Sugar Sammy has the Pulse of the City

Saw Sugar Sammy’s Le Show Franglais at l’Olympia on Friday night. Wow. Simply excellent.

I know I’m late to the party, but the tickets were purchased over a month ago by my mom – a birthday gift, and a testament to the enduring popularity of Sammy’s unique show. My understanding is that it was initially supposed to have only a limited run and that there was a lot of speculation it wouldn’t go over terribly well. That was three months ago. My mother was astounded she couldn’t get anything before last Friday, but took it as a good sign that everything else was sold out. I’ll cut right to the chase, you should see this show at any cost. It was immediately apparent the show was running like a well-oiled machine; everything from the choice of venue, to the MC, the opening acts and the flow of the main performance was indicative of someone exhibiting a well-honed craft. Sugar Sammy, and this show in particular, may very well spear-head a revolution in this city of the Juste pour rire. If we can laugh together, there won’t be much left to keep us apart, and a whole new brand of comedy may very well come into existence. Thus, I feel there are many comedians who will rise in his wake; it’s more than just the novelty of bilingual comedy, it’s that the model allows for a relaxed and open discussion of culture. This innovation is fascinating to me, because ‘cultural comedy’ has largely seemed to be of an exclusionary nature, or pejorative. Perhaps until now.

It was smooth, it was relentless. It was unforgiving, unyielding – at the end I saw a vast group of Montréalais gently massaging their Joker-esque perma-grins as they stumbled out into the cold and chaos in the direction of Place Emilie-Gamelin. As I strode out with them, listening to the on-going laughter as those attending reminisced about their favourite moments, it contrasted sharply with the apparent seriousness of the reality beyond the well appointed Vaudeville-styled theatre (and by the way – I can’t believe I hadn’t seen a show there previously – a very nice retro theatre and local landmark). And yet the show was our reality too. I wouldn’t pigeon-hole the show as being ‘cultural comedy’ – it was so much more than that chiefly because it was about all of us, our shared society. The somewhat lackadaisical NDP slogan from the last federal election, ‘travaillons ensemble’ was often repeated throughout. Though it’s insufferably Canadian in its modesty, it fits what I feel is a growing general sentiment in this city, this province and country – put aside your differences and get to work. Besides, you might discover you enjoy ‘les autres’, or maybe even les maudits anglais.

While I feel the implications of a show like this might be significant, I don’t want it to detract from what is first and foremost an excellent comedy show by anyone’s definition. There was a fair bit of improvisation and lots of interaction with the crowd, hallmarks of any good entertainer. What made the show great was the incisive wit, the rhythm, the equilibrium. It was evenly French and English, evenly contrasted moments of electric, unrelenting cheeky rejoinders contrasted with slower, constructed anecdotes. His social commentary is wide-reaching but takes on a particularly funny perspective when understood in the context of this show, with the city and it’s unique cultural identity serving to throw misperceptions and prejudices a curveball. Plus he’s a devout trouble-maker and smart-ass, which plays well with Montrealers regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds. I think his story about how he trolled his hardcore separatist history teacher the day after the 1995 Referendum was the joke that brought the house down – a collective ‘oh snap’ of nervous laughter boomed out of more than a thousand people after several bear-baiter jokes concerning the Referendum which had set the mood. It was explosive. It was awesome.

Also – my date for the evening comes from a small town in the Pacific Northwest. She had never been to a comedy show before. She was really impressed. I’m really glad this was her introduction to the world of Montreal comedy.

So what can I say – go do whatever you can to see this show. You won’t be disappointed.

A Change of Tactics

The very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result.

It’s high-time the student leaders of Québec recognized this fundamental truth.

We’re almost into the third month of 2012’s Maple Spring and nothing has changed, other than public sentiment towards the striking student protesters. To say nothing of the rest of Canada, where the vitriol often reaches into the depths of anti-Francophone racism and hysteria. But one thing at a time, we’ll deal with our federal PR ratings later on.

The talks have broken off because the largest, or at least most visible, most provocative organization CLASSE, was not recognized by the education minister. Bad move on her part. It’s not just that the protest is now a 24-hour kind of affair, but it happens in multiple locations too. It is all-encompassing, and includes a general population of the disenchanted and disenfranchised.

But the violence which has characterized almost every major demonstration, largely as a result of the heavy-handed tactics employed by the SPVM, in addition to the disruptions to traffic and transit, the lost revenues and the bad morale, bad blood, is all starting to pile up like so much unwanted garbage. Because neither the apparent ‘leaders’ in government, nor the legitimate student protest movement, can accomplish anything as long as both sides dig in their heels, the city as a whole suffers. As Charest fails to act, opposition to him will manifest itself in multiple ways. Already, fringe extremist elements have indeed infiltrated the student movement, inasmuch as those generally displeased with the current provincial government, or separatists, or trade-unionists. I sometimes wonder how politically savvy Charest really is, as his inattention and ill-advised stance seems to making a bad problem worse.

Yet, when it comes to the inevitable provincial election, it will not be the students playing king-maker – students don’t generally pull themselves together to get out the vote (and by that I mean actively engage themselves in making sure others vote, and not just exercising their own limited franchise individually). Thus, the decision will be made by a small majority of primarily middle-class and middle-aged Québecois, as it is and seems always to have been. And they support Charest. Some of them are ‘happy’ the police are ‘kicking ass’.

And it’s the police which ultimately wins out. The estimated $3 million in extra costs associated with the student demos will be paid – I can guarantee it – by the tax-payers. These are primarily the same people who will determine who wins the next election. They want well paid cops, and they see police in riot gear as money well spent. There’s every reason for the SPVM to encourage additional violence, additional rioting – it makes sure they get paid, and that’s the bottom line.

So the student movement is going to have to consider some alternative actions if they have any hope of reaching out to this key demographic and effecting a change. But what could they do?

For one, they could exercise far stricter control of rallies, marches and the like. And I mean Malcolm X, early-1960s Nation of Islam in Harlem styled discipline. Perfect manners, a ‘uniform’ of individuals’ Sunday best, rank and file marching etc. It will shock and awe if only for its sheer novelty, and will convey a crucial message: we mean business. Imagine if the striking students wore business attire or their closest approximation – it would be very hard to distinguish ‘dirty hippies’ from ‘respectable citizens’ and it would win hearts and minds too.

For two, information. The most crucial part of any mass public protest is communications, and this student movement sucks at broadcasting the message. The argument is that the mainstream media won’t listen or will manipulate the message is a lazy cop-out, frankly. What’s ironic is that the movement has excellently employed the use of modern mass communications tools to organize their demos, but hasn’t done much to actually reach the public, present a clear and concise case, and win-over public sentiment. I suggest going old-school, really old-school. Hand out pamphlets, newsletters, flyers. Post bills. Build websites and centralize the voice of the movement around it’s most eloquent spokespeople. Again, exercise strict discipline in how and who disseminates the message, but do everything you can to ensure the progressive point of view is ubiquitous and understood by any interested citizen (and remember as well – the majority does not have a university or college education, and the establishment went to school so long ago we have almost nothing in common with them). Yes, this will cost a small amount of money – the leaders, many of who are paid union members, can use their salaries to pay the printing and hosting costs, or else a collection should go around.

And be consistent. Is this not the iPhone generation? A generation of tech-savvy communications specialists hooked up (in most cases since birth) to the greatest self-expression machine of all time? So why is it so hard to get a consistent, clear and concise message across to the general public?

Stop fucking up the transit and traffic system – it’s bad enough as it is. Either get a full police escort for the march and inform people of the route, or don’t do it at all, because it’s pissing people off unnecessarily. I don’t think the smoke-bombers are anything more than wannabe anarchist poseurs, perhaps mere vandals, but either way, attacking the public transit system is just idiotic. We want people using the Métro – remember we still need to save the planet on top of figuring a way out of the tuition increase, right?

It’s time to change the tactics. It’s time the student movement takes a close look at the popular revolutions which have actually succeeded long-term and forget about the populist, and fundamentally lazy and self-destructive methods used up until this point.

If it’s not working today, why expect it to work tomorrow?

It’s time to build a student society – real connection through hard-work, altruism and cooperation. Let our generation turn the tide by doing things differently, and forget the methods which have failed so broadly.

Ultimately, ask not what the movement, our government or our society can do for you, but what you can do for your society – today but most importantly, for tomorrow as well.

A Hidden History

The Burning of Parliament at Place d’Youville, Montréal – 1849

The painting above is of a fascinating moment in our shared history, and yet all to often I’ve heard it described as something of a joke. Perhaps that’s all it’s worth today anyways, and given there’s very little in terms of general acknowledgement of that intrepid pre-Confederation era, no memorials, no markers. The joke goes something along the lines of Montrealers being so passionate (if not violent) when it comes to politics that the only time they tried to make Montreal the capital, the locals burned the parliament buildings. It’s a joke about the feverish Latin blood of the Québecois, of French Canadians. It’s also grossly inaccurate. The mob was English, no British, and defiantly so. A mob of elites who stood in the way of responsible government, democracy, and a defined, unique character.

The site of this parliament is today a parking lot at Place d’Youville – the rough outline of the building conforming very nicely to the limits of the asphalt. There’s nothing at the Bonsecours Market either – it served as parliament too. And LaFontaine’s House, as we all know, is presently a squat. As per the custom of Montréal, it’s much vaulted history is a mystery. We’ve Disneyfied ourselves – plenty of places which look historical but very little in terms of public education, interpretation. Sometimes this city seems to be a study in half-assing it. We don’t do monuments, let alone plaques, memorials or museums – we don’t bother trying to explain to ourselves or others why we’re historically significant, but there always seems to be both time and money for theatre students to dress up like soldiers or blacksmiths.

In the words of the arrested prophet Gob: c’mon!

We can do better, and I would argue that if we did have a fundamentally better appreciation of the critical time in our nation’s evolution we’d have a more perfect society today. For those of you who know me, you know that I’m a student of John Ralston Saul, who it seems wants nothing more than to remind Canadians that we are, at our very core, a complex society which stands in stark contrast to anything to ever come out of Europe or the Americas. We are integrated, multi-cultural, bi-lingual – and above built up through patience and restraint. All of these are our virtues, and most of the necessary political philosophizing was accomplished here, in Montréal, prior to the BNA Act of 1867.

There’s reason to rejoice here, especially if you’re a federalist at heart. Our nation’s founding fathers were not ardent supporters of the British Empire – they wanted out, but they didn’t want to do so via bloodshed. They wanted to create a new nation in which European nationalism was seen for what it was – out-of-touch, out-of-step and thoroughly unacceptable in the Canadian context. The Patriote’s Rebellion was an effort to remove the British from impeding the creation of a multi-racial, multi-lingual Canada, where social and political values of brotherhood and commonwealth were viewed as superior to the status quo. Today the flag is flown as a general statement of discontent with the establishment, and many separatists have taken up as their standard. If they only knew.

If we all only knew. If only we had the balls to tell one of the most fascinating, violent and intellectually awe-inspiring stories from our great history – we could do much to remind all Canadians that the nation we have today is not in fact the mis-guided creation of an opposition political party (as Stephen harper would like you to believe), but rather a very deliberate and controversial creation which has been evolving for years, generations even.

The linguistic battles we fight today are not as a result of something from our past left unfinished, incomplete or unaddressed. We fight them simply because we forgot who we are and why we’re here. We forgot because we’re pathetically humble sometimes. See this link for a book I’m reading now on the lives of our nation’s first real leaders, LaFontaine & Baldwin. Much of the great work they did which would ultimately lead to Confederation occurred in Montréal, and yet there’s nothing at all to remind the locals and tourists of their monumental accomplishment. It’s a shame we should let weigh heavy on our hearts, as failure to adequately and appropriately recognize the significance of these men, and that key era between 1837 and 1867 when Montréal was the laboratory of Canadian democracy should be front and centre – with or without the government grant. We must endeavour to educate the public for the common good, which is incidentally precisely what these men – our nation’s grandfathers in a sense – were trying to accomplish.

It’s an inconvenient truth for the hardcore separatist inasmuch as Stephen Harper’s brainless ‘conservatives’, and it’s our saving grace.

There’s going to be a lot of ‘blood & guts’ history to appease the militarist-nationalists in this country for the next year. I can only hope when the tide goes back out we recognize that it was still a battle between empires with legitimate Canadians caught like pawns in the middle. The War of 1812 was not the birth of our country, it was simply our first instance of collective defence against naken aggression. What is infinitely more significant is the effect the war had on our founding fathers, many of whom openly rebelled against the British Empire a quarter-century later. The crucible of our creation, miraculously, lies outside any field of battle, and instead can be found in addresses, debates, letters and laws.

When will we stand to acknowledge that we were created by peace? When will we have the balls to cast off bloodshed as a necessary condition of our creation and subsequent evolution?

When will we recognize ourselves for who we really are, and accept it?

Food for thought. I’d like nothing more than to solve our nation’s never-ending crises with a simple history lesson.

The city from up on high…

So I’ve recently started working in an office tower Downtown. Try to guess which one based off these pics, it should be fairly obvious. All correct answers will receive infinite karma, as will incorrect answers. You can’t possibly go wrong!

A few things I’ve noticed about working on the 24th floor of this building. For one, I feel like I’ve become a lot more aware of how urban density is a very subjective, aesthetic affair once you get past the human-scale street-side. We benefit from excellent urban planning, and as such I feel that the towers are less imposing in some cases. The tallest seem less overwhelming when viewed in relation to the large open spaces they’re located next to, whereas the more intermediate towers in the ‘uptown’ area (along Boul. de Maisonneuve in was once referred to as the Place du Centre) are spaced apart more-or-less evenly, so that views are open rather than obscured (consider Toronto, which placed all their tallest buildings in the same small confined area, with few set-backs). When I turned the corner in the office on my first day, and saw the other principle skyscrapers of the urban core rising high above the more cluttered mass below, I felt like I was standing amongst giants. A very inspiring place to be indeed. It was something else to see the other giants at a more-or-less dead-on perspective.

Our city has a fair number of falcons prowling the city skies for unsuspecting rodents or pigeons. I’m okay with that – though admittedly they tend to be rather ominous looking, circling as they do, waiting to dive in for the kill. Majestic too, if majesty can be foreboding too.

I’m surprised I have this much empathy for rats and their winged equivalents.

In any event – it’s re-assuring to see our city coming together as it is, with empty lots slated for immediate development. The urban housing boom seems to have finally made its way to Montréal, and in my opinion, I sincerely feel development is proceeding far more cautiously than in other major urban centres. From the window I can watch the new residential towers rising. Hopefully, they will lead to the re-establishment of a veritable sense of community in our urban core.

That’s all for now. More soon.

Great Peace 2.0

Mural in the Plateau depicting the Great Peace of Montreal – not the work of the author

Enough is enough Рwe need to end the bogus fabrication that is the notion the French language is threatened in Qu̩bec. We further need to end the on-going demonization of the so-called Anglophone community of Qu̩bec.

It’s an unnecessary tension. It’s a scab we don’t stop picking. Anglophones and Francophones are equally guilty in perpetuating this wholly destructive linguistic war of attrition. It has cost us (and by us I mean all Québecois regardless of mother tongue) our prestige, our status, our wealth and the weight we once had to steer the Canadian ship of state.

I want Québec to wield the same political and economic sway we had back in the 60s and 70s. I want Québec to grow to hold a steady quarter of the national population, perhaps more. And I want us to invest in ourselves, and to plan strategically, so that the future isn’t robbed from our children by our myopia, but is instead guaranteed by our foresight. I want progress, prosperity and peace for our people – my people.

And doing all this, committing to this, starts with a single act Рa burying of the hatchet between the two major-minorities; the Anglo-Qu̩becois and French Quebecers must make peace in a very real, tangible way.

If we don’t, we can at best only guarantee stasis. At worst, we’ll eventually instigate the conflagration that finishes Canada once and for all. And I don’t mean that as a call to arms – far from it. I can only lament the fact that as human beasts we are more than capable of Balkanizing North America. Thus, a second Great Peace of Montréal, so that our city doesn’t suffer a fate worse than Sarajevo. If you honestly think such a thing could never occur here, I can only respond that you should never underestimate how idiotic and hopelessly, tragically violent human beings are. What sets us apart and what gives us our strength is that the legacy of the first Great Peace lasted for so long, and I believe has ingrained itself deeply enough in our collective psyche. But with the recent shit-fit concerning the status of the French language in Québec, though specifically in Montréal, and all the mindless aggression and vitriol which has spewed forth since, at home and throughout Canada, I firmly believe it is time to end the bullshit. And the youth of Québec can do it, but it’s the establishment that needs to lead.

When Kondiaronk made his way to Ville Marie in 1701 he did so at his own peril. He knew he’d likely not survive the trip; though they knew not of communicable disease, they knew close contact could bring about sickness. Regardless, Kondiaronk, the great Huron leader, pressed on and committed to seeking a lasting peace between the various First Nations in the region and the imperial French. Can we not do the same today? Can we not seek to establish a linguistic peace in Montréal?

The Anglo-Québecois are not the enemy of the people of Québec, they are Québecois. They have accepted French as lingua-franca. They are committed interculturalists. They represent the linguistic ideal of lived-bilingualism, and as long as the community continues to embrace these notions, and seek bonds with their French-Canadian cousins throughout Canada (as examples of the many linguistic minorités-majoritaires in Canada), they’ll continue to represent the best we can hope for with regards to cultural integration, the best kind of voluntary cultural involvement. It’s time we (and this is an appeal to all Québecois) stop running from what could benefit us all (ergo, an end to punitive language restrictions and the continued demonization of a minority culture within Québec, and the push for more harmonious relations between all the constituent cultures and nations of Québec). We have the roots and the people, within the apparent solitudes, who have already shown us the way by seeking peace and integration, so why does this need to remain a case-by-case occurrence. Can we not make this a societal goal? Or do you want to tell me those who do are traitors to a cause? It’s amazing how much 19-th century rhetoric pops up in supposedly 21st century politics.

I don’t know what another Great Peace would look like, what it would constitute, who would lead it or how it could be applied. In 1701 is was straightforward, a cessation of open hostilities, the stimulation of trade and inter-ethnic cooperation. So why get bogged down in the details – we can apply those ‘old’ ideas effectively on the society we have today, and the message remains simple enough to be widely palatable. Perhaps it should be part of a great new national project, a whole new initiative to get us to stop our own pathetic demise.

Lest we recognize the whole conflict is gnawing away at the guts of a once great society for the purposes of pushing copy of a once great publishing industry. Of this both sides are guilty. It’s the problem with a society largely at peace with itself, despite what the pundits and politicians say, we’re not actually fighting each other. But for the purposes of propping the commercial interests of our own, decidedly American Yellow Press, we engage in something so deceptively innocent as a war of words. If only ours was an innocent naiveté – we’ve seen what mere words can do. In the past they created genocides, yet we act as though we either conveniently forgot or else exist on a higher plane. Our negligence is criminal, as both halves rip at the other, not realizing their true nature.

I’d love to see our society as Janus.

But instead when I look at our flag I see in the field of white the outline of two angry liars, butting heads against each other while talking down to one another, their shoulders leaning in – an exclusive, self-aggrandizing national argument set between the fields of blood we had once hoped would unify us.

It’s terribly fitting, and I honestly hope it was a mistake, and not an enduring truth about the incompatibility of humanity and the futility of a national project undefined for too long as a result of our odd humility.

Montréal’s Use it or Lose it List – 2012 Edition

Abandoned Bldg on Laprairie in the Pointe, credit to John Bryce Davidson

The following is a list of heritage sites in the City of Montréal which are all in danger of passing a point-of-no-return of sorts with regards to any potential redevelopment. Unless action is taken, more or less immediately, many of these buildings may have to be destroyed, and so goes with them crucial cultural heritage sites, not to mention many potential business and educational opportunities as well. All of the sites on this list have the potential to be redeveloped so as to serve a cultural function, in addition to providing revenue streams. But as the buildings and locations herein lie abandoned, they not only stain the urban fabric, but lead to lower property value, not to mention morale. It is exceptionally important that the people of the City of Montréal exercise some sort of say over what happens to these sites, because at the very least, it’s simply bad for business to tolerate too many open lots, empty buildings and stalled development potential. We want to be attractive to investors and want a better, more socially conscious gentrification of the urban core. Finding new roles for the following old buildings will help re-invigorate several key sectors of the city and, I feel, help renew a sense of civic pride amongst the general population. In essence, we need to invest in ourselves in order to stabilize markets, spur re-development and ‘steer’ the real-estate sector with urban-planning and urban-preservation best practices clearly in mind.

Thus, the Use It or Lose It list, 2012 Edition. Hopefully we’ll have some progress in a year’s time. Entries are in no particular order.

1. The Empress Theatre. Empty since the early 1990s. Multiple stalled projects to redevelop building as a performance venue and cultural centre, currently owned by the City through the CDN-NDG borough. There were talks of holding public consultations about what to do a few months back, not sure what, if anything, has come of it. Situated across from Girouard Park in NDG on Sherbrooke Street West, prime location for a new condo tower. I’ve mentioned before that if the city were to work out some kind of deal with the owner of the small commercial building and parking lot next to the theatre, the site could be redeveloped with a condo tower built into the Empress, which could possibly be a source of funding for the theatre’s multi-million dollar renovations.

2. The Victoria Rink. Parking garage since the 1930s. This is quite literally the place where the modern game of hockey came together as a professional sport, and is also the site of the first ever Stanley Cup game. It stands just north of Boul. René-Lévesque between Stanley and Drummond – the length of almost all professional hockey rinks are roughly the same distance. There’s been talk of doing something with the building from a few enthusiasts but so far it’s still a parking garage. I doubt there’s much if anything left from the original building aside from the walls, but it’s location is important, given the site is underused (as an aboveground parking garage) and is adjacent to a large open lot extending towards Ste-Catherine’s Street, again – prime location for high-density residential or commercial real estate development. Embarking on a project to re-develop the Victoria Rink as a heritage hockey rink and museum is what most would propose doing with the site, though I’d add the possibility of housing an official Habs museum and further, using the space as a much needed medium-sized downtown venue.

3. LaFontaine House. Abandoned since the mid-1980s as a result of the Overdale fiasco. Though the house of one of Canada’s Founding Fathers is still standing, it’s not in very good condition, and I doubt there’s much left worth preserving in the interior. The current owners of the property (in effect, the entire Overdale block right across from Lucien-L’Allier Métro station) are keen to provide the house for use as a museum or interpretive centre, but that requires an obvious source of funding and a party interested in embarking on such an endeavour. If a renovation were to occur, I can imagine an end-product somewhat akin to the Shaughnessy House (at the Canadian Centre for Architecture). Given how few Golden Square Mile mansions and manors are left, and the historical significance of LaFontaine, you’d figure this is a no brainer, but so far it seems to soldier on as a squat. And on that note, the Mount Stephen Club is now closed, and the scuttlebutt is that it may be turned into a boutique hotel or otherwise integrated into a new hotel built on the side of the adjoining parking lot, both of which may be a particularly innovative solution to our on-going problem regarding dilapidated old mansions. Now the question is whether there’s enough interest to convert the Redpath Mansion and a few other old homes along similar lines.

4. Maison Saint Grégoire. Abandoned since the late-1980s, early-1990s I think. Located at 1800 Boul René-Lévesque West diagonally across from the CCA. Not an overwhelming impressive building, as a result of the boulevard’s expansion in the 1950s, the row-houses were torn down revealing the rear of the building. It was once an old folk’s home run by a religious community, but today, if it’s used at all, it’s as a squat. Any number of things could go here, and given the size of the site you could potentially put in a medium sized residential or commercial tower, possibly integrating into the existing structure. But given the institutional nature of the area, if may make more sense to try to encourage it’s use for education purposes. The building seems to be in good shape from the outside, and if we really anted to, I’m certain it could be transformed into a large homeless shelter without too much cost to the tax-payer. Of course that in turn wouldn’t do much to help the gentrification of the Shaughnessy Village area. Quite a conundrum, as the site has a lot of potential given a tall building at that spot could provide some exceptional views.

5. The Eaton’s Ninth Floor restaurant. Moth-balled for future use since about 1999. Apparently this place used to be a huge favourite for the downtown office crowd, offering traditional English and French cuisine at decent prices in an opulent Art Deco dining room modeled after one on the passenger liner Normandie. If nothing else it ought to be available as a reception space, but I still can’t fathom it wouldn’t work as a restaurant once more. Art Deco is always en vogue and we have an excellent collection, but letting this space slowly degenerate is the worse kind of fate. The City, in my opinion, needs to use it’s resources and connections and make a restaurant work on this site, or else find someone interested in establishing a downtown ‘establishment’ restaurant – we’re sorely lacking.

6. Notman House. Last I heard there was an ambitious project to make this the city’s start-up hub, but the last few times I passed by it didn’t seem as if much was happening. I seem to recall seeing the for sale sign outside. In any event, if it pulls through, this would be an excellent use of the site. If not, we really ought to have a dedicated Notman museum in this city. Perhaps something as broadly defined as the Notman Photography Museum of Montréal, but either way, the massive quantities of high-quality Notman photographs of the Montréal of yesteryear should be more accessible, if for no other reason than to educate the public about photography in general and let people see what life was like here over a hundred years ago. A vital link to our past, Notman’s photographs are particularly interesting because they give us a good sense of late-Victorian era and early-Edwardian urbanism – Notman took many city perspective photographs, documented parks, plazas and squares, not to mention our architectural and engineering achievements of the era. I say it’s significant because, like it or not, a considerable portion of our city was developed in the era Notman was most active, and many enduring aesthetic qualities and design decisions are captured in his photographs.

And then you have the rest of the list. Grain Silo No. 5, a major achievement and enduring landmark of industrial architecture, unused for almost twenty years. The most recent proposal I heard was to turn it into a massive data centre. Probably as good a use as any other, but I’d love to see some actual life return to this sector. Unless the Port of Montréal plans a major expansion of this area to accomodate growing maritime traffic, or develop a proper cruise/passenger terminal somewhere in the Old Port, then the options are somewhat limited moving forward. There’s a lot of diverse activity in the area known as the Cité-du-Havre, which is roughly everything East of Bridge and South of Wellington, including the Bickerdyke Pier. That said, there’s little to unify the area, and the large land allotments to light industrial activity may soon lead to residential re-development. Personally, I think our city could use a neighbourhood where port functions, commerce and high-residential developments could interface so as to create an urban neighbourhood of the kind the word Havre evokes in my mind.

I’ll have to come back and expand on this later, so stay tuned for a follow-up article. Consider these sites as threatened to one degree or another: the Imperial Theatre, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Atwater Library, Fort Senneville, the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Rialto Theatre, the Griffintown Gasworks and Saint James United Church all come to mind as places we need to seriously consider for City-sponsored redevelopment.