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.
Came across an interesting conversation on Montreal City Weblog that started out about a bit of news that the Hilton Bonaventure is up for sale but ended up on the subject of some of our city’s ugliest buildings. The question was whether the entirety of Place Bonaventure was on the block or just the Hotel (and what the Hotel’s stake in the building was, by extension), and one commentator stated he’d prefer to see the building destroyed and replaced with a ‘proper European-styled train station, a worthy Southern Entrance to the city’ (I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it).
Ultimately it is just the hotel that is for sale. Of note, the Delta Centre-Ville (another building I have mixed feelings about) recently announced it is closing in October, putting some 350 people out of work. The University Street building, co-located with the Tour de la Bourse is to be converted into – get this – high-end student housing. I don’t know if the rotating restaurant on the upper floors is still operational, but I’m going to find out.
I can imagine a high-priced and slightly nauseating meal with a fantastic if intermittent view awaits…
The Hilton Bonaventure occupies the top floors of Place Bonaventure, a building designed from the inside-out that was originally conceived as an international trade centre and convention space. When opened in 1967 it boasted an immense convention hall, five floors of international wholesalers, two floors of retail shopping, a collection of international trade mission head offices and the aforementioned hotel. The building was heavily modified in 1998, losing its wholesale and retail shopping component as it was converted into office space. The exterior is in the brutalist style of poured, ribbed concrete, some of which has cracked and fallen off. Though an architecturally significant building, it’s far from a beauty. The rooftop hotel is perhaps the building’s best feature, involving a sumptuous interior aesthetic heavy on earth tones interacting with plenty of natural sunlight, bathing the hotel’s multiple levels while simultaneously exposing the well-cultivated rooftop garden and pool.
In any event, the discussion on Montreal City Weblog brought up general disinterest in Place Bonaventure’s looks, but commentators had other ideas about what they considered to be our city’s truly ugliest building.
Weblog curator Kate McDonnell’s pick is the Cineplex Pepsi AMC Forum Entertainment Complex Extravaganza (brought to you by Jonathan Wener at Canderel Realty). I won’t disgrace the pages of this blog by showing you what it looks like – just go take a waltz around Ste-Catherine’s and Atwater and when you start dry heaving you’ll know you’re looking at one of the worst architectural abominations to ever befall a self-respecting society. The above image is what the Forum looked like pre-conversion, probably shortly after the Habs moved to the Bell Centre (formerly the Molson Centre, formerly General Dynamics Land Systems Place). This would’ve been the Forum’s second or third makeover since it was first built in the 1920s, and as you can see, a strong local Modernist vibe with just a touch of the playful in the inter-lacing escalators deigned to look like crossed hockey sticks is pretty much all there is to it. Simple, straightforward, even a touch serious – a building that looked like the ‘most storied building in hockey history’.
But today – yea gods. Frankly I’m surprised we haven’t formed a mob to arson it all the way back to hell, where the current incarnation of the Montreal Forum aptly belongs.
From what I’ve heard Satan needs a multiplex on which to show nothing but Ishtar.
All that aside, I agree that the Forum is awfully ugly, but it’s not my choice for ugliest city-wide.
Other suggestions from the conversation included the Port Royal Apartments on Sherbrooke and the National Bank Building on Place d’Armes, though commentators seemed to agree this was mostly because they felt the building was out of place, and rendered ugly more by the context of its surroundings, or its imposition upon them, than anything else.
The Big O was mentioned, as was Concordia’s ice-cube tray styled Hall Building. La Cité was brought up as an ultimately failed project that disrupts a more cohesive human-scale neighbourhood, and so were some of McGill’s mid-1970s pavilions. Surprisingly, the Chateau Champlain wasn’t brought up, though I’ve heard many disparage it as nothing but a fanciful cheese-grater.
But after all that is said and done, I’m not convinced we’ve found Montreal’s ugliest building.
My personal choice is 1200 McGill College, the building above, a drab and dreary brown brick and smoked glass office tower of no particular architectural merit or patrimonial value that I personally believe is ugly by virtue of marring the beauty of the buildings around it, notably Place Ville Marie and just about everything else on McGill College. Worse still, it replaced what was once a grand theatre – the Capitol – with something that would ultimately become a large Roger’s call centre. Ick. However much corporate office real estate our city happens to have, we could all do without whatever this puny out-of-style building provides. Suffice it to say, I would gladly sell tickets to its implosion.
But in writing this article I remembered a building even more hideous and out of place than 1200 McGill College:
There is simply no excuse for a multi-level parking garage conceived in such ostentatiously poor taste to occupy such a prime piece of real estate as this, and so I can only infer that the proprietor is either making a killing in the parking game or, that the proprietor is waiting to try and get building height restrictions relaxed. It’d be a great spot for a tony condo complex, but given that it’s wedged between the iconic Sun Life and Dominion Square buildings it’s likely the lot has some significant zoning restrictions, making a tower – the only really viable residential model given the size of the plot – highly unlikely. I can’t imagine a tower on this spot would do anything but take away from the already hyper precise proportions of the square.
Personally, I think the spot would be ideal for a medium-sized venue, especially considering it’s adjacent to the preserved former Loews Theatre, currently occupied by the Mansfield Athletic Association. In better days the city might have the means to redevelop the former Loews into a new performance venue; a gym can go anywhere, an authentic turn of the century vaudeville-styled theatre is a precious commodity these days. Think about it – a medium-sized theatre and performance complex in the middle of a pre-existing entertainment and retail shopping district. I think that might work here.
Either way – boo on this parking lot.
And come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind seeing just about every single modernist apartment tower built in the McGill and Concordia ghettoes in the 1960s and 1970s removed from the skyline as well.
But I leave it to you – what do you think is the single ugliest building in Montreal?
Broadly defined, a former monument that, for whatever reason, no longer serves any real purpose. An ex-landmark, no longer on anyone’s horizon. A kind of de-facto folly. Broader still, the realm of monuments that never were, conceptualized and forgotten. I would consider such breadth of a term only because, even if never actualized they often left traces of themselves; shadows of what could have been.
I think you’d find nonuments in most cities – hell, some cities could be described as nonumental (such as Downtown Detroit – there’s a definite intersection between my idea of a nonument and urban decay, such as has been seen in the de-industrialization of the Great Lakes/Saint Lawrence/Hudson River conurbation; example). And of course, as you might imagine, I’ve compiled a list of sorts of notable local examples.
There’s something I find particularly sad about these nonuments – it’s the idea a close-knit social group, such as a city, would lose a bit of its prestige, of its demonstrable wealth, the built environment as tribute to local success. I suppose it’s the loss of something that once inspired many people, often simply by looking at it, or the idea that we’d forget the significance.
But perhaps I’m being overly sentimental. Most of these examples could be revived in one way or another.
In any event – enough pontificating. Some Montréal nonuments for your consideration.
Top spot goes to the Alcan Aquarium, operated from 1967 to 1991. The Aquarium was once considered to be among the very finest in the world, and it sported an extensive collection of species, in addition to performing dolphins and a colony of penguins in a reconstructed Antarctic habitat. Back in the day the city was far more directly implicated in the operation of local attractions and as a result of a city-workers strike in the early 1980s several dolphins perished due to neglect, their care-takers apparently unable to gain access to tend to these poor mammals. Attendance pretty much nose-dived after that.
The two buildings still exist, though they are now part of La Ronde. I’d love to have another Aquarium, though I’m not sure if the former facilities could be re-used for that purpose, given that they’ve had their interiors re-modelled for vastly different purposes. This is part of the trouble of these nonuments, it’s not always possible to resurrect them in any meaningful way, and Parc Jean-Drapeau has an unfortunate number of examples. Ergo, it would likely be simpler to build a new aquarium in the most modern and sustainable fashion, and locate such a facility in a more convenient location, either in the Old Port or Cité-du-Havre.
Next, Montréal’s Crystal Palace. Built for the Montreal Industrial Exhibition of 1860, it was based off the plans of its namesake in London, and was used for similar purposes, albeit on a smaller, more provincial scale. Its original location roughly corresponds with Palace Alley downtown, as it was moved in 1878 to Fletcher’s Field as noted above. It would continue serving as a kind of multi-purpose exhibition space until consumed by fire in 1896. The move to Fletcher’s Field would play a significant role in the development of modern ice-hockey, as McGill skating and hockey clubs used the Palace as a natural indoor ice-rink in winter months. The first known photograph of a uniformed hockey team playing on an indoor ice-rink was taken at the Crystal Palace in 1881 in a location somewhat ironically currently largely used for beach volleyball in the summer.
Facilities of this type aren’t much in fashion anymore, and we’re not running short on exhibition space. The idea of having a large, public, interactive cultural space in this part of the city still seems attractive to me, perhaps as either a public market or museum of local natural and social history.
Mayor Drapeau had this idea back in the mid-1970s that Montréal would acquire the recently decommissioned ocean liner SS France and use it as the Olympic Village for the 21st Olympiad (still a novel idea IMO). He further proposed that the ship could later be used as a permanently moored floating casino, hotel, resort and conference centre. Again, not the worst idea I’ve ever heard. The SS France had already stayed in Montréal during Expo Summer, as an extension of the French Pavilion.
The story goes that the ship would have had a hard time getting under the Québec Bridge, though it had managed to do so in 1967, and ultimately the mayor would have his arm twisted into constructing the Olympic Village we know today. The Olympic Village was, much like the beleaguered Stadium, inappropriately designed for the local climate and neighbourhood, becoming a city within it itself as opposed to the centre of a residential revival in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Petite-Patrie areas.
If we ever host another Olympiad, we should seriously consider purchasing an ocean liner and use it as a floating convention centre, hotel, resort and casino after the games. It would add a lot of life to the Old Port and, given that it would be a cruise ship or ocean liner, would of course come equipped with everything needed to begin operations, immediately. Not to mention it would look good too, and could give the Old Port and Old Montreal a year-round tourist-driven economic activity generator.
Our fourth entry is the Montréal-Paris tower, designed to be the principle Montréal pavilion (of sorts, in the end the city would not have its own pavilion at Expo 67, or if you’d prefer, the city was the exhibition) and the culmination of Mayor Drapeau’s desire that Montréal have an iconic tower. He would eventually develop the Olympic Tower, delivered late in 1987 and aesthetically unimproved since, a veritable static time-machine, though our existing tower pales in comparison to what he had intended in 1964. The land intended for the tower is today a vast parking lot at the easternmost tip of Ile-Ste-Hélène.
I’m still a fan of our mountain serving as the best view in our city; would love to see this space redeveloped into a vast parkland of sorts, it’s a nice place for a picnic. The amount of land dedicated to cars at Parc Jean-Drapeau and vehicular traffic is far too high, in my opinion. I can imagine an integrated, automated parc-centric mass transit system, such as the former Expo Express easing the dependency on automobiles at the park and, if suitably connected to the downtown, potentially serve to better unify the diverse collection of activities on the islands.
At the other end of Ile-Ste-Hélène, the abandoned Place des Nations, once the great entrance to Expo 67, a place in which roughly fifty million people passed through over six months in 1967. It was the first stop along the Expo Express LRT after the ‘Expo pre-game show’ along Avenue Pierre-Dupuy in the Cité-du-Havre. This is what the Cité-du-Havre looked like in 1967:
Place des Nations was a large public plaza attached to a major transit station, with regularly-scheduled performances and ceremonies. It wouldn’t be of any use in this function today given it’s no longer attached much to anything, no longer serves as the entryway to tomorrowland, but the area is nonetheless rather picturesque, especially along the water’s edge. I enjoy this space very much, as there are typically so few people around, and you can enjoy the tonic of Montréal’s river weather and feel someone alone standing in the midst of a roaring river, surrounded on all sides by examples of our urban reality. The trees have grown up and the whole area has the feel of a kind of post-modern ruin. I’d say a must see as it is, but it wouldn’t be so bad if this public space were renovated and actually used by the public. Of all the nonuments on this list, Place des Nations could easily be made to be something worthwhile again, I think it’s just a matter of giving people a reason to go there, and find its purpose.
Our final entry, though i’m sure I’ll think of additional examples later on, is the saddest entertainment complex I can think of – the former Montreal Forum.
The winningest team in pro-hockey’s greatest shrine is an underused shopping mall, multiplex cinema and poorly conceived entertainment hub. It could have been transformed into anything and I’d argue it still can. The Pepsi Forum (or whatever it’s called today) doesn’t really work, and there’s an absolutely massive quantity of unused space within the building.
I’ve always felt that the location is ideally suited for a major performance venue. I think it’s all that’s missing from the Atwater/Cabot Square area – a socio-cultural anchor that draws in large quantities of locals on a regular basis for the purpose of seeing a show of one kind or another. Something that would help stimulate the development of a ‘Western Downtown’ entertainment hub centred on the new Forum, with ample bars, restaurants, bistros and the like.
Today the area has a bit of a ‘has-been/once-was’ reputation I think is directly attributed to the loss of the forum as our city’s principle sports and entertainment venue. Re-developing the building has certain advantages, in that there’s not much to preserve of the physical building aside from it’s shell, and there’s a vast amount of space within the current building which is completely unused. Ergo, it’s possible current tenants could be relocated within the building’s basement with a new performance space built on top. A major re-design of the façade would be required because, quite frankly, it’s an eyesore as is.
A concert hall/ performance venue of 2-5,000 seats would certainly attract a lot of small business opportunities, let alone stimulate additional residential development. Furthermore, an ideal redevelopment of the Forum would involve a direct extension of the Underground City between the Forum, Alexis-Nihon and Atwater Métro station. Considering our limited downtown space options in terms of large-scale, high-capacity performance venues, reviving the Forum as such a facility could have the desired effect of returning its status as lieu de mémoire and securing a wealth injection for an otherwise somewhat downtrodden part of the city.
I think there’s something worse reconsidering here.
So this would have been taken in the early 1970s from a rooftop in Westmount, likely at Grosvenor and Boul. de Maisonneuve (which you can see in its pre-bicycle path form centre-left in the pic).
This skyline view would have remained more or less constant until the late 1980s, and is the earliest memory I have of the city, which was eagerly pointed to me by my father when I was a wee toddler. I can remember parking off of St-Antoine and watching the construction of what was then known as the Laurentian Bank Building, and then walking under the CIBC Building, thinking it was the tallest I had ever seen.