Big Changes on the Upper Main

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Bingo Villeray, demolished this week

Major demolitions on the Main. Older buildings flattened and replaced by megastores, old folks’ homes, condos.

Not the plot of a dystopian movie: it’s begun this summer on Boulevard Saint-Laurent above Jean-Talon, but the long shabby decline of that part of the street means it’s not at all necessarily a change for the worse.

uppermain51.jpg Saint-Laurent north of Jean-Talon is not a strolling street. If you exit de Castelnau metro and walk north, on your left is the massive institutional pile of the Centre 7400 (left, photo taken during last year’s World Cup; built in 1921 and still property of the Clercs de St-Viateur religious order, mooted to become a satellite campus for Université Laval), then the long green stretch of Jarry Park. North of the park there’s a secondary school and some institutional buildings, headquarters of unions and professional guilds, and then eventually Crémazie and the highway. Teenagers throng around the secondary school when school’s in, but, besides them, very little foot traffic passes along the boulevard.

On your right, for many blocks, is a jumble of dodgy buildings, much of it characterless small-industry boxes and the sort of bleak apartment buildings you hope you’ll never have to live in. The Main has its livelier and its more subdued zones, but between Jean-Talon and Crémazie far more of it is moribund than any soi-disant main street has any right to be.

Turn east off the Main around here and you’re immediately in a residential area, small businesses and cafés on the transverse streets and rows of typical Montreal duplexes and triplexes lining the leafy longitudinal streets. Psychologically, the Main is divorced from that area and, equally, the neighbourhood has its back turned to the boulevard, which has no character except as a barrier that must be crossed to reach Jarry Park. Busy bidirectional road traffic means the Main can never become as vital to neighbourhood life here as it is from Jean-Talon south to the Old Port, but any increase in foot traffic, viable businesses and active retail can only be an improvement. It could hardly decline any further.

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Oscar Leopold, during demolition in early July

This summer several buildings that had at least been partly occupied were standing empty. And then in June workers began to demolish the Oscar Leopold building at Jarry. A two-storey building of little character, it had been a leather coat factory, an outlier to the needletrade district, chiefly noted in the neighbourhood for being the site of occasional warehouse sales. Its demolition was the kind of thing one blinked at, and then shrugged and forgot about, except for a mild curiosity about what would replace it.

This week, a sign went up on the perimeter fence offering jobs at the new Pharmaprix that’s going to be built there, likely flung up onto a frame of I-beams and open for business before the snow flies. With a Jean-Coutu not ten minutes away the need for another big pharmacy in the area isn’t apparent: it will be another box, but at least a box with some connection to the street.

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Russell Rinfret, gutted and under renovation;
the other buildings on the block are now gone

The long block to the south of Jarry contains an Ultramar gas station and a factory/warehouse once occupied by a restaurant equipment distributor. More than half the block was taken up by a Monsieur Muffler garage that was vacated at least a year ago and a large low building that bore the sign “Bingo Villeray” but which I never saw used for anything except temporary flower bouquet sales around Easter and Mother’s Day. (Listings indicate that Oscar Leopold and Russell Rinfret, the resto distributor, have moved further into the suburbs. Bingo was on its way out anyway, but the smoking ban has probably killed it off as a popular activity.)

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Where the bingo hall was, at Gounod Street looking north

The factory/warehouse has been gutted and is being depth-renovated into something more modern, with an office rental sign perched on top. Then last week the demolition guys got to work on the bingo hall and adjoining garage and now there’s nothing there but heaps of scrap on the lot.

This block didn’t even have enough character to be creepy. It had just been a complete dead zone, nothing going on. No reason for anyone to walk along there. Cars turn off into the gas station, and that’s that. Facing it across the boulevard, tucked into a corner of Jarry Park, is Police Station 31 West. A cop loafing in a car in the station driveway told me that an old folks’ home is to be built where the bingo hall was (perhaps incidentally reviving bingo) but there’s room for other things along there as well.

Saint-Laurent at Jules-VerneBetween Gounod and de Castelnau metro are a number of other buildings in various states of occupation and disrepair. One apartment building, shown at right, has been vacated and now bears a sign saying it’s going to be redeveloped. Farhat’s Lebanese bakery, one of the few things along the stretch with any life, has relocated a few blocks away at Casgrain and Gounod, leaving its little box building also empty.

There’s a feeling that more demolition is inevitable, but at least it’s accompanied by a possibility that change will revitalize this part of Montreal’s spinal column. And should the Centre 7400 be converted into a satellite university campus, the presence of hungry students would also enliven the area. It will be interesting to see how it changes in the coming years.

This entry was written by Kate McDonnell , posted on Monday September 03 2007at 02:09 pm , filed under Canada and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Big Changes on the Upper Main”

  • […] is also a contributor at Urbanphoto. On occasion we will publish her work here on Spacing Montreal. In this post, Kate writes about some of the changes underway along the upper part of the Main in her […]

  • A few updates, February 2008:
    The Pharmaprix isn’t open yet, but looks almost complete.
    The Russell Rinfret building underwent renovation and now houses the Cité du Nord caisse populaire, which used to be around the corner on Jarry. It’s not a beautiful building but is more striking than it had been previously.
    Construction continues at the corner of Gounod, but signs suggest it’s going to be ordinary condos, not the old folks’ home the policeman thought.