Category Archives: What were they thinking?

Montréal’s Stonewall – Hard to imagine it was only twenty years ago…

On one of those insufferably hot July nights back in 1990, about 40 cops arrested 9 out of 400 party-goers after they raided a loft party. That those in attendance were homosexuals shouldn’t have made any difference, but ultimately it did, and the event is comparable to the Stonewall riots, though with a distinctively Montréal character. Those arrested, for the most part, ended up in the Montréal General Hospital, along with many more savagely beaten by SPVM officers. The cops stroked their batons in mock masturbation while the crowd was dispersed towards Beaver Hall Hill. What they didn’t realize was that they were completely surrounded, and the constables had quite illegally removed their identification. They were looking for a fight. Linda Dawn Hammond was on the scene taking photographs of the party when she became directly involved, chronicling the brutality and capturing the photographs which would run on the front pages of the Gazette and La Presse the very next day. It seems as though 1990 was a watershed year for police brutality against citizens of Montréal; thankfully it seems as though it was one of the last.

Richard Burnett gives a clear insight into the way by which the Sex Garage Incident forever changed gay politics in Canada, let alone Montréal, now a premier gay-tourism destination. Twenty years after one of the most horrific examples of police brutality, the annual Diver/Cité festival is estimated to generate about $40 million in revenue and economic spin-offs for the City of Montréal. How times have changed. Unfortunately, it would take another round of protests and beatings before the Chief of the SPVM decided to take action. Among other decisions, the police would scale down its anti-gay crusade, and harassment of gay men on Mount Royal was put on the back-burner while the police morality squad re-focused their energies. Also, two days after the incident, the SPVM promised they’d no longer attack peaceful protesters.

I’m still not convinced about that last point, but it’s good to know that events like Sex Garage aren’t going to happen again in this city. That is, as long as the citizens ensure the protection of their own fundamental human rights.

Beware what lurks below… Griffintown/Goose Village edition

Before the Bonaventure - credit to

The photo above shows the old CN yards in Pointe-St-Charles, with Goose Village in the bottom right-hand corner. At the bottom of the photo is the entrance to the Victoria Bridge, and the Bonventure Expressway has yet to be constructed, allowing us to assume the picture dates from some time in the early 1960s. Along with Griffintown, (which is technically out of frame in this picture, though the name has been applied to most of the industrial zone immediately south of the city, straddling the Lachine Canal), this area, once known as Victoriatown and/or Goose Village, is also slated for eventual residential redevelopment. Though the Montréal Technoparc finds itself primarily to the south of Rue Marc-Cantin, it’s safe to assume the small wedge of industrial space between Bridge Street, the Canal and the Expressway will likely get the go-ahead for urban redevelopment once the Canada Lands Corporation project goes through. By extension, all the land south of Wellington between Bridge Street and the entrance to the Champlain Bridge will also likely be slated for redevelopment. Most of this rather large area is built on what was once a massive garbage dump. It is, as you can imagine, highly polluted.

This combined area could support significant population growth and is the most likely extension of what we define as Montréal’s ‘downtown’. Aside from the fact that it’s extremely well connected to the city (consider, it only takes about twenty minutes to walk from Dorchester Square to the Peel Basin), large tracts of land zoned for light industry have left the area without much of an architectural heritage, as many of these buildings are highly functional in nature and were constructed recently, which means they’re easy to demolish and replace with new residential zones. Consider how many formerly industrial buildings in this city, within proximity of the downtown, are currently residential; the list is staggering, a testament to our interest in recycling and breathing new life into old factories and warehouses.

So what’s the problem you may be asking? Land suitable for new development is at a premium and it makes a lot of sense to pursue developing the southern sector of the city for residential purposes. Moreover, such a plan could be argued from the standpoint that the city made an error forty years ago declaring this land industrial, and such development is necessary if we wish to correct a ‘historic injustice’. I don’t doubt for a second this last point has been passed around enough board-room meetings, especially with regards to Griffintown.

The Committee for the Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown has some excellent ideas and makes solid arguments for a ‘smarter’ development of this area, as most proposals have not adequately considered the few, though significant, heritage sites to be found there. Moreover, there seems to have been zero consideration for the fact that unused light-industrial space can be excellent lofts and studios for our artistic community, one which must be fostered at all costs. But underlying all aspects and concerns pertinent to southern redevelopment, we must ask whether the city was trying to do its citizens a favour by declaring this land industrial in the first place and rendering it unsuitable for living until such a time as the pollutants could be cleaned up? Was it slum clearance, or was it a harsh environmental reality?

Alanah Heffez over at Spacing Montréal wrote an amazing article on the extension of the shoreline in this area between 1890 and 1968, and the environmental concerns which affect this area. Great read, highly recommended. As to residential development in the centre-sud sector, it seems almost all projects slated for this area are either on hiatus or back on the drawing board while the developers try to pull together enough coin. Either way, it’s encouraging to see the high degree of public consultation.

Dangerous hypocrites and their effect on architectural preservation

The Jeunes Patriotes du Québec, our very own brownshirts...

These happy looking fellows are the Jeunes Patriotes du Québec, a fascist organization dedicated to Québec independence, and apparently, saving old churches. The JPQ organized a protest over the weekend to demonstrate their belief that Québec’s religious heritage ought to be better preserved. Currently, the Archdioscese of Montréal wants to tear this 105 year-old Hochelaga-Maisonneuve church down and put up social housing on its spot.

The young patriots base their argument on the idea that our religious heritage is sacred, and that the church, for better or for worse I suppose, forms an indelible mark on the culture and personality of Québec. That the RC Church held the Québecois people under their thumb for over a century, abused countless children and kept our society in the long shadow of Norman provincialism seems lost on these thugs, who would like you to believe they are guerilas (again, its all just a guess, the rhetoric of their website is confused to say the least). Moreover, even though most of Québec society is secular – and has been better off for it – the JPQ wants you to believe that Québec sovereignty is somehow related to Vatican real-estate, and what they choose to do with it. As far as I see it, the JPQ is simply tail-hooking an issue for urban preservationists, and in the process turning a simple question about what to do with an old church into a clarion call to arms to protect Québec from … somehow, English people (?). If a broken, unused old church is torn down – perhaps even recycled – and replaced with social housing units, does that mean we’re lose something about our cultural identity as well?

So which is it – are we uniquely devout Catholics or independently secular Modernists? Or are we Enlightened hypocrites? Its tough, and I can’t come up with a simple answer. The complex one goes like this: I can’t escape the long-term psychological impact of living in a Catholic society – hopefully I can use it for good and it will colour my worldview in a unique and palpable way. Ergo, don’t tear down old churches, find new uses for them. But when common-sense sustainable urban planning gets mixed up with ultra-nationalist opportunism, the credibility of the preservation movement takes a hit. This is why casual association with this group, or any other form of extremism – even if it is only rhetoric – is anathema to the success of the broader goal of social-cohesion through good design and conservation.

But when these idiots show up, it gives the impression that we don’t know our history or culture from a hole in the ground.

Here’s a video they made of their marching band. Just because they look, sound, and act crazy doesn’t mean we should ignore them. And if Québec ever needs to become an independent nation, whoever’s in charge should make sure they’re dealt with first.

There’s little more dangerous than a self-proclaimed patriot with no idea what he’s supposed to be defending.

Place Emilie-Gamelin: broken space

Monuments by Melvin Charney in Place Emilie-Gamelin

This is the view from the centre of Place Emilie-Gamelin, a major urban square in downtown Montréal directly above the most important Métro station in the whole city, Berri-UQAM. Informally, the area is referred to as Berri Square, though many more simply, dismissively refer to it as Berri, an unavoidable place, very useful, very well connected, but ultimately, undesirable.

Berri’s a bit of an anomaly. I like to call it Montréal’s Ellis Island, as it serves as a major transport hub. In the picture you can see the entrance to the city’s main bus terminal, chariot of the poor to all destinations near and far not important enough to have an airport. The bus terminal is small and in dire need of improvement, so a few years back before the economy tanked, the provincial government got involved with a project spearheaded by UQAM and the city to build a massive new bus terminal on the block behind the existing one. It was designed to include student housing for UQAM as well. Once the new station was to be completed, the old one would have been knocked down and replaced with an office tower. I’ve heard this argument, from several people, that there exists a conspiracy to ‘pull’ the downtown away from its ‘traditionally English’ sector to a ‘primarily French’ one. These terms are all very noted, as actual Montréalers know the subtleties of local living – that is, we know the lay of the land. I don’t believe there’s anything sinister about, Berri Square is a natural pole of attraction, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be as proud, declarative, and well-respect as Dorchester Square downtown.

Place Dupuis from across Place Emilie-Gamelin

However, just because it shouldn’t be this way doesn’t explain why it is. Here’s a link to a Le Devoir article concerning the stalled Ilot Voyageur project which is currently a large empty shell of what would have been an impressive building. You can see a construction crane behind the bus station in the top photo. Apparently, talk of not building a connecting Métro tunnel was batted about as a means to cut costs. This is beyond stupid – the current station connects directly!

Before the renovation of Berri Square and its transformation into Place Emilie-Gamelin in 1992, several proposals had been floated around about installing a new concert hall for the OSM on the site, but if the Olympics taught us anything, its that you don’t build on public space, you build beside it.

1984 Berri-UQAM site proposal for new concert hall

Fortunately it never came to fruition on this site, as I believe well-designed parks, plazas, squares etc provide much needed relief, and space to congregate. People do use Berri Square, but it has a bad reputation, Indeed, the day I shot these pics I spent three hours observing the space, watching how people interacted with it; here’s an abridged version of what I saw:

– 16 y o up-and-comer in the drug trade chasing off old woman who was photographing buildings around the square

– police cruiser, parked, empty, sitting in the middle of the square, by the giant chessboards (no pieces out that day)

– somewhere in the area of thirty to fifty bums, vagrants, drunks, hobos etc, probably getting the best use out of this space presently – everyone else walks around it, few cross. Those who do are either a- very aware of their surroundings, b- completely unaware of their surroundings and for that reason quickly leave or c- in the process of doing, aquiring or selling narcotics.Watch out for a rookie mistake – never buy anything in Berri, never tell anyone to go buy in Berri. You’ll get robbed, or worse.

– an urban square so completely disconnected from its surroundings it actually denigrates the value of what’s around it. A total waste of potential – considerations such as: make sure sight-lines can be maintained and ensure the plaza is open and accessible were cast aside for the purposes of an artistic statement. It’s a shame, I don’t know if Charney’s installation will work elsewhere, but its got to go for the sake of this space.

When you consider just a vital a space like this, you really wonder why they wanted to stick a concert hall right on top of it. That being said, because of its condition, I’m sure their are many people who would like to see something work here.

What were they thinking? {No.1}

Site of a former tram-tunnel, now open-air, on the Camillien Houde Parkway

(Part of an unfortunately on-going series)

The Camillien Houde Parkway has got to be one of the stupidest ideas ever conceived of in the history of Montréal, which is unfortunate given that its a beautiful and exciting parkway. Make no mistake – I love this street, I especially love all the great memories I’ve attached to it, such as taking it to go visit my newborn brother when I was three. Unfortunately, it came at too-high a cost, and any individual in this city who is concerned about the future of our most iconic landmark should see the Camillien Houde Parkway as public enemy number 1.

Here’s why:

a) It’s named after former Mayor Camillien Houde, well-remembered for his charisma, anti-conscription related internment during WW2, the Kondiaronk Belvedere and the many Vespasiennes (adoringly called Camilliennes for decades) he had constructed as make-work projects during the Depression. He also vehemently opposed the construction of any street or boulevard bisecting Mount Royal. At the very least could we consider changing the name?

b) As you can see from the map embedded here (use bird’s eye view for best results), the parkway cuts-off access to a small, but significant, portion of Mount-Royal Park. I say significant because the ‘dead-zone’ would allow better access to the undeveloped portions of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery and the parkland owned by the Université de Montréal. Thus, any discussion of a Mount Royal pedestrian and cycling ring-road would have to consider whether such a path and the parkway could actually coexist. Chris Erb of Spacing Montréal discusses the proposal for a new park on the Outremont Summit, an idea which was floated around in the Fall of 2009 and, I believe, is still very much up in the air. If anything, Mount Royal’s protected status is more tenuous than ever with the announcement of a new fenced-off condo development at the site of the former Marianopolis College, and the still as-yet unfinished saga concerning the redevelopment of the former Outremont convent. That being said, if there’s an earnest will from the populace to increase the total protected space of the mountain-park, then the parkway will have to be the first to go, since it acts more as a boundary then bisecting scenic drive.

c) As a result of the parkway, there are several large parking lots on the mountain – land that had once been raw natural forest. Given that the mountain has, traditionally, been frequented overwhelmingly by locals, and not tourists, the necessity of so many parking lots near the summits can be called into question. Especially because, once upon a time, a tram ran the length of the parkway. Reclaiming the parking spaces could be done by investing in a new tram, one which would ideally run from the bottom of Guy (placing a terminus at the corner of William in Griffintown) up to Cote-des-Neiges, dropping people off at a mountain terminus near the pavilion at Lac aux Castors (you’ll notice, a loop already exists here). This could effectively allow the rest of the parkway and the parking lost to be reclaimed as parkland.

d) The photo above demonstrates another problem – there used to be a tunnel at that exact spot. The tunnel allowed people to get from the Mount-Royal side to the Outremont side over-top, not to mention offering considerably more room for the variety of animal species native to the mountain park. Even if the parkway remains, at the very least, a new tunnel ought to be built here, to allow for the maximum level of freedom of movement.

Horse-drawn carriages at the Mount Royal Chalet, 1960s - not the work of the author.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the summit, though I think I was up there earlier this Summer. The improvements to the Peel Staircase and the access to the Olmstead Trail are excellent additions, welcoming urbanites with elegant and naturalistic entrances that fit into the idea of the sacred, leafy refuge. I remember the last time I was up there a temporary fence had been put up to divide the belvedere into two parts, though no work was being done at the time.

Still, as the city grows and the last remaining scraps of undeveloped land in the CBD is gobbled up as it will be over the next couple of decades, protecting our green spaces is going to become an even greater priority.

We should remind ourselves that, while Mount-Royal Park is indeed exceptionally large and, in essence, our own little playground, it serves a very large geographic area and further supports an inordinately large population. This is a major issue for any urban citizens of Montréal, as the city and real-estate developers frequently point out our major parks when attempting to justify the destruction of smaller green-spaces. Such as it was with regards to Parc Oxygene, a small green-space developed by community members on a piece of otherwise unusable land. The apparent ‘owner’ of the plot has told residents they can just as easily go to Mount Royal Park, Fletcher’s Field or Parc Jeanne Mance, all of which are about a block away. However, much like theatres, concert halls and bars, parks have a capacity, and overloading our parks will inevitably lead to their ruin.

Don’t believe me? Consider the 1976 St-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations, which saw tens of thousands of people descend on Mount-Royal. The damage to the park and pollution from one day’s worth of festivities was more traumatic and required a more extensive clean-up than did the Ice Storm of 1998!