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.