Way back in 1843, Montreal, population 50,000, was big enough to have six whole suburbs to its name. On the west, there was the Recollet Suburb, St. Ann’s Suburb, St. Joseph’s Suburb and the St. Antoine Suburb. On the north, the St. Lawrence Suburb followed the path of St. Lawrence Street, already the city’s main north-south axis. To the east, finally, was the Quebec Suburb, strung along St. Mary Street, the eastern extension of Notre Dame and the main road down river to Quebec City.
Traces of these old extra-muros neighbourhoods are still visible — to an extent. In the early 1970s, nearly all of the Faubourg Québec, commonly known as the Faubourg à m’lasse, thanks to the pervasive odour of molasses from one of its sugar refineries, was demolished for the Maison Radio-Canada, a vast complex home to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Around the same time, most of the rest of it was razed for the east end of the Ville-Marie Expressway. Since the late 1990s, what was left has been redeveloped as a residential area known, naturally enough, as the Faubourg Québec. Wholly uninspired in its architecture and design, one of the only remarkable aspects is a reconstructed viaduct and a small plaza that retraces the old rail line that once ran through the area.
Now, a large part of the old Quebec Suburb is set to be transformed into a high-density, mixed-used neighbourhood centered around the old Viger Station, the Canadian Pacific Railway’s first railroad station/hotel combo. Nearby, the giant CHUM hospital complex is set to be built on the remains of the old neighbourhood that emerged on lower St. Denis after a fire devastated most of the Quebec and St. Lawrence suburbs in 1852. Among the buildings slated to be demolished is the St. Sauveur Church, one of the first buildings to emerge after the fire.
Across town, meanwhile, in the remains of the old St. Ann’s Suburb, better known as Griffintown, the stage is being set for an even more massive redevelopment. Today, details were announced for a $1.3 billion retail, residential, office and entertainment district that will contain at least 3,800 housing units, a theatre, a cinema, office space, two hotels, plenty of retail, a tramway connection to downtown, new parks and plenty of parking.
This area was already decimated in the 1960s and 70s, when much of its old industry and housing stock was demolished, as well as St. Ann’s Church, the focus of its large Irish community, so this redevelopment is almost working with a blank slate. At least it will respect the area’s existing street pattern and incorporate many of its surviving historic structures. It looks like, in both east and west, Montreal’s first suburbs are being remade once again — hopefully this time with a bit more sensitivity than before.
Tags: Exploring the City, Montreal, Urban Design