July 2nd, 2007

Montreal from Above, 1930

Posted in Canada, History by Christopher DeWolf

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It turns out that Natural Resources Canada has a fairly impressive collection of old aerial photographs. They’ve been kind enough to provide a few samples online; among those are some interesting shots of Montreal from above taken in 1930 and 1952.

The above photo shows the Jacques Cartier Bridge and Lafontaine Park at bottom and Windsor Station at top. In a way, it’s almost like a photographic version of that 1894 map I posted a couple of months ago: you can see how the city was knit together by development before being torn apart by the megaprojects, highways and road widenings of the 1960s. Just look at the area between Victoria Square and the two train stations near the top of the image: this part of town, so densely packed with buildings and crisscrossed by small streets and lanes, has essentially vanished.

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But I don’t want to complain too much, so I’ll turn your attention to two shots of Outremont, the Town of Mount Royal and Côte des Neiges. In the first, taken in 1930, Outremont is mostly built out but the entire swath of CDN near Van Horne Street remains farmland. In fact, at the time, Côte des Neiges was little more than the farming village it had been since the nineteenth century. Nearby, TMR, rigorously planned as a railroad suburb, had only just started to develop, while the lower reaches of nearby Park Extension had already started to fill up with modest cottages, duplexes and triplexes.

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Now take a look at a similar view captured in 1952. Although the angle is wider and the focus is a bit further west, you can still make out TMR’s distinctive street pattern near the photo’s bottom right corner. In the two decades since the previous photo was taken, every single bit of open space had been developed—a testament to just how vigorously Montreal boomed in the postwar years. Anyone who strolls around the lower parts of Côte des Neiges, near Van Horne, must have certainly deduced that from the endless rows of 1940s apartment buildings.

The 1952 photo also offers a broader view of Montreal’s west end. It’s interesting how the newly-developed neighbourhoods look new: their treelessness gives them the effect of standing out from the older cityscape that surrounds them. Notice how some other neighbourhoods stand out, too, like Hampstead or Snowdon’s Circle Road: they deliberately deviate from the surrounding street grid to create an atmosphere of exclusivity.


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  1. Fagstein » I can see my grandmother's house from here! says:

    [...] Chris De Wolf explores some aerial photos of Montreal from the 1930s and 50s. An interesting way to see how the city has changed over the past century. [...]

    July 3rd, 2007 at 12:15 am

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