Place Gérald-Godin in 1979 and 2009. Compilation by Guillaume St-Jean
Over the past decade, Montreal has invested heavily in big-ticket squares and plazas, including the remarkable Place Jean-Paul Riopelle and redesigned Victoria Square, both completed in 2003, and the surprisingly successful Place des Festivals, which opened earlier this year. But some of the smaller new squares are just as impressive, perhaps doubly so for the fact that they’ve been perfectly integrated into the city’s life without any kind of the fuss or introspection demanded by their bigger counterparts.
Place Gérald-Godin is the best example of these small new squares. It sits just outside the sole entrance to Mont-Royal metro, one of the city’s busiest stations, and as a result it’s busy throughout the day. Until recently, however, it wasn’t so much a square as a patch of grass traversed by a couple of asphalt pathways. A building that housed a caisse populaire (and before that, a bicycle shop) occupied the corner of Berri and Mount Royal, next to the station, making the space in front feel like more like an afterthought than a real place.
That changed in 1999, when the square as we know it today came into being. The caisse pop was demolished, opening up a memorable vista of Mount Royal Avenue and the Sanctuaire du Saint-Sacrement and giving the square a sense of centrality and importance that it didn’t have before. The grass was removed and replaced by stone paving blocks (though a grassy patch was left along the side of the square). A kiosk was built to house seasonal businesses, including a round-the-clock fruiterie in the summer months, a Christmas tree shop in the early winter and a maple syrup emporium in the early spring. Behind the metro station, Gérald Godin’s 1983 poem, “Tango de Montréal” — an homage to the city’s immigrants — was mounted on a blank wall in brass letters.
The square has become a neighbourhood hub; if the Plateau can be said to have a centre, this is it. During the summer, there’s always people hanging out on the low stone walls that flank the square; street performers are drawn here by the crowds and there’s an annual art installation. This is simple urbanism at its best: whereas it was once a confused patch of quasi-suburban landscaping, caught between a building’s blank wall and the metro station entrance, it is now a blank slate for the kinds of activities that naturally take place on a busy commercial street.
Tags: Montreal, Plateau Mont-Royal, Public Art, Redevelopment, Squares, Streetlife, Urban Design