to operate in the system. The Azurs will operate on the Orange and Blue lines, displacing the second-generation MR-73 trains onto the Green and Yellow lines. The MR-73s entered into service in 1976 and were refurbished in 2005-2008. The MR-63s currently operating on the Green and Yellow lines are fifty years old and the first trains to ever operate on the Métro.

According to a Bombardier spokesman, five more completed trains will begin operating soon and the company expects to have five or six more trains completed by the end of this year. All 52 trains are expected to be delivered by 2018, lest Bombardier-Alstom risk the wrath of the STM and Transport Quebec…

As to replacing the MR-73s, that’ll have to wait until the 2030s because, well, much like the MR-63s, they were rather well-built. There’s also no current plan to build the several hundred additional Azurs that would be required on top of the 468 currently on order.

On the same day the STM made their triumphant announcement, La Presse reported Transport Quebec discovered in mid-January the initial cost estimates concerning the extension of the Métro’s Blue Line by five stations to the east will now cost roughly twice as much ($2.9 billion).

Two years ago the AMT’s cost evaluation put the figure around $1.5 billion, but since then a Federal election occurred and the swarthy new prime minister has announced a major infrastructure spending spree. Mass transit projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions will almost assuredly get federal funds.

It should be noted that, as recently as a year ago, provincial transport minister Robert Poeti and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre both seemed favourable to extending the Blue Line above-ground by using light-rail, though neither offered any particulars on how two different mass transit systems would be linked. Poeti indicated a Blue Line extension wasn’t even a priority, at the time. How things have changed! Coderre, who had previously argued Métro extensions were too expensive, is now very enthusiastic and argued it’s vital to the development of Montreal’s eastern sectors. He said this in the same breath as he mentioned several other transit dossiers which include a light rail system for the Champlain Bridge (and possibly other parts of the city) and a new West Island/Airport express train.

Of course none of this is particularly new: the plan to extend the Blue Line east goes back forty years at least. The map above dates back to when the City of Montreal was playing a more direct role in the development of the Métro, (my guess is 1976 given most of the Green Line stations are correct but the planning names of the western Orange Line stations are still listed. You’ll also notice the western extension of the Blue Line from Snowdon towards Ville Saint-Pierre, and that the eastern part of the Blue Line goes up towards Montréal-Nord), and as you can see back then bigger plans were in mind.

But herein lies the crux of the problem: Métro extensions are not planned by the City of Montreal or the STM, but pêle-mêle by a provincial government agency. Same story vis-à-vis the Azurs: the purchase was made by the provincial government for the STM.

It still boggles my mind that the future of high-speed mass-transit in Montreal will be decided by a provincial government agency, and apparently if and when the Fed decides to spend money on transit infrastructure. Montreal should be doing this on its own, and should further be setting its own development pace and priorities.

The question is whether expansion would be a priority for a local planning agency, especially when it comes to the Blue Line, currently the least used of Montreal’s four Métro lines. Connecting the Blue Line to the Mount Royal Tunnel, modifying the Green and Orange lines to accommodate a higher rate-of-service, or even re-designing the stations of the Blue and Yellow lines to accommodate nine-car Métro trains could all be seen as greater priorities if the ultimate aim was to increase ridership.

Ostensibly this is the underlying justification of the Blue Line expansion, but I have my doubts this is the best possible use of three billion dollars in new infrastructure spending. What I don’t doubt is the new figure likely has far more to do with the Fed’s newfound interest in urban mass transit than the actual costs of building a five-station Métro extension.

And on a closing note, don’t expect to see the Azurs operating on the Blue Line anytime too soon. A Bombardier spokesman told me the Azur train sets are only available in a nine-car configuration, though the stations on that line currently use MR-73s in a six-car configuration (again, owing to low use). The platform lengths of the Blue Line stations are the same length as all the other Métro stations, but also all have barriers on account of the shorter trains. The Bombardier spox indicated that the Azurs can’t be shortened and wouldn’t be operated on the Blue Line until the stations are modified.

So far, no indication the STM will go through with those renovations, nor is there any idea of how much that will cost.

The Agence métropolitaine de transport to be abolished

AMT Commuter Rail Logo

When you want news to get buried over the weekend, you deliver it on Friday afternoons.

The Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) will be abolished as of Monday. The provincial government agency is currently responsible for all transit planning in Greater Montreal, as well as the the inter-city commuter rail network.

The Couillard government will make the announcement on Monday (okay, so maybe they’re not really trying to bury the story, still, odd time to issue a press release teasing such a major change…)

Apparently the AMT is to be replaced by two new organizations: the Réseau des transports métropolitain (RTM) and the Agence régionale de transport (ART).

The new RTM will be responsible for running the commuter rail system and apparently all public transit agencies except the STM, STL and RTL (the latter two STM equivalents in Laval and Longueuil respectively).

Of note, the other organization (ART) will be the regional transit planning body, and will be run by the ‘elected officials of Montreal and government experts’.

It’s not clear whether that means city proper or agglomeration council, though I believe it’s the latter case.

It’ll be interesting to find out what precisely this all means on Monday, though perhaps we have reason to be optimistic. Local transit needs to be planned locally, though the maintenance of three independent transit agencies (in the form of the STM, STL and RTL) within this new plan is still problematic. The cost to ride the Métro should be standard regardless of where you get on. Similarly, the bus network should have a single common fare at least for Montreal, Laval and Longueuil.

That said, I wonder whether the new regional transit planning authority will continue to push the Blue Line’s eastern extension, or whether it will prioritize developing a tram system.

A lot more to come on this file I imagine. Stay tuned!

Métro woes…

This is about as real as it gets - conceptual renderings of the proposed Azur Métro train.
This is about as real as it gets Рconceptual renderings of the proposed Azur M̩tro train.

Here’s the deal:

In 2010 the Quebec government signed an agreement with the Bombardier-Alstom consortium to build 468 new Métro cars at a total cost of $1.2 billion, with expected delivery starting in February 2014 and continuing for four years. The first completed car rolled out in splashy ceremony in November of 2013. The first train was completed in February 2014 and the company maintained that the entire fleet would be delivered by 2018, as per the contract.

It’s now April of 2015 and only one train has been delivered, and it’s been used uniquely for testing – i.e. it is not in operation yet.

It’s assumed Bombardier will have to pay some kind of fee for late delivery, though this is far from set in stone and could easily be forgiven by the government.

If say Bombardier were to come up with reasons to further delay delivery, government might wave the fee, or do something else to prevent such a delay.

So far Bombardier has announced delays in delivery because of two different issues. First there were problems with parts of the tunnel that required a partial redesign so as to actually allow the trains to pass through. Second, announced in October of 2014, was that the automated control software wasn’t ready, so even though a paltry five train sets had been completed, they wouldn’t be put into service. In January Bombardier-Alstom indicated that the software still wasn’t ready and that they’d have to layoff 145 construction workers at a plant in La Pocatière because of the delay in developing a software an Alstom-owned subsidiary in (wait for it) Italy.

At face value these seem like reasonable justifications, but think on it a little bit.

In the first case, the work to be done was on a small section of a tunnel, and basically involved shaving off parts of the ceiling and outer walls, as that portion – for whatever reason – was slightly narrower than the rest of the system. It had nothing to do with the trains themselves, so how did that retard their construction?

In the second case, the software is just that – soft. Why can’t the new trains use the existing automated control software? Is there no way to operate the trains manually? And again, why would that delay construction of the vehicles themselves?

Today’s news is that the Quebec government will ‘loan’ $31.5 million to the STM so that the STM can then pay Bombardier for the delivery of four train sets, each with nine cars. When these train sets will be delivered is anyone’s guess – despite a lot of flowery prose – a delivery date for these trains was omitted from the STM’s press release (author’s note – thanks to Martin from Propos Montréal for pointing out it isn’t actually a loan, but an advance the STM will pay Bombardier before the total bill is due in full once the last trains are completed and delivered in 2018. So we’re paying a portion of what’s already contractually agreed upon as owed to Bombardier-Alstom for trains that are only 95% complete).

CTV reported in January that five trains had been completed, today we were promised four completed trains at a future date. Which is it? Have five been built or are four to be built?

And why is the government loaning money to the STM so the STM can then pay Bombardier-Alstom to keep production going and save 145 jobs in La Pocatière (which is located about halfway between Quebec City and Rivière du Loup, and closer to Edmunston New Brunswick than Montréal). And why didn’t the government pay Bombardier-Alstom directly as opposed to loaning money to the STM?

And what was the $1.2 billion contract signed in 2010 for if not to pay for the production of these Métro cars in the first place?

The STM press release is thick with laughable quotes from various members of the provincial government, and Bombarider-Alstom, declaring how important it is to keep the Quebec economy going and to save these jobs. Coderre weighed in (for some reason) that the people of Montréal are impatient to get the new trains, but no delivery date was specified and there’s no specific details as to what the $31.5 million will be used for.

If it’s just to keep 145 people employed, how does this fix the software problem?

And wasn’t the contract supposed to create 400 jobs, not 245 of which 145 can be ‘saved’ from temporary layoffs thanks to a mere $31.5 million loan? What about the initial contract?

The Journal de Montréal reports that economy minister Jacques Daoust had the gall to state that ‘if Quebec were in a period of austerity, we (the government) could not have made this grand gesture’.

Son of a bitch. It’s shit like this that makes people absolutely despise the Quebec Liberal Party.

Now to recap:

– In 2010 the Quebec gov’t paid the Bombardier-Alstom consortium $1.2 billion to deliver 468 new Métro cars (comprising 52 trains).

– Trains were expected to begin operation in February 2014.

– As of January 2015 no trains had been delivered to the STM; Bombardier-Alstom at first blames delays on problems with tunnel clearance, then with automated control software, and indicates it will have to temporarily layoff 145 employees at a factory in La Pocatière though fails to connect the dots as to how this will impede the construction of the trains. CTV reports five trains had been completed but, according to STM and Bombardier-Alstom officials, can’t be used safely.

– On April 2nd 2015 the Government of Quebec announces a $31.5 million loan to the STM so that the STM can pay Bombardier-Alstom for the delivery of four trains at an unspecified date as well as the continued employment of those workers threatened with layoffs.

– On the same day officials from the government, the Mayor of Montreal, representatives of Bombardier, Alstom and the STM congratulate themselves for doing something good for the Quebec economy.

The Quebec government just paid nearly $32 million to get four trains when it already paid $1.2 billion for 52 trains five years ago, and apparently Bombardier-Alstom has justified delays in both construction and delivery on a) physical characteristics of the tunnel they should already have been aware of and b) automated control software they are responsible for. And to top it all off, the new trains will be delivered ‘95% complete’ and without the new software.

People, this is your money.

Bombardier-Alstom convinced the representatives of the people of Quebec into paying more money for a subpar product that’s already a year behind in the delivery schedule, by threatening to layoff unionized workers in a riding that up until recently voted PQ.

Once again the taxpayers of Quebec have been screwed by a profit-driven multinational corporation and complicit government officials who look to score political points by creatively financing corporate failures and spinning it as an some kind of economic and political success story. We have been told by various governments for over a generation that the private sector is more efficient at getting the job done. How can such be said of Bombardier-Alstom with regard to the Azur project?

I don’t get it. We have no money to pay for schools, hospitals nor even a sufficient number of maintenance workers to keep the Métro clean, yet have $31.5 million lying around to reward incompetence at best and blackmail at worst.

Yesterday and Today

The bell tower of the former Saint Jaques Cathedral and the parking lot that preceded Place Emilie-Gamelin, 9th of June 1976. Photo by Vincent Massaro, credit to Archives de Montréal
The bell tower of the former Saint Jaques Cathedral and the parking lot that preceded Place Emilie-Gamelin, 9th of June 1976. Photo by Vincent Massaro, credit to Archives de Montréal

This is Berri Square on June 9th 1976, the year of our Olympiad.

I find this photo significant for a few reasons. First and foremost is that UQAM had not yet built its main campus.

That came three years later.

It only took three years to build UQAM’s main campus.

Let that sink in and think about how long it has taken the province to build the MUHC. Or finish the Dorval Interchange. Or complete the Train de l’Est.

Need I go on?

Why don’t we build as fast as we did thirty some odd years ago?

Warts and all, I find the Latin Quarter far more inviting and appealing today when compared to the photo above.

Back in 1976 there was no Grande Bibliotheque nor UQAM’s main campus. There was no large public space either (Place Emilie Gamelin would only be completed in 1992).

To think that the roof of Berri-UQAM was a parking lot for all those years…

This doesn’t feel like the transit and institutional hub I know, it feels barren and disconnected.

I guess that’s the second thing I find fascinating about this photograph – it’s deceptive.

There seems to be a lot of stuff missing, and the openness and lack of any kind of green space makes the area feel impoverished, and far less significant in terms of its function within the urban environment. This appears to be almost some kind of accident of urban planning.

But then you have to consider Berri-de-Montigny station (as it was called back then) had been completed a decade earlier and would have been as much of a transit hub as it is today. Consider Saint Denis would have been similar to how it is today in terms of its reputation as an ‘entertainment district’. UQAM’s main pavilion hadn’t yet been built but the university was using the building facing the bell tower of the former Saint Jacques Cathedral. The old bus depot would have been newish back then, and the large warehouse across the street was the main distribution centre for a major local grocery chain, and doubtless was humming with activity all night (it was later converted into a roller rink and concert venue). Place Dupuis would have been relatively new as well, offering high end commercial and corporate real estate as well as the Hotel des Gouverneurs, one of the first large hotels in the are aside from the old Gare Viger railway hotel.

Even though there’s virtually no green space (and consider as well the grounds around the remnants of the cathedral were closed to the public), the area nonetheless has a more open feel. I can imagine this area felt very different with all that open space and open sight lines allowing perspectives of the city that have been lost to time. Montreal would’ve looked different back then, and perhaps arguably looked better at a distance than it may have been up front.

That said, I think we need to be careful in how we look at Montreal’s urban past. This photo was taken in 1976 and a sizeable chunk of downtown Montreal looked a lot like this – large parking lots, large open lots, a lot less green space and fewer major institutions occupying the centre of the city. How could 1976 have been any kind of a ‘golden year’ in our city when so much of what makes our city great today simply didn’t exist at the time?

I’ve often argued we look at our past, particularly as it concerns our urban environment and urban quality of life, with rose coloured glasses.

Sure, we hosted the Olympics, the Habs were winning Stanley Cups left and right, the city’s economy was stronger and a Montrealer was Prime Minister.

But consider as well the exceptionally higher violent crime rates of the era (i.e. a hundred homicides a year), or that Montreal police morality squads prowled for young gays on Mount Royal. Consider the mansions and historic neighbourhoods replaced by skyscrapers and obliterated by highways, or the population shift to the suburbs and a downtown that turned into something of a ghost town after 6 pm. Imagine Montreal without Le Plateau or a resurgent Saint Henri, or any of the prized urban neighbourhoods we so covet today; we are a far more livable city now than we were then.

Forget about Montreal’s Golden Age. It hasn’t happened yet.