Tag Archives: Urban Preservation

New Condos for Overdale, No News re: Future of Lafontaine House

YUL Condos from Mackay and René-Lévesque - not the work of the author
YUL Condos from Mackay and Ren̩-L̩vesque Рnot the work of the author

*Author’s note re: the above rendering. I’ve gone and checked – the trees along the left and right edges of the rendering above do not exist. In fact, the one at left could not exist as it would be located somewhere in the westbound turning lane of René Lévesque Boulevard. Also, the intersection at Mackay doesn’t look like that, and there’s no park on the right; it’s another shitty parking lot.

And now for something completely different.*

News on the real estate front, yet another developer is planning a massive condo project for downtown Montreal.

To be located on the Overdale Block (Crescent to Mackay, south of Boul. René-Lévesque) the YUL Condos project seeks to complete two 38-floor residential towers, as depicted above, in addition to about 20 townhouses along Overdale street, both components opening onto a central courtyard. The towers will be on the René-Lévesque side and the townhouses on the opposite side, where their stature will be more in keeping with the ‘human scale’ of old Victorian grey stones.

Admittedly, this project is a bit different from others, namely because it’s being shopped to a foreign clientele; sales offices have opened in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the main financing is coming from a consortium of Asian-Canadian investors. Considering this project’s proximity to Concordia University and the large Chinese population living in Shaughnessy Village, I feel it’s likely this project will be realized, perhaps before other similarly sized projects aimed at locals. This project aims to tap into a different kind of market. I have a feeling this condo complex is going to end up housing a lot of wealthy foreign students.

In any event, I’m merely speculating. How our housing market hasn’t yet tanked is beyond me.

So build, baby, build, right?

While I’m glad the useless empty lot will be filled with decently attractive residential towers and townhouses, I’m delighted the developer is also planning a renovation of the Lafontaine House. Perhaps more surprising, it’s not entirely clear what will go immediately behind the Lafontaine House, and so in the conceptual renderings it’s been left as a green space.

The developers are insistent that they’d like to see the Lafontaine House used for educational purposes, be it as a museum or interpretive centre, but they were also quick to point out that they’re not in that line of business. So I suppose this means we need our elected officials to get off their asses and make a move.

Not bloody likely, this is Lafontaine’s House after all.

For those of you not in the know, Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine was the first Canadian to become Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada, the political entity which immediately precedes modern Canada (itself beginning with Confederation in 1867). Lafontaine, along with co-Prime Minister Robert Baldwin, instituted a wide variety of reforms which continued the gentle push towards independence. He was the very first PM to preside over a responsible government and worked tirelessly (and ultimately succeeded) in having French return to official status, something which proudly remains to this day.

You may wonder why the house of such a man as this should be in an advanced state of disrepair, and why no government agency has stepped in to preserve it.

It’s a good question, one I unfortunately do not have an answer to.

But in the current political climate, it’s unlikely the Lafontaine House will be saved either by Québec City or Ottawa. For separatists, Lafontaine (a committed Patriote during the Rebellions of 1837-38) is the source of original sin – he’s viewed as a traitor because he worked with other rebels from Upper Canada (modern day Ontario) in creating Canada. The separatists have often portrayed the Rebellion of 1837 as a simple French vs. English conflict which resulted in Québec’s first martyrs. The reality, as is always the case, was far more complex. In fact, the dual rebellions (which occurred in both Québec and Ontario) pitted Canadians of multi-ethnic origins against the British Empire. Ergo, Canada vs. the United Kingdom, not French vs. English. Lafontaine’s experiences during the Rebellion of 1837 convinced him to pursue the peaceful path towards national sovereignty. His ideal vision of Canada was one in which Aboriginals, French, Métis, Scots, Irish, Loyalist Blacks, Americans and yes even the English would live together in harmony, their commitment more towards a common set of social and political values rather than blood lines and language. Back in the day, this was cosmopolitanism in Canada. It was profoundly progressive thinking and it worked. The Canada we have today, and the Canadian ideal we aspire to, are largely thanks to Lafontaine.

And on that note, another example of why the Parti Québécois won’t be handing over any money to the man who did far more to preserve the French language in Canada than Bill 101 or the Official Languages Act combined. The Parti Québécois simply does not believe multiculturalism is a Québec value.

That it is a Canadian value, largely put into practice by the original Canadiens and our unofficially first Prime Minister over a century before the Quiet Revolution, is of little interest to the populist, reactionary and wholly myopic PQ.

And for that matter, Lafontaine’s house likely won’t be saved by our current federal government either. The Tories prefer a ‘blood & guts’ history that posits Canadians as frontiersmen, warriors etc. It’s a gigantic clusterfuck of idiocy, in my personal opinion, and is severely degrading to our nation’s actual comprehension of our history, but the Tories simply don’t want to know of anything else. Lafontaine’s commitment to peace, order and restraint in the face of adversity is hardly exciting enough to keep Tories’ attention.

So I’m a bit pessimistic government will save the day (do they ever?), but perhaps our new mayor might be a bit more forward thinking.

Lafontaine’s House must be preserved and used to educate the public. It should be both a national historic monument and a public museum and/or interpretive centre; remember it’s free to mail your MP should you happen to agree with me.

Suffice it to say I’d really hate to see this become a private residence, though that’s what will likely happen. If that’s the course of action, hopefully the grounds behind are used for a nice garden; I think it’d be too much to ask private real estate developers to set aside land for a park. Lord knows the current civic administration couldn’t be bothered to do so.

As to the proposed building complex, while I find it aesthetically pleasing and am happy to see the inclusion of the townhouses, I’m less than thrilled there’s no social housing provision (yet again). At a time when our homeless population is steadily increasing and low-cost housing is disappearing from the urban centre (where it’s most needed), we, the actual citizens of Montreal, have no need for more condo towers. But these really aren’t being marketed locally, and it’s not the developer’s responsibility to build such units, it’s up to the city to mandate it.

I only bring this up because, prior to the shady dealings which lead to the razing of Overdale, it was nothing but low-cost housing, and right in the middle of the city too.

That’s a big issue to get in to, one I’ve discussed before but won’t again here. Read this instead, pretty comprehensive.

Montr̩al РThe Neighbourhood Revived

Montr̩al РThe Neighborhood Revived by Michel R̩gnier, National Film Board of Canada

Found an interesting documentary, first in the URBA 2000 series produced for the NFB in 1974.

As described, in the mid-1970s was an established leader in urban renewal.

We’ve got a forty, possibly fifty year old tradition of urban renewal and preservation via maintenance of desirable residential neighbourhoods within the urban core.

Though all these buildings seem to still exist throughout much of what I would call the most desirable neighbourhoods adjacent and integrated into the urban tapestry, I’ve noticed that these neighbourhoods are far, far greener today than back then. There are many more ‘pocket parks and playgrounds’ disrupting the long rows of triplexes and duplexes, more trees lining the streets and alleyways like veritable jungles.

When this documentary was made protecting trees and green space within the urban environment and first ring residential zones was still very new. Efforts to accomodate families in subsidized housing were relatively new as well, though the city counted more than half of its city-owned apartments with more than three closed bedrooms. Also novel at the time – clearing out the old backyard sheds (which were no longer needed as homes were no longer heated with coal or wood) and developing back yards.

Amazing this was all head-scratchingly new in 1974. Good watch.

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…