Tag Archives: Montréal Streets

Charles Dickens Street РMontr̩al

The former Charles Dickens Street, late 1950s - not the work of the author.

This is the aptly named Charles Dickens Street, a former roadway of the City of Montréal.

It’s difficult to tell based on this picture where it was taken, though the underpass and viaduct visible to the right may place it in Griffintown, Pointe-St-Charles, Goose Village or around the Old Port, I imagine East of Place Jacques Cartier.

Wherever it was it no longer exists, though I doubt as a result of some Bill 101 backlash against English sounding place names. Rather, I think these buildings, possibly the entire block, was razed in the mid 1960s as a part of the massive urban renovations going on at that time.

I wonder if anyone who ever lived on this street found their situation as comedic or ironic as I do. Maybe this is just a shitty picture, and isn’t characteristic of the street’s overall personality. I doubt it, as cleaning up urban squalor was big-time fodder for the local press back then. Drapeau was largely elected for the first time to do just that – clean up City Hall, raze the slums, and gentrify urban ghettoes. He was successful, despite himself, but his authoritarian tactics turned many into born-again free market enthusiasts, and a hands-off attitude has characterized Montréal mayors ever since. Pity.

Either way, what with the current exposition at the Centre d’histoire de Montréal on lost neighbourhoods (such as the former Quartier des Mélasses), its still important for locals interested in the urban preservation and conservation movement to discern between what needs to be conserved to maintain a societal and aesthetic balance and the necessity of slum clearance. I’ve heard many people bemoan the loss of so may old buildings during the Drapeau administration, and while some cases are indeed tragic (such as the Van Horne Mansion or the destruction of Goose Village), there seems to be a general wistfulness for the days of cheap urban living in cold-water shacks. If you think student living options aren’t great today, consider that when my mother began university in the early 1970s cold-water flats in rickety old wooden buildings (without proper insulation or fire-proofing) were commonly offered to students as appropriate housing.

So suffice it to say, while I can join in the mourning of the affordable antique residential buildings that were once well-distributed throughout the urban core of the city, I’m not sorry to see the shacks have been razed. Slum clearance wasn’t generally well-handled, at least by current standards, as the episodes of mass clearance should be studied by any city administration with big development plans. At the very least compensation to renters and owners ought to be a chief concern for the city. Back then poor votes didn’t count for much…

More on Boul. de Maisonneuve’s prior history as a massive parking lot

View of Uptown Montréal (President-Kennedy & Aylmer near centre of pic) - 1970 from CIBC Observation Deck; not the work of the author

Man I love looking at this picture.

I mean I hate it as well – what a massive wasteland of parking lots. Look at it!

Today the area is considerably different. Boul. de Maisonneuve was literally carved out of existing cityscape back in the early and mid-1960s at the same time as the Métro tunnel was carved out of the bedrock almost directly beneath. I can understand the argument against this kind of destructive construction in general, but I feel that the city, and this sector in particular, actually benefited immensely from this development.

For one, Boul. de Maisonneuve now serves as a prominent link between diverse neighbourhoods – from NDG/St-Raymond through Westmount, Atwater, the Shaughnessy Village, New Chinatown, the Concordia Ghetto, Crescent Village right into Uptown Montréal, the area largely re-developed as a consequence of Boul. de Maisonneuve’s construction (back in the 1970s it was referred to as Place du Centre and I believe part of the Master Plan would eventually lead to McGill College’s redevelopment in the mid-late 1980s). Extending East, Boul. de Maisonneuve further links up with the Quartier des Spectacles, the Lower Main, the Habitations Jeanne-Mance & Quartier Latin etc. It’s a belt, and this city needs multiple East-West arteries simply to help move the millions of people who flood into the city centre each day.

It’s unfortunate that this sector was developed almost exclusively to serve the skyrocketing demand for retail corporate office space in the 1970s and 1980s, and I think a major fault in that plan – lack of residential housing – is at least partially responsible for the Tremblay administration’s aim to build residential buildings primarily in remaining parking lots in this area. Again, there’s a problem in that most of the new development is condominiums, while the area needs mixed housing and social-services (primary and secondary schools, cultural/community space etc) in order to be a viable neighbourhood with a distinct character, considerations which are vital to its long-term survival.

That being said, we’ve come a long way from above. I would have hated this area back then – I wouldn’t have been able to walk through it without obsessing as to why no one had put a park here (and I think we can all agree this area could use some more public green space). Today, it seems dynamic, clean and well-used. During the day it bustles and it’s pretty clear that the sector is of vital importance to the city’s economy.

What do you think about this picture? Have we been moving in the right direction? Let me know – I’d love to get a better understanding of what the readership honestly thinks about new development in Montréal.

Framed Grandeur

Sherbrooke Street, looking East - May 23rd 2011

Notice how the new Hilton is strategically situated and a bend in Sherbrooke Street thereby allowing it to serve as kind of terminal point, preventing the feeling of an endless trench, while giving the pedestrian a frame of reference. In essence, it removes the idea of endless mass and re-conceives the view as entering a box; slightly more comforting because its defined limit will give way to a new, further border. It’s motion through changing boundaries. The same ‘frame’ is achieved when looking down Hutchinson, though with an added benefit of buildings ‘rising’ from Victorian to Modernist to Post-Modernist in style. In addition, the Port Royal Apartments, the tall grey-white modernist building at left does the same thing if you happen to walking East on Sherbrooke around Atwater. Neat eh?

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!