Tag Archives: Montréal Tourism

An Ocean Liner to Boost Casino Revenue

Really wish I had taken this - props to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Québec and French pavilions of Expo 67.
Really wish I had taken this Рprops to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Qu̩bec and French pavilions of Expo 67.

So Loto-Québec is planning on introducing drinking on the floors of the province’s four casinos, as part of a broader effort to update and modernize the casinos to increase revenue and draw higher attendance. Currently both are down, prompting the péquiste health minister (?) to state “it’s time we got our heads out of the sand and ensures our casinos can be competitive.” As it stands, Québec’s casinos are the only casinos in North America where the consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the gaming floor.

The plan is that, by getting on board with open drinking on the gaming floor, many more people will visit and revenues will increase. Gérard Bibeau, the head of Loto-Québec believes nearly $100 million in lost revenue could be generated (though it seems he’s basing this calculation on the idea that attendance is down specifically because drinking isn’t permitted. I would hope attendance is down because a sufficient number of people would rather save their hard earned money rather than risk it). Bibeau suggests that the $100 million figure represents what could have been pulled in by the casinos if not for a 4% drop in attendance over the past few years.

Hmmm. What’s been happening that might convince people to stay away from casinos for the past four or five years…?

Loto-Québec’s prohibition of drinking while gambling on the casino floor is certainly particular, especially when you consider that it’s not a prohibition on drinking and gambling in the wider sense. Anyone can drink and gamble themselves into oblivion at video lottery terminals (VLTs) located in every dive bar in the province – and plenty have (though officially the bartender is supposed to discourage this, if I’m not mistaken). And from my experience working in dépanneurs I can tell you drinking and gambling certainly go together, though it has never been my experience that these activities ever did anyone any good.

But I digress.

Many moons ago it was a lovely Tuesday night in the suburbs and my buddies and I were bored. We were young, temporarily unimaginative yet also cognizant that we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with ourselves. So we piled into a car and took off for the Casino de Montréal. It was my first and last time there and I broke even, winning and then losing $100.

The first thing I really took notice of was a geriatric sitting in a pink jumpsuit, slumped ever so slightly over on one side, an oxygen tank leaning against her high chair. She had a neon yellow elastic chord attached from her jumpsuit pocket to a debit card locked into a one-armed bandit, pressing the button as though in a trance.

These are not the people we want in our casinos (admittedly I’m making a jugement call here, but she did not appear to be a high-roller; she looked like a senior citizen gambling away her pension cheque). Adding drink to the mix will make this problem worse. We want other people’s money – tourist money.

When the Casino de Montréal opened in 1993 it was a bit of a big deal. It’s a surprisingly large casino by Canadian standards, featuring over a hundred gaming tables and 3,200 gaming machines, not to mention the bars and restaurants (three and four respectively) as well as the cabaret and assorted meeting and banquet facilities. As intended, it’s open all day every day of the year and is located far from the city, isolated from the pedestrian and public transit pace of the downtown core on Ile-Notre-Dame. It came to be a year after the city’s 350th anniversary as part of a series of civic improvement projects instituted by Mayor Doré. In this particular case, it allowed for two iconic Expo pavilions to be preserved and rendered permanent. As such, it is peculiar for a casino, as it features low ceilings, natural sunlight and openly encourages its patrons to step away from the tables to smoke, drink and socialize.

When it opened, it was supposed to be classy. The restaurants were top-notch, the chefs and wine selection unbeatable. There was even a dress code – jackets and ties for men, no hats, no jeans etc.

I think this is something we should maintain. Everything about our casino, as initially intended, was almost designed to de-emphasize the gambling. It’s not a big gray box. It doesn’t disorient the patrons by omitting windows. It invites patrons to step away from the gaming, to go outside and get some fresh air. These are design elements we should continue to value.

There’s no doubt our casino and state-regulated gambling is useful – it funnels money from the people’s pocket back into the government purse. Loto-Québec is a provincial crown corporation whose mandate is ‘to operate games of chance in the province in an orderly and measured way’ and I would argue strongly they do a generally good job, even though I’m morally opposed to the practice in the first place.

I suppose it’s not so bad if it’s rich people who’re losing their money – they can afford it.

But all too often casinos wind up preying, even if indirectly, on the poorest elements of society – they people most desperate for a financial break are all too often those with bad finances and who exercise poor jugement with their money. And whereas there once were controls – like the dress code and limitations on drinking on the playing floor – these have been shelved to accomodate the poor yet regular patrons who provide the bulk of the casino’s revenue during a prolonged period of economic instability, such as we’re experiencing right now.

But my question is this. Is this really the best way to increase revenue? How much extra coin could this actually produce?

And why look to locals as our main source of casino revenue?

And why isn’t Montreal’s casino generating money specifically for our own needs? The city could use revenue generated by the Casino de Montréal more immediately and doubtless more efficiently. As an example, with new legislation, the Casino de Montréal’s revenue could be re-directed towards costly and necessary infrastructure improvements to local schools (you’ll no doubt recall many local schools have severe mould and asbestos problems). Or to provide scholarships and bursaries for post-secondary education. Or to help defray the massive cost overruns of the new hospitals. or to improve public transit. The list goes on. As it stands today this money is sent to Québec City, where I suppose it’s moved back into general revenue.

This doesn’t help us much at all, yet Montréal is on the hook for nearly every negative repercussion from casino operations in the city – everything from the social problems associated with gambling addiction in our poorest neighbourhoods to the inevitable suicides and road accidents that happen on the otherwise deserted junction of Ave. Pierre-Dupuy and the Pont de la Concorde.

So let’s do something different.

The city ought to take in a greater share of our casino’s revenue, but we can’t argue this position unless we’re willing to provide our own plan to increase attendance and revenue. Thus, I would argue strongly that the city should look to acquire the single greatest missing piece from our casino’s master plan – a hotel – and assist in redeveloping the Casino de Montréal with a new hotel & resort component. This in turn could be part of a larger plan to increase the use and revenue generated by all the diverse functions of parc Jean-Drapeau.

But where would we build a hotel? Ile-Notre-Dame doesn’t have much space to support a large hotel, and construction may render the island temporarily unusable.

Permanently mooring a cruise ship or ocean liner within proximity of the casino presents us with an interesting possibility to get everything we need for a major casino expansion without having to build much. It would allow us to rather suddenly put a lot of hotel space more or less in the centre of the city’s park islands. Rather than building new we simply tow a full expansion into position. It would look good, it would be exceptionally unique and would further serve to provide a lot of direct financial stimulus for our otherwise underused (and at times worn-down) parc Jean-Drapeau.

Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau
Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau

And wouldn’t you know it, we could park a cruise ship or old ocean liner right here between the inter-island bridges. One would fit perfectly (though we might have to dredge the channel and temporarily remove one of the bridges) and I think in a broader sense fulfill a grander scheme for the park islands. I’ve often felt that this grand playground lacks any unifying cohesiveness – it’s simply the space we put all the stuff we can’t place elsewhere. We’ve purposely concentrated a lot of diverse entertainment in one space and have done well in maintaining that space’s utility within the public conception of the urban environment. Yet it’s still very detached, isolated even, from the rest of the city.

I feel a floating hotel solves more than one problem, using the location’s relative isolation to its advantage. For locals and people from the region, it could provide a much-needed ‘urban resort’, a place to get away from it all that’s oddly located in the middle of everything. For foreign tourists or families on vacation, it provides a hotel in a controlled environment almost exclusively dedicated to family friendly activities. Re-instituting the dress code and prohibiting drinking from the gaming floor in this newly expanded casino could serve to help sell the image of a classy and unique vacation experience catering to a wide variety of tastes.

Think about it – Parc Jean-Drapeau is a large multi-use park with a considerable natural component, occupying roughly the same amount of space as Mount Royal Park (2.1 square kilometers). It features, among others, a beach, an aquatics centre & rowing basin, manicured parks and trails, an amusement park, a historic fort and a premier outdoor concert venue. Placing a hotel in the middle of it, associated with the aforementioned casino, would surely drive up revenue not only for the casino but everything else going on at the park as well. It could conceivably make the park more useful during the winter months and provide sufficient new revenue so as to redevelop the Biosphere, Helene-de-Champlain restaurant and give the whole place a facelift too. And I don’t think it would take much of anything away from the city’s existing hotels as, from my experience, parc Jean-Drapeau is nearly exclusively used by locals, being perhaps a little too detached for tourists.

SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova
SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova

For your consideration, this rather handsome looking (and famous) ocean liner, the SS United States, can accomodate 5,000 people and is in desperate need of a buyer to keep her from the breakers. The idea of permanently mooring an ocean liner somewhere in the Old Port isn’t entirely new either. Aside form the fact that it’s already been done elsewhere, our own Mayor Drapeau wanted to use an ocean liner to house Olympic athletes during the `76 Games, with the idea being that the ship would be converted into a floating hotel, casino and convention centre afterwards as part of a broad facelift for the Old Port. His preferred vessel was the SS Normandie.

Definitely worth reconsidering, in my humble option.

If you happen to be looking to buy a cruise ship, look no further.

Ten Attractions and Services we Bafflingly do not have in Montréal { part deux }

Parts of the logo: podium, running track, the letter M, the three 'peaks' of Mount Royal and the Olympic Rings

So this article has been getting a neat little bit of buzz. If you’d like to see part 1, just click here.

Please leave me any suggestions, comments, questions or critiques. Let me know if you think these are ridiculous or just what we need. If I have any luck I might just one day get myself on city council, and I would like to speak on behalf of the people somewhat authoritatively. Let me know what you think.

So now, the second part of our two-part series on what we’re lacking. Remember, these aren’t in any order of priority.

6. A bilingual university – according to a new study authored by Jack Jedwab of the Montréal-based Association for Canadian Studies, after years of work and billions of tax-dollars spent, only about 7% of Canadians outside of Québec can carry a conversation in French, leading some to question as to whether we are truly a bilingual nation, and why official bilingualism hasn’t caught on across Canada. Oddly enough, the French requirement outside of Québec has led countless Québecois to leave their home province to make use of French elsewhere, and that has doubtless stimulated a greater sense of the uniqueness of the Canadian identity for those individuals. It is also one of the reasons why an estimated 30,000 young Canadians have flocked to Montréal over the last five years to study here – they know learning French is highly advantageous in an increasingly globalized world.

But we need to go further. Montréal has a growing student population and our universities and CEGEPs are over-crowded. New buildings are going up piecemeal, but an entirely new university may soon be required to relieve pressure on other schools. Given the linguistic balance of universities in Montréal (not to mention the fact that there are plenty of English students at French schools and vice-versa, and the fact that, I believe, all Montréal universities accept student’s work in either official language), it only makes sense that we now create a fully, operationally bilingual university. Ideally, this school will require or otherwise encourage students to learn and submit assignments and research in both languages, to work in both languages and to graduate with the ability to effortlessly switch between languages and write in either at a superior level. Moreover, I would want this university to be actively engaged in supporting and promoting official bilingualism throughout Canada, study the process, and conduct research pertaining to the linguistics of multilingualism, its role and function in society. The information and data such an institution could provide would be invaluable, not to mention the practicality of a city such as ours having a recognized bilingual university will only work to further our global orientation and secure international recognition. Can we really afford not having one? Future attempts to secure additional UN branches and other international governing bodies may depend on it.

7. An aviation museum – so Montréal is effectively the world capital of aviation, and I bet you didn’t even know that eh? In fact, the two largest international bodies governing civil aviation are based right here, a stone’s throw from one another. ICAO (on University) is the official UN body governing civil aviation, while IATA (located at the Tour de la Bourse), represents the interests of of the civil aviation industry. In addition, we have two international airports as part of a three-airport system for the city (which is a lot given our population, though appropriate for the region as a whole), have an established local aviation industry (including Bombardier, the world’s third-largest aircraft manufacturer, Bell Helicopter and Pratt & Whitney), the headquarters for the Canadian Space Agency and the satellite-manufacturing component of MacDonald-Dettwiller.

Despite all this, we don’t have an aviation museum to display the many types of aircraft designed, built and tested here. Why not? We have room at three airports for just such a facility, and all the tourists we need to make such an endeavour financially viable. I mean, if smaller markets can support these kinds of facilities, certainly we can. Finally, I’m keen to join museums and interpretive centres with established academic institutions. There’s a plan that’s been on the books stretching back nearly thirty years to build a joint aerospace institute and specialty college, which was originally supposed to be administered jointly by McGill and Université de Montréal. The project was intended to be located at Trudeau Airport as part of the transfer of operations to Mirabel. An aviation museum as part of a larger aerospace college, two potentially lucrative operations capable of reaching a global academic audience inasmuch as a the local tourism market. A place for us to showcase our achievements in a vitally important national industry while simultaneously providing a facility to study our innovations in aviation. It’s ok for us to take pride in what we do best, so why don’t we do better for our key high-technology industries?

8. A monument to humanity – I was initially thinking of a monument to world peace, but I can imagine we’d do better to try and bring many concepts together at once. I’ve always thought a monumental, towering version of the Expo Logo, with the two intertwined runic symbols for man, would be a nice touch. Consider that we once had (and in name only still do have) a Place des Nations, at the Western edge of Ile-Ste-Helene (as you can see in the photo), yet it has largely been abandoned, suffering from lack of easy access (though back then it was a key transit point, connected to the Expo Express LRT). I would love to see Place des Nations brought back to its former glory, but I still feel we need a grand monument to the human endeavour, ideally located in an area close to major tourist sites, with the aim of stimulating urban-renewal through a large city beautification project.

I think the area bounded by St-Urbain, Sanguinet, Viger and St-Antoine (one of the last exposed sections of the Ville-Marie Expressway, adjacent to the Champs de Mars) must be covered over, and a large plaza and park installed here would serve to connect Old Montr̩al, the International Quarter, Chinatown and the Latin Quarter. Moreover, such a development would make the surface parking lots along the Northern edge of Viger prime locations for high-density residential and commercial real-estate towers. The location is symbolic, central and currently an eyesore, not to mention, much like the fortifications that once stood at the Champs de Mars, an unnatural and unnecessary barrier. And we of all cities must have a monument to humanity, cosmopolitanism, world peace, to human rights and civil liberties Рthese are our values, let us celebrate them and stimulate new growth simultaneously.

9. Linear parks (or more precisely, a revision of the 1909 PQAA linear parkways plan) – I found this gem of an idea in a CCA publication called Montreal Metropolis, and I’ll see what I can do about getting a detailed scan put up soon. The Province of Québec Architect’s Association (PQAA) drafted a plan in 1909 to link several major urban parks through a network of parkways – roads lined with trees with segregated lanes for pedestrian and vehicle traffic, along with a centre-line tramway with the idea being that if there was no traffic, the space would be in essence a long linear park.

The PQAA plan envisioned an outer ring running down from Mount Royal along Atwater to a riverside park planned to line the St. Lawrence near the Victoria Bridge. Another branch would extend East to Parc Lafontaine from Fletcher’s Field, then back along Sherbrooke or Ontario until descending towards the Champ de Mars, Place d’Armes and Square-Victoria. Consider this: what if the outer edge of the urban core (effectively, the line that separates the CBD from the first-ring suburbs) was a parkway which would eventually lead you right back to the same spot, and from every point along the edge of this ring road, you were essentially always the same distance from the centre of the city? Moreover, this same parkway could bring you to just about every major park and urban square or plaza in the city. Quite an accomplishment if you ask me, and its a pity this plan was at best only partially implemented (indeed, it really never got much farther than the city planting a lot of Elm trees closely spaced on some of our major thoroughfares, like Parc Avenue and Sherbrooke Street).

The poet Irving Layton once described Parc Avenue in the summer as though he were walking through an arboreal cathedral, the enmeshed branches above forming a kind of floral vaulted ceiling. All this came to an unfortunate end throughout the 50s and 60s, when many old trees were cut down as part of various urban renewal schemes. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, the Dutch Elm disease passed through our region between 1978 and 1987, killing many of the city’s oldest trees and much of what remained from the abridged 1909 plan. We could easily put a modernized version of this plan back into action, and the sooner the better. Oh, and on a final thought – why not cover the Decarie Trench from the Turcot Interchange to the Decarie Circle with a massive linear park? It’s an eyesore and it unnaturally divides the city. It could be a point of unity, integrating diverse parts of NDG, Cote-des-Neiges, TMR, Cote-St-Luc and further minimize the carbon footprint of the heavy traffic in the trench (consider that industrial pollutant ‘scrubbers’ could be attached to the ventilation systems needed for an enclosed Decarie Tunnel, potentially minimizing the negative effects of car pollution on a heavily used expressway). And if that’s not reason enough, imagine the entire stretch of exposed trench covered over by an immense park, something akin to the Champs Elysées? The land value of every lot lining the surface road would immediately skyrocket, massive new development projects would transform the area completely. Just imagine the possibilities – long-term redevelopment investment could keep our construction industry completely employed for more than a decade working on the project.

10. A hockey museum & research centre – also a no-brainer. The fact that the Hockey Hall of Fame is located in an old Bank of Montreal building in Toronto is absurd if not a cruel joke. We are the city that built hockey into a modern, internationally recognized and commercially profitable sporting and entertainment industry.

We don’t just have the team with the most Stanley Cups, it’s that the first Stanley Cup was awarded here. It’s that the first modern game with modern rules, officials etc was played here. It’s that the NHL was founded here, that the dimensions of a standard hockey rink are defined by a parking garage on Stanley. We deserve a museum to showcase our hockey history, and given the allure of the sport and it’s international implications, we should probably start studying it too. Thus, we need more than just a museum, we need a place where hockey can be dissected by academics and studied by experts, to develop a fuller understanding of the game and promote its position in our society, as a defining and unifying element of our diverse culture. And if we can put such a facility in a heritage building, close to the downtown action, and potentially secure new investment in an uneven part oft he city, then certainly we’d be fools not to go through with it, right? Well it just so happens the Old Victoria Rink is still standing and conveniently located next to both an empty lot and a massive hotel, but a stone’s throw from the Bell Centre. If there is any concern as to whether the funding can be secured for such a project, I can only counter with a question – has hockey grown in popularity amongst Montrealers over the course of the last thirty years? I’ll save you the time of googling the answer – it’s yes, assuredly. Despite the fact that we haven’t won a cup in eighteen years and only two in the last thirty, hockey is as popular as ever, in Montreal, Quebec and in Canada. So let’s get serious about the game we turned into a phenomenon, let’s celebrate our history, and for god’s sake, let’s find a better use for an old landmark than merely parking cars.

We can do better.