Corner Saint-Laurent and Sherbrooke
A few years ago there was an outcry when McDonald’s proposed to open a branch on Park Avenue at Mont-Royal. Neighbourhood people were up in arms because its arrival threatened to create a huge eyesore at the edge of the mountain park. McDonald’s opened anyway, keeping its external signs relatively low-key: it’s still there and nobody thinks twice about it.
Not long after, just opposite, a huge garish gas station with an A&W and a dépanneur sprang up. I heard no protest, saw no one speak out against it, but there it sits, testament to the pre-eminence of the car in our lives.
Corner Park and Mont-Royal
Over the last decade, Montreal has seen an ugly invasion of highway-style service stations into its neighbourhoods. Few of its streets have been deemed off-limits for these excrescences and nothing seems to bar them from any neighbourhood save for Old Montreal. No doubt we can expect to see more of them.
It’s understood that the needs of the car are paramount, so there is no will at City Hall or in the boroughs to speak out against the construction of these visual horrors. Somehow these buildings are surrounded with a “this must be tolerated” field. Even at the corner of Sherbrooke and Saint-Laurent, right in your face in what’s currently regarded as the trendiest strip in town, is a massive gas station with a Tim Horton’s attached. I hope it gives international travellers a good laugh at our expense: Saint-Laurent Boulevard was declared a national treasure not so long ago, but even that was not enough to keep the highway from depositing one of its bastard children on its doorstep.
Corner Saint-Laurent and Jean-Talon
Such is the power of corporate suggestion that we have to make an effort to recall that something that might be a welcoming beacon by the Trans-Canada after a few hours on the highway is neither necessary nor suitable on an urban street corner. But the city is apparently powerless to stop the construction of these buildings, largely because we have collectively agreed we don’t see them and we don’t mind. But we should see them, ponder their existence and consider how their overwhelming designs have come to dominate many of our streets. We should question this blight on our neighbourhoods.
Corner Saint-Laurent and Saint-Viateur
A secondary but legitimate concern is that these stations always have a dépanneur attached. These stores represent a deeply unfair source of competition for independent dépanneurs in every neighbourhood where they appear, but I’ve heard little protest about the parachuting-in of such corporate-backed establishments to compete with the more economically vulnerable shops on our local streets.
Station service M.G., corner Saint-Denis and Guizot
And yet gas stations have existed equably within the fabric of the city for decades – stations built on a scale and in a style compatible with their surroundings. Some still exist, although these spots are the ones that tend to fall in and be converted into monster glitz service stations at the drop of a hat.
Corner Saint-Hubert and Gounod
A few examples are shown here of older stations that are still in operation; there’s absolutely no reason why modern stations can’t also be built on a similar scale and in a style to harmonize with their setting. It would be admirable if the city added to its new “green” transit plan a means to hold back the proliferation of the mega-glitz style of service stations, and preferably to bar such establishments from offering any services besides fuelling up vehicles.
Esso station, Nuns Island
One of the city’s obscure architectural gems is this Mies van der Rohe building on Nuns Island that’s a tiny essay in the purest international style. It’s also an Esso station. So don’t tell me it can’t be done. It only remains for us to demand it.
Tags: Gas Stations, Montreal