In the 19th century, Montreal boomed as an industrial railway hub while Quebec City fell into obscurity. Quebec remained poorly connected by rail to the rest of the continent until the 20th century. A grand chateau-style railway station, called Gare du Palais, was built in 1915 to inaugurate the new railway line crossing the recently-completed Quebec Bridge. A small park with a brutalist fountain by Charles Daudelin was added to the front in 1999, and for some strange reason the contrast works. There’s something grand to this area, leaving you with the misleading impression that Quebec is an important railway hub. But the cavernous emptiness of the halls reveal the truth – only four trains come into the station per day.
A similar urban ensemble exists in Montreal: the chateau-style Gare Viger fronted by Viger Square, part of which was also designed by the same Charles Daudelin. But similarities end here. The vibe in this part of Montreal is post-apocalyptic. The station is no longer operational, its interior turned into a series of fluorescent-lit corridors, and its exterior shell marred by air conditioning units and cheap shingling. As for the public squares fronting the station, the concrete monstrosities seem designed by space aliens on crack. I am baffled as to why Daudelin was given other jobs after ruining a whole chunk of Montreal with this park. I had the misfortune of living in front of this park a few years ago. It is populated by Montreal’s surliest homeless people, armed with syringes and guns, and sometimes the guns go off in the middle of the night. Montreal may be Canada’s historic railway hub, but this part of town certainly doesn’t give that impression, nor does the drab-yet-functional Gare Centrale or the deserted Windsor station, for that matter. Quebec ended up with the nice railway station – Montreal ended up with the actual railways.
Tags: Montreal, Quebec City, Train Stations