October 31st, 2006
It took me by surprise one morning, several months ago, looming four stories above the corner of Park and Bernard. An old advertisement, painted on the brick wall of an apartment building, had seemingly appeared overnight. The faint outline of words – a company name and an advertising slogan – were there, albeit barely legible. I had never noticed the ad before; it was if the right amount of moisture and light had convinced it to reappear, at least for a few hours. It was, in a word, ghostly.
It’s no surprise, then, that these painted ads, faded by age and sunlight, are known around the world as “ghost ads” and “ghost signs.” They are the ephemeral remnants of a form of advertising that was once ubiquitous. Hundreds of ghost ads lurk on building tops, alley walls and brick façades around Montreal, yet, somewhat surprisingly, few Montrealers seem to notice them. Ghost ads are intriguing, eccentric and disappearing – catch then while you can.
October 30th, 2006
October 28th, 2006
De l’aube au crépuscule, from dawn to dusk, we do not often notice how the sun plays on surfaces and enters buildings. Of course, when it is too hot, we close the blinds to keep it out. We also enjoy that vitamin D break on a winter’s day when our faces absorb the week rays whilst walking on the sunny side of the street. The greatest source of free energy on earth is our sun and not only does it warm the planet and grow our vegetables; it also freely animates our urban landscape in shadows and shifting perspectives.
Unlike the fixity of cast concrete, cast shadows move as the earth, like a moth to a flame, winds its way around the sun. The sun’s azimuth and altitude change over the four seasons. The cycle expresses itself with ever longer or shorter shadows depending upon which solstice we are approaching. Our shadows get shorter as we move towards the summer and longer as we head into winter.
Sundials record the earth’s progress from hour to hour and the length of the shadow records our progress from season to season. From horizon to zenith, our eyes instinctively pick up Helius’ solar signals from the world around us.
Steel Staircase, Montréal
This simple staircase caresses its brick façade. The angle and depth of the shadow silently tell us about the time of day and season: thoughtful reminders about our place in time.
October 28th, 2006
I’ve moved. Finally settled at last and now have a 3051 postcode — North Melbourne. Not only have a I moved but have also secured full time employment — I’m finally feeling like I’ve arrived home and I wish for the past ten weeks of limbo to become a faint memory ASAP.
Anyhow, North Melbourne. I’m from bush practically, and the bush in the opposite direction from where I am now.
October 28th, 2006
October 28th, 2006
Westway, London: Could this be the Gardiner’s future?
Toronto is going through a municipal election right now and the Spacing Votes blog is doing an admirable job of covering it. One of the issues is the Gardiner Expressway, a much-maligned elevated highway that runs along the Toronto waterfront whose fate has been in question for years. Most simply want to tear it down, but a recent report advocates a “transformation” option: embrace the Gardiner by reclaiming all of the underused space beneath it for community, recreational and commercial use.
October 27th, 2006
Last Saturday, on a chilly, overcast afternoon, I found myself at the foot of the Sir George Étienne Cartier monument on Mount Royal with about two hundred other people. We were there to protest Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s plan to rename Montreal’s Park Avenue after former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, a plan that was hatched in secret and announced without any warning. (For background on the issue, see my two previous posts.) After twenty minutes of hanging around the park, enjoying the supportive honks of passing motorists, we marched to Tremblay’s house in Outremont, where we lambasted the mayor for his refusal to consult the public or even his own party’s councillors before deciding to erase a historically important 123-year-old name.
Naturally, the mayor wasn’t home, but our point got through: since then, several major columnists, public figures, organizations and city councillors have declared their opposition to the renaming.
October 26th, 2006
Mile Enders are used to street art, so it takes something special to catch their collective eye. Lately, people have been noticing the work of Francisco Garcia, a thirtysomething artists whose painted black-and-white posters have appeared above storefronts and on alley walls all around the Montreal neighbourhood. In an article published last year, Reading Montreal praised Garcia’s paintings for their “restrained composition, muted greyscale shading” and “honest depiction of unstylized unadorned people.” Most recently, those people have included the entire staff of Open Da Night, an Italian sports café on St. Viateur Street, in a series of six posters mounted across the street from the café. It’s a cheeky and poignant homage to one of Mile End’s most beloved institutions.
October 24th, 2006
I was having coffee with a French immigrant recently and the conversation swung towards Schwartz’s. He recalled seeing a group of kids, on a class trip from somewhere else in Canada, lining up to eat there. “When I went on school trips in France it was always about going to castles or battlefields, ‘Napoleon did this and that here,’” he said to me. “Here it’s different. There aren’t any castles; the culture here is a popular culture. People go to Schwartz’s because of that. It’s where you feel the history of Montreal and its immigrants.”
With that in mind, it was about time that Schwartz’s got its own movie. Last night, Garry Beitel’s documentary, Chez Schwartz, premiered at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.
October 23rd, 2006
As part of the École de Technologie Supérieur’s planned Phase III expansion, the college acquired several underused or empty lots in the quadrangle between Notre-Dame, Peel, Mountain and Ottawa streets. Just recently, demolition notices appeared on two buildings on the south side of Notre-Dame; there’d been an UQAM-logoed sign advising people not to park on the empty bit in between for some time before that.
The smaller of the two buildings – in reality a very old house with a storefront – is starting to come down now. I’ve contacted the ETS to find out what, exactly, they’re planning to build there. (Updates as they occur.)
October 22nd, 2006
Notting Hill Gate
October 21st, 2006
The sad story of Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul in Quebec City reaches new levels of mediocrity with every passing year.
October 20th, 2006
The controversy over the decision to rename Montreal’s Park Avenue after Robert Bourassa (see Wednesday’s “Robert Bourassa Is Stealing My Street”) continues to mushroom. Yesterday, the Gazette devoted three pages to the news, all of it highly critical of the renaming. It followed this morning with two more pages of angry letters and commentary. La Presse also weighed in today with an excellent column by Michèle Ouimet and an insightful article on the renaming of Dorchester Boulevard after René Lévesque, another dead premier, eighteen years ago.
Park Avenue has been around since 1883 and a large part of the city — Mile End and Park Extension, most notably — grew up around it. Many Montrealers have a sentimental attachment to the street, especially since a lot of them can trace their family history back to Park Avenue, which has welcomed successive waves of immigrants for more than a century. Greek Montrealers even have a word to describe the string of neighbourhoods along the avenue: Parkaveneika. Erasing its name also erases a big chunk of Montreal’s heritage.
But there is another issue at play: the arrogant, unilateral actions of Mayor Gérald Tremblay.
October 20th, 2006
In Kansas City, Missouri hath dwelt a project that portends a riotous, semi-calamitous melieu of consternation for the benefactors, the commoners, and even the neer-do-wells. Here is the Nelson Atkins Museum of Fine Art in its known form:
Then, one day, the powers that be decided there simply wasn’t enough room for all of the art on hand, and thence architect of prominence Steven Holl was commissioned to design an expansion. You’ll either love it or hate it. Tool sheds and Butler Buildings… or revolutionary architecture.