A hipster doofus waltzes about the city…

Beaver Hall Hill on Muggy Summer Day
Beaver Hall Hill on Muggy Summer Day
Glass Supernova
Glass Supernova
Old Stelco Shot Tower, Saint Henri
Old Stelco Shot Tower, Saint Henri
Ken Dryden Inspired Mural in an Alleyway off The Main
Ken Dryden Inspired Mural in an Alleyway off The Main
Ginormous Tree Behind Buffet Maharaja
Ginormous Tree Behind Buffet Maharaja
LARPers in the Forest
LARPers in the Forest
Gaudy Cross
Gaudy Cross
Girls & Boys
Girls & Boys
The Changing Face of Sherbrooke West
The Changing Face of Sherbrooke West

Make Your Own Lookout

Beaver Lake
Beaver Lake
Sherbrooke Street Impressions
Sherbrooke Street Impressions
Afro-Cuban Mambo Allstars Collectable Figurines (buy four, get a free Tito Puente)
Afro-Cuban Mambo Allstars Collectable Figurines (buy four, get a free Tito Puente)
Sent by Francis the First; the man from Saint Malo
Sent by Francis the First; the man from Saint Malo

Killed by Management, Revived by Fans?

The video above was recorded in April 2012, and features former Montreal Expos’ outfielder Warren Cromartie in a press conference, announcing the launch of the Montreal Baseball Project, something of a ‘fan-sourced’ effort to resurrect the defunct Montreal Expos baseball club.

Cromartie, also known to his adoring local fans as Cro, was a top-flight outfielder for the organization and was part of a triplet of excellent outfielders (including Andre Dawson) during the late 1970s that helped bring the club to the National League Championship in 1981. Those were very good years for Nos Amours.

Cro would later go on to become the most prominent American player in Japanese baseball history (not an easy feat – the Japanese are hardcore when it comes to baseball. He’s also jammed and befriended Canadian rock-band Rush, as he’s an accomplished drummer!). And not only that, he happens to be personally invested in bringing baseball back to Montreal, ideally as an MLB franchise. This is good news for local fans of the club, which was transferred to Washington D.C. (to be rechristened the Nationals) in 2004 after a multi-year slide into low attendance, dismal performance and a go-nowhere downtown ballpark project.

Bad press and bad management killed a highly competitive team that had entertained multiple generations of Montrealers; not ten years prior to their dissolution the team was positioned to make a pennant run, though the season and the city’s aspirations were cancelled by a strike. The 1994 Montreal Expos season was significant in that the Expos had the best team record in the entire league and had further sent five players to that year’s All-Star Game. It’s a bitter memory for die hard fans of the club, like the estimated 1,000 members of ‘Expos Nation’ who recently travelled to Toronto decked out in the Expos’ iconic colours and logo. Though ostensibly there to watch a Blue Jays game, they seemed more interested in making a case to MLB management – we want a team.

Now this is a nice idea, but how feasible is it?

And how do these social-media organized, fan-driven initiatives position a return of major league baseball to be as beneficial as possible not only to their own interest of having a local baseball franchise but to the city as well? Because ultimately the case has to be made to a wide spectrum of potentially interested parties at multiple levels (in sum, bringing the MLB to Montreal would require the city just to get all the pieces organized), and further still, we should be mindful of how we approach MLB higher-management.

That is, we cannot go hat-in-hand begging for a ball club.

Rather, I’d argue the best way to capitalize on current public sentiment towards the Expos is to be first to the finish line with a well-conceived business plan, because ultimately the Expos are a business and, if they work well, will subsequently begin generating revenue in this city in many indirect ways – namely through local small business stimulus, tourism stimulus and all the money generated from corporate entertainment and having another major venue in our city. Neither the city nor potential investors will pursue an idea that only extends as far as a Facebook page or a website, so those interested need to actually draft a physical document, making their case and providing the numbers for how they intend to make this work.

In sum, it’s a different conversation if there’s an actual plan in play.

And I’m not altogether averse to the idea that the city becomes the proprietor not only of the club, but possibly the ballpark too. With the right brains behind the project there’s no real reason why a rejuvenated ball club couldn’t be a money-making machine for the city – like a crown corporation at a municipal level. And ownership of the venue would be a plus for the same reason, it can generate revenue to pay itself off as a location for rock concerts, trade shows and just about anything else requiring a lot of surface space.

That said, I don’t know if a city has ever ‘owned’ their own team.

But I digress. Here are a few arguments I came up with in favour of returning Montreal to the Major League.

1. We already have a fan base to build off of, not to mention a name, a brilliant logo, team colours and a host of former players and members of the management interested in helping the cause.

2. We’re directly implicated in baseball’s history and have had pro baseball clubs since the Montreal Royals were founded in 1897. Ergo, we’re not really adding anything new, but rather, Montreal is getting back something it lost. This makes for a compelling marketing angle – one that no doubt already assisted the return of professional football to our city after a ten year absence with the resurrection of the Alouettes in 1996. That we’ve resurrected one professional sports team before should not go unnoticed, it’s not an easy thing to do. And fan support helped get the Als into the enviable position they’re in today, with the CFL’s longest running playoff appearance streak of all time. Suffice it to say, the Als work; our city already has a successful model for resurrecting a pro sports team.

3. We can save (a lot) on overhead costs and start-up capital by making use of existing facilities, and as it happens, we already have a multi-use sports stadium that’s been a bit of a ghost town since the Expos left. Another parallel with the Alouettes, who successfully rehabilitated Percival Molson Stadium in the mid-1990s (one of several large-scale renovation projects to occur during the decade). Molson Stadium had trees growing in it and was generally considered to be too small and inconveniently located. Today it works just fine. We should apply the same thinking to the proposed new Expos – at least initially, in my opinion, they should play at the Big O. I think the fact that we already have a stadium is a major selling point; the Big O’s purported structural instability is nothing but idiotic rumours we foolishly perpetuate as though to glorify our perceived demise as a city – the building’s fine (gulp, I think – we’d need multiple evaluations to be 110% certain), it just needs a better retractable roof design. Either way, a roof costs a lot less than a whole new stadium, and the Big O is perfectly located, as it stands between two Métro station, fed by numerous bus lines and major thoroughfares, and is well positioned within the larger transit scheme of the metropolitan region. The success of the Montreal Impact at the adjoining Saputo Stadium is another example of why the Big O’s location is not the reason the club went defunct (I think we’ve all heard this argument before).

4. The Montreal Expos have been making money for the MLB for nearly ten years after the team’s official abandonment. How? The Montreal Expos ballcap, featuring the iconic stylized ‘M’ logo, is still one of the best-selling pieces of officially licensed MLB merchandize. Now obviously baseball hats aren’t justification enough to win back a team, but it needs to be said anyways. It’s a good sign, at the very least.

5. Baseball in Montreal boils down to one key point: it’s fundamentally about giving Americans another reason to know we exist, to know who we are. I believe the Expos were victims of a society that happened to become very uncertain of its future, and as such lost some of its ambition and drive. We got caught up in the post-1995 Referendum economic and social malaise that plagued our city until just before the economic collapse of 2008. But I truly believe this ‘loss of nerves’ to be a temporary affliction, and resurrecting an MLB franchise would be a major coup for the local business community, if not the city as a whole. It’s not easy to bring something back from the dead, after all, and brining Montreal back into this community of North American cities and citizens would undeniably facilitate trade and economic development in our city. Whether we like it or not, Montreal is directly implicated in the economies of Canada and the United States. Playing the game gives us common ground, keeps us integrated, and demonstrates ours is an economy worth investing in.


And now, counterpoints.

One of the benefits of my new pad in Saint Henri is the long wooden backyard balcony that runs the length of several row houses. As such, the balcony is ‘shared’ in a sense by a dozen or so people, making it very conducive to striking up conversations with your neighbours. I recently discussed the potential of an Expos renaissance with my neighbour from two doors down, Austin Jalilvand. Here’s the Coles Notes version of some of the intriguing points he brought up.

He made the argument that we’re looking at a billion dollar project which must include a new, ideally downtown ball park. His argument against the Big O is that it was never designed to be used as a ball park, and that while it is located within a sprawling residential area it is not conveniently located close to the people who would most likely attend games.

Overhead perspective of aborted Labatt Park concept - not the work of the author
Overhead perspective of aborted Labatt Park concept – not the work of the author

A new MLB franchise, like all other pro sports teams, will make most of its bank through corporate boxes and other season-ticket holders, meaning a downtown ball park, located as close to the Central Business District as possible, is more ideal than a suburban location. Now while I wouldn’t call Pie-IX and Sherbrooke suburban, it is very residential and lacks the services required of a major entertainment venue – namely hotels, restaurants and bars. That said, given how little land downtown is available for development, any new ball park would likely still not be immediately adjacent to the aforementioned services, but at the very least would be within walking distance of all the CBD has to offer. Likely locations for a downtown ballpark, according to Austin, would be south of the densest part of the city (i.e Griffintown), though he conceded the best location (and the location chosen for the abortive Labatt Park) has since been developed into ETS and a condo complex. You need to go as far south as what was once Goose Village (currently known as the Montreal Technopole, along the edge of the water and the Bonaventure Expressway) before you find a similarly large empty plot of land, and by that point the stadium would be too far removed from the city to be convenient. Building a smaller stadium on a smaller plot of land would certainly help keep the new stadium looking full, but would necessitate renovations, expansions and possibly new construction later on.

Austin then mentioned an alternative location I had never considered before – Blue Bonnets.

The location of the former Hippodrome de Montréal has a variety of advantages. For one it’s a blank slate – nothing to preserve and enough space to get very creative in terms of design and size. It’s located on the Decarie Expressway, which links highways 40, 13 and 15 with the 720, 20 and 10. It’s also across the street from one of the (currently) least used stations in the entire Métro network, meaning the station could be modified with pedestrian tunnels built under the expressway to shuttle people to and from the ballpark without much inconvenience to the larger public transit scheme. Such a renovation would doubtless make Namur station more useful. It would likely later become a public transit hub of sorts; this is a location that serves public transit needs inasmuch as being exceptionally convenient from a motorist’s vantage point, and the grounds of the Hippodrome are sufficiently large enough to permit a massive, ideally subterranean, parking garage. The advantage here being that the parking garage of a sports stadium could also serve a ‘park-n-ride’ type initiative wherein suburban motorists can also use the garage to transfer onto the city’s public transit grid. From a traffic vantage point, Blue Bonnets is an enticing option.

Then there’s the fact that Blue Bonnets is in the middle of another large residential area, though this one (according to Austin) is where the bulk of our city’s Expos fans would reside. Geographically, Blue Bonnets is across the street from Cote-des-Neiges, the densest borough in the city, and adjacent to the affluent middle class communities of Cote St. Luc, Hampstead, Montreal West, the Town of Mount Royal, not to mention NDG and Saint-Laurent. I’d like to see a demographic breakdown of local baseball (and pro sports in general) fans to see if baseball is of greater interest to Anglophones, Allophones or Francophones, as that should be taken into consideration when choosing the location.

Another major advantage of the Blue Bonnets location is the diversity of zoning around the site (unlike the Big O, which is a self-contained entity amidst a massive collection of leisure, athletic and other entertainment facilities set in a large, mostly working class residential area), coupled with the malleability of the site as it currently exists. Unlike other potential downtown locations, or the Olympic Stadium, Blue Bonnets seems to offer the widest range of possibilities in terms of stadium design and how the new facility will interact with the existing built environment.

Austin also brought up some other points – hurdles if you will – that I hadn’t considered and I think we should be mindful of. Among others, that Montreal isn’t exactly the most enticing market for an MLB player given the high taxes, not to mention they’d be required to enrol their children in a french language school (though I have a feeling there’s some kind of exemption in this case).

That said, I don’t think these are insurmountable challenges – the bigger issue is pulling together the investors and other interested parties. And if we do go the course of building a new stadium (whether as a condition of getting a team or as something we do after a few trial years at the Big O), well, that’ll be the bulk of the cost right there. At least now, in the shadow of the Charbonneau Commission, perhaps total construction costs won’t include the usual bribes, kickbacks and other elements of ‘undocumented operational inflation’ that makes any big project unbelievably expensive. Building a new stadium now could be a victory in itself if we get it up ahead of schedule and under budget, and a nice morale-boost prior to the comeback of the team. Again, good multi-level marketing and PR.

In any event, a few things worth considering I think. My interest is pretty straightforward, if we do it right, we all benefit. It’s about ending investor malaise and facilitating new business; the game itself is very secondary when compared to the boost resurrecting the Expos might provide our business community and the city’s economic situation on the whole.


One last final point (I promise).

If we were to build a downtown ballpark and didn’t mind knocking down some old commercial buildings between the Bonaventure Expressway and Old Montreal, why not build here?

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 8.41.11 PM

The red square denotes the location of the Labatt Park project, which as you can see is now ETS and some condos. The blue square is a slightly smaller location bounded by Rue St-Maurice, Rue de Longueuil, William and Duke in the Quartier Internationale. Today it’s mostly a massive parking lot, though there are maybe a dozen century-old buildings of varying sizes, none of any particular patrimonial value (to my knowledge). It’s located between Griffintown, the Cité du Multimédia, Old Montreal and the Central Business District, and could be a central feature of the planned redevelopment of the Bonaventure Corridor as a new ‘southern entrance’ to the city. The main difficulty here would be building something that somehow manages to ‘fit’ this aesthetically diverse locale, and if possible somehow incorporating the existing buildings into the new stadium.

As far as downtown locations are concerned, I doubt we could do better. A stadium here could become a major pole of attraction, stimulating entertainment and hospitality services across a broad swath of the downtown, while further filling up ugly empty space.

Dave Chappelle at Just For Laughs – Wednesday July 24th 2013

Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle

It was a tad curious.

The DJ kept telling us not to interact with Mr. Chappelle. Three times at least.

Odd because interacting with the crowd often leads to some great moments in live comedy; as an example, interacting with the crowd made for some unexpectedly hilarious and heart warming moments during Aziz Ansari’s recent last-minute double show at the Comedy Works a little while back. But to be told specifically not to shout things out came as a surprise to me, particularly when we were warned we risked getting tossed should any of us break this golden rule.

It seems not everyone got the message.

Long story short, an enjoyable show – but I’m easy to please. I saw the 19h30 show last night and I think I got the better deal. My brother saw the 21h30 show (which didn’t actually start until 23h00) and felt he didn’t quite get his money’s worth.

But my brother made sure to point out it wasn’t Mr. Chappelle that ruined the show (for him), but rather the apparent fans in the audience.

Ah… Montreal ‘fans’, bane of performers everywhere.

Call it unbridled enthusiasm, I just thought it was rude. Those calling out towards the end of the performance seemed to know less than nothing about the performer – such as the fact that it was Charlie Murphy who interacted with Prince and Rick James. Call it the frat boy problem that dogs too many live performances in this city.

Mr. Chappelle hasn’t set foot on a Montreal stage in some thirteen years – the last time he performed Just for Laughs he was still two years away from the launch of the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed Chappelle’s Show; arguably he was still on his way up back then – young, fresh, daring, bold. Today he’s a married dad, a forty year old man. It shows. He’s patient and also highly selective, choosing when to engage his audience and more confident when ignoring the outbursts of over enthusiastic spectators ‘lookin’ fer laffs.’

From what my brother told me, the later show featured about twenty minutes of awkwardness so thick and cringeworthy the audience embarrassed him. I only had to contend with about five minutes’ worth of such nonsense as that.

This is an issue I’ve discussed many times before – Montreal audiences and ‘fans’ can be very difficult to deal with. Case in point, the infamous closing show of Pink Floyd’s 1977 Animals world tour, the show Roger Waters credits as laying the foundation for what would become The Wall. And this is saying nothing of the well documented poor attitudes of Montreal fans vis-a-vis the Habs. I wouldn’t wish a career playing hockey in Montreal to even the worst, most asinine of professional hockey players – Montreal fans can be brutal, unforgiving.

Last night, they were just fools.

I’ll tell myself Just for Laughs is a big international festival and it’s completely possible those causing trouble were from out of town, Torontonians or Bostonites most likely, but either way, it left a bad aftertaste. I honestly hope it doesn’t perturb Mr. Chappelle and make him think twice about what I’m assuming is some kind of a return to active touring and new material.

In any event, I’m getting ahead of myself.

First things first – Place des Arts and Just for Laughs need to figure out a more efficient method of handling ticket pick-ups prior to the show, especially when there are four or five shows going on simultaneously. I spoke with a PdA security guard who said the line-up to pick up tickets (which stretched all the way outside, up St-Urbain towards the new concert hall) was pretty much standard and it was fucking everything up. I asked him what he would’ve done differently, and without skipping a beat he smiled and said ‘four guichets for Monsieur Chappelle, one for everything else.’

Fortunately I didn’t have to stand in line (keep your electronic tickets on your phone, so the QR code can be scanned (a message for my older, Baby Boomer readers)) and was comfortably seated up in the balcony of Theatre Maisonneuve sometime just before eight. Opening act, delightfully, was Hannibal Buress, an excellent choice to warm up the audience. The bit about why rappers discussing their enjoyment of MDMA (otherwise known as Ecstasy or, perhaps more softly, Molly) as being antithetical to the stated aim of appearing hard was the highlight of his brief warm-up routine (“there I was, smiling, masturbating to the colour blue, mumbling something about being in a gang…”).

Chappelle hit the stage a little while later after a brief interlude by the DJ who reminded us, for the umpteenth time, not to heckle the talent or yell out for any reason. Lights went Christmastime red, vinyl spun silently in the background as the DJ seemingly disappeared under the stage, and Dave Chappelle, hero of my youth, waltzed out on stage puffing away on the first of many, many cigarettes.

So strike one – yes, I know he smokes, I smoke too, I fucking love smoking. And Mr. Chappelle enjoys smoking while doing stand-up, something JFL management and/or Place des Arts seemed okay with (you’ll remember Dave asked Crack Mayor Ford if he could smoke indoors at a show in Toronto about a year ago, a request which was denied by the worst mayor in Canadian history). But it’s not like we, the common people, can smoke in the venue, that’s strictly verboten. And while I can understand a comedian who enjoys smoking going to some length to acquire a special privilege for him or herself, this is Montreal, and we like tobacco more than South Carolina, so it’s a bit of a dick move. Maybe he argues that he’d be far too stressed out otherwise, but to be perfectly frank his chain smoking was giving me the urge. That he chain smoked through the set was a bit much, and I wonder if it didn’t set the best tone, even at a very subconscious level, and facilitated the kind of audience goonery which rendered my brother’s later show so unbearable. He’s flaunting the rules after all, so why should the audience behave?

Although I don’t know with any certainty, I would swear Mr. Chappelle’s preparing for a new tour – ten shows in Montreal, after all, with brand new material from what I can tell. What’s tending me towards this line of thinking is that he’s doing something previously unheard of (i.e. performing ten shows at a single comedy festival, selling each out and grossing nearly a million dollars for Just for Laughs, proving he’s still a viable act even if his sets are largely experimental and basically turning his back on the television show that brought him such prominence).

There were times I thought I was looking at a re-imagined George Carlin, or a more relaxed Bill Hicks – not because the set was particularly political, but because the social commentary was striking, poignant first, with jokes placed strategically to prevent the subject matter from sinking the mood. Deftly placed humour to address some very serious issues. But it also seemed like he was wincing at the thought of being a political humorist, yet found himself caught in the story he was telling. As I said before, he’s got the world weariness young dads tend to develop – you change enough diapers nothing phases you anymore; at one moment he simply declared a joke dead and moved on – it demonstrated his objective detachment from his own material, yet also recalled the impish prankster demeanour that characterized his earlier material. Dave Chappelle has this quality where I feel I’m watching a man entertain himself first and foremost and I just happen to be in the same room. He has a way of playing the joke on the audience, steering them.

I understood the reason why they wanted to minimize shouting out; we were watching a rehearsal.

On the whole I’m immensely satisfied, but also a tad disappointed with the yahoos who couldn’t quite grasp a comedian beyond corporate comedy channel soundbites.

Put another way, I haven’t yelled ‘I’m Rick James bitch!’ in a bar in about ten years and I’m embarrassed that I once thought it was cool. I was young once…

But to the guy who imitated Chappelle imitating Lil John, I don’t think you came off as bringing comedy to dizzying new heights of metatude. Rather, as Dave put it “buddy, that’s not even me, that’s Lil John.”

And that’s probably going to be a problem for Mr. Chappelle for as long as he remains a touring comedian. I can imagine having to contend with legions of ostensibly adoring fans who shout out their (all too often pitifully) poor water-cooler impressions really nauseating, depressing.

But doing ten shows with Montreal audiences will give anyone a thick skin; like I said before, I really hope I saw a rehearsal yesterday. The world could use a lot more Dave Chappelle.


After some comments, tweets and emails I feel I should clarify a couple of points.

One – I like what I saw and enjoyed it despite the aforementioned problems.

Two – if what I saw was actually a ‘rehearsal’ for something more comprehensive (such as a new comedy special, world tour or album), then I’m beyond honoured as a Montrealer that Mr. Chappelle would choose to hone his skill here. It makes sense to me that this might be the case (though perhaps I’m too hopeful) given Mr. Chappelle’s connection to the festival, that there’d be a very sympathetic (and for the most part, supportive) audience and the opportunity to hang out with hundreds of other comedians. Am I crazy or is Just for Laughs a good place to get in some practice?

Three – I like comedy in the raw. The JFL galas tend to be very polished, relentless even. Guaranteed laughs for everyone so nobody leaves disappointed. This was different. I’m pretty well versed in Chappelle’s back catalogue so I had no interest in hearing the old bits rehashed, I wanted something new and different and I got precisely what I wanted. I would pay to see Mr. Chappelle under similar circumstances again without hesitation. He’s an excellent comedian, and that’s an understatement.

Four – I need to make this point really clear. I’m not overly concerned about the late starts. As I mentioned earlier, part of the problem lies in how tickets are distributed – this is a problem between JFL and PdA, not Dave Chappelle. Moreover, expecting a comedian who is doing 10 shows over a short period of time to be punctual is unrealistic (and another reason to choose the earlier show). He’s mobbed by fans before and after and if sets go well they go longer than expected. If he was late to my brother’s show, it’s only because he had a (generally) good time with us. Furthermore, unlike a Wu Tang Clan show I saw six years ago, there was an opening act and a competent DJ.

Five – My main concern is that the rambunctious and inconsiderate audience my brother had to contend with is more indicative of Montreal audiences in general, and if this is the rule rather than the exception, I worry whatever interest Mr. Chappelle may have in getting back in the game may dissipate, and if the case I’d be disappointed.

Six – Frankly, if I ever tried stand-up I’d want to chain smoke too, and would pursue every opportunity to do so. That said, I’d also encourage the audience to smoke to their heart’s content, pointing out the hypocrisy of festival and venue management.

Anyways, hope that makes this exceptionally long revue a little clearer.

I want to go to there…

L to R: Tour CIBC, Sun Life Building, 5 Place Ville-Marie, Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, Queen Elizabeth Hotel
L to R: Tour CIBC, Sun Life Building, 5 Place Ville-Marie, Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, Queen Elizabeth Hotel

Thanks to the magic of this isometric view of the city’s downtown core, you can appreciate a curious design element of the Sun Life Building that’s fascinated me for years.

The Sun Life Building is the big grey pyramidal building dominating the photograph above, built in three stages between 1913 and 1931 in a blend of styles I can’t quite put my finger on. There seem to be both Art Deco and Beaux Arts influences, but they don’t exactly dominate the design so I’ve never been too sure.

Either way, the original Sun Life Building was the first ‘third’ (i.e. the southern block) of the base, and this was expanded first north before the set back tower was completed at the height of the Depression, rising to some 24 floors and securing the title of largest building in the British Empire for many years.

One day many moons ago I was walking around downtown with my eyes pointed towards the skies and I noticed that I could ‘see through’ part of the building’s second tier. Whereas I had previously assumed the southern second tier was a solid block of offices I now realized there was instead an arcade of sorts, composed of columns holding an extension of the roofline, completing the symmetry of the building despite being conspicuously absent of office space. It looked like the Sun Life Building had erupted out of the ground around an ancient temple and in the process hoisted it up eight floors above the ground, gradually incorporating it into the whole.

Among this great building’s many traits are its numerous pleasant surprises, such as the building’s internal imbalance despite being outwardly perfectly (though deceptively) symmetrical – walk around the foyer and you’ll realize that though you’re in the apparent middle of the ‘pyramid’, the commercial ground floor arteries extend far further north than south. Even the elevator banks seem a bit off-centre. Cunning if you ask me, but more realistically driven by necessity – the interior form of the original Sun Life Building was, to my knowledge very well maintained, and this may explain why there’s nothing built on its roof. From what I’ve heard there’s a rather grand looking trading floor inside this building, perhaps well lit by natural light flowing in from above.

That’s the best explanation I can come up with on my own at least. I’ll need to confirm my suspicions – hopefully the building manager’s a fan of this blog.

Anyways, back when I first saw this architectural curiosity I immediately thought it belonged on film – some long sequence where the view from up there interacts with the ample surroundings and landmarks gathered around Dorchester Square. A scene with someone walking along the length of columns, the city holding steady in the background, streams of light cascading, through the arcade.

But it comes to mind that this might be an excellent place for a restaurant too. Granted the requisite renovations would require significant start-up capital, and the restaurant game is a harsh and cruel mistress even at the best of times, but I can’t imagine they’d be at a loss for customers. I can picture the tables arranged between the massive pillars, the interior recess of the Sun Life Building on one side, the cathedral and Place du Canada beyond, greens and blues in the background complementing the stone and granite, the floral arrangements and ‘hanging gardens of Babylon’ aesthetic of this most unique Montreal eatery. I’d eat there every day or as often as I could afford it.

And if there ever was a restaurant here, it’d likely end up on some master list prepared by a location management company, and so I might get my wish to see this place on film in the end anyways.

Wishful thinking I know, but what can I say – this could be an ideal location for a really top-flight restaurant in an area where establishments of that variety are, though not exactly in short supply, nonetheless stagnant.

Montreal’s Ugliest Building

Hilton hotel atop Place Bonaventure, Montreal
Hilton hotel atop Place Bonaventure, Montreal

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.

Montreal Forum, circa 1996.
Montreal Forum, circa 1996.

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.

1200 McGill College - Centre Capitol
1200 McGill College – Centre Capitol

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:

This monstrosity…

Avis Parking Garage on Dorchester Square - credit to Spacing Montreal
Avis Parking Garage on Dorchester Square – credit to Spacing Montreal

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?

Feel free to send pics if you have them.

Intriguing Questions Concerning the Construction of a School on Nun’s Island

Nun's Island - Isometric Perspective
Nun’s Island – Isometric Perspective

A friend forwarded me a press release from Projet Montreal concerning the planned location of a new primary school to be built on Nun’s Island (here’s a link to the study prepared by Projet Montreal). In effect, the press release and its adjoining study are both a proposal for an alternative location inasmuch as a condemnation of the previous Union Montreal borough government for their insistence on such a poor initial location – a school located on what was once a part of a park, between two major thoroughfares.

For those who don’t know, Nun’s Island is a planned community occupying Ile des Soeurs, formerly Ile Saint-Paul, an island in the Saint Lawrence River connected to the Island of Montreal via the Decarie and Bonaventure Expressways and to the mainland via the Champlain Bridge. Nun’s Island is one of the most modern residential communities in Montreal (the island has several buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe, including an iconic former ESSO station, itself to be converted into a community centre), and has rapidly grown to be home to some 20,000 people. Development over the last decade has been particularly significant, with many new condo towers built, in addition to the head office campus of Bell Canada.

Nun’s Island is a particular part of the city of Montreal; it is a mature Modernist planned community, and while not exactly emblematic of the city as a whole, certainly fully encapsulates the aesthetic and living vision of modernist urban living as conceived by city planners some fifty years ago. It’s too bad there’s nothing to do there (i.e. no restaurants, bars, venues etc – or at least none you’d make the trip out for), because from what I’ve heard it’s a dream to live there. Nun’s Island looks good and feels good, the parks and greenbelt doing an excellent job offering a more suburban lifestyle despite being so close to the guts of the city.

But as you can see in the aerial perspective above, Nun’s Island is beginning to fill out, and if there’s any desire to maintain the natural aesthetic that has sustained so much development here over the last two decades, then it would be wise to develop a Nun’s Island specific master plan. Such a plan should aim to manage residential development while also stimulating new poles of attraction on the island (such as the location of a new school), all the while doing as much as possible to retain as much green space as possible.

The construction of a new school is immensely beneficial, not only for current and prospective residents, but further as a key element of a master plan for the island and attraction driver. Which is why, in my opinion inasmuch as Projet Montreal, the currently favoured location is deeply flawed. Aside from being too close to major streets with heavy traffic (and, for that reason, in the middle of an urban heat zone), the current plan has the school occupying a small strip of an existing park.

Though Nun’s Island is pretty green, a lot of what you see above is land waiting to be developed – the park in question is in the midst of an already heavily populated area, one that needs all the park space it can get.

Projet’s recommended alternative location is further south, adjacent to the small man made lake. From what I gathered in the press release, Jack L. Kugelmass, Projet Montreal city councillor candidate for Nun’s Island, has been vocal about this issue for some time, and has met with a fair bit of opposition from the former Union Montreal government in Verdun borough hall. Kugelmass’ proposal has been countered with an argument the land is contaminated, but Projet Montreal’s own research has confirmed methane present in the ground is not in fact sufficient enough to be a health concern. In sum, it seems that the current borough government has been doing everything it can to prevent this alternative site from even being considered. What’s worse is that the current location is too small for anticipated future needs, likely resulting in expansion of the school into the park.

This is unacceptable according to Kugelmass and Projet Montreal, and I see their point – though it strikes me that their alternative location would be a good spot for yet another condominium tower.

Makes me wonder what was really driving Union Montreal’s proposal…