Forget the Avenue, How About a Square?

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The new Pine/Park intersection nearing completion
Photo from Midnight Poutine

Those hoping for a resolution to the Park Avenue affair will have to wait a bit longer. On Tuesday, Quebec’s provincial toponomy commission met to decide whether or not to approve the Montreal city council’s plan to rename Park Avenue and Bleury Street after former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa. (For background on the issue, check out our Park Avenue section.) As expected, the commission, faced with hundreds of letters in support of Park Avenue and a legal team headed by civil rights lawyer Julius Grey and Chinese community activist and Mile End resident May Chiu, decided to delay their decision until they had a chance to consider all of the input they received. A number of commentators have pointed out that, if it follows its own highly-publicized criteria, the commission will have no choice but to reject the renaming, reasons being that it has caused enormous controversy, the public was not adequately consulted and the name Park Avenue has not lost its cultural and historical relevance.

Today, however, news outlets are reporting that the commission might in fact avoid approving or rejecting the renaming by instead proposing a compromise. No word on what that compromise might be, but an editorial in Tuesday’s Le Devoir offers an elegantly simple solution: name the newly-rebuilt Park/Pine intersection after Robert Bourassa.

In the editorial, Joseph Baker, former president of the Ordre des architectes du Québec, writes:

Au cours des deux dernières années, l’avenue du Parc et l’avenue des Pins ont subi une transformation remarquable: la toile de béton enchevêtrée tissée par les ingénieurs d’antan, trop enthousiastes, a été condamnée au pic et abattue. À sa place, on trouve aujourd’hui un carrefour traditionnel doté de feux de circulation.

L’union des deux secteurs de l’avenue du Parc a fait l’objet d’une approbation quasi universelle. Des perspectives dont on se souvenait à peine se sont présentées, au grand étonnement des générations récentes: au nord celle du Parc Mont-Royal, et au sud, celle du centre-ville. D’un coup, les familles de la vibrante communauté de Milton Park accèdent sans obstacles aux pentes vertes de la montagne et au parc Jeanne-Mance et, par ailleurs, un lien est rétabli avec les communautés multiculturelles du secteur situé au nord.

Et voilà que nous retrouvons la vraie avenue du Parc, avec toute sa richesse culturelle et historique, une véritable cause de célébration, où il y certainement une place pour l’honorable Robert Bourassa.

Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea. But first, some background. The intersection of Park and Pine Avenue is a visual and physical gateway to Mount Royal, a place where the built fabric of the city gives way to Montreal’s central green space. In the 1940s, photos show this intersection as a simple square; by the end of the 1950s, however, it had been replaced by an complicated interchange meant to be part of a belt of expressways that surrounded the mountain. The Pine/Park Interchange was notorious for its blind curves and hostility to pedestrians. In the 1990s, as maintenance was deferred, it became known for crumbling concrete and ubiquitous potholes. Three years ago, the decision was made to demolish the interchange and replace it with a surface-level intersection that would calm traffic and prioritize pedestrians and cyclists. Last fall, the new intersection was completed.

The new crossing of Park and Pine is as open and accessible as the old one was cloistered and confusing. It affords a beautiful and uncluttered view of Mount Royal. Since several parcels of land within the intersection will be landscaped and turned into public plazas, a proper name for it seems fitting. So why not Place Robert-Bourassa? The former premier is honoured in a new Montreal landmark and Park Avenue and Bleury Street get to keep their names. What’s not to love?

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The old Pine/Park interchange just before its demolition

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The intersection of Pine and Park in the 1940s
This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Friday January 19 2007at 03:01 am , filed under Canada, Heritage and Preservation, Politics, Society and Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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