Vintage Aerials

Looking north over Lafontaine Park and the Plateau in 1965

It’s a rare treat to come across some aerial photographs that are both old and high-resolution. I recently happened across a bunch in the Flickr photostream of Le présent du passé de Montréal, who also has lots of photos of street scenes, markets, buses and streetcars from the 1940s to the 1980s.

While there’s some good shots of the central parts of the city, like the one above, most of the aerials focus on Montreal’s north end. The photo below shows the notorious Acadie Circle in 1974. The parking lot of the Rockland Centre mall is on the lower right and the north end of Park Extension is just above that. The empty fields on the centre-left have since become home to the Marché Central, a wholesale food market surrounded by a terrible collection of suburban big-box stores.

The Metropolitan Expressway at Acadie Circle, 1974

Looking south towards Crémazie and Saint-Denis, 1980

My favourite photos were taken around Jean-Talon Street on October 13, 1977. At first, it might seem that very little has changed — all the buildings are the same, except for a few new additions — but a closer inspection reveals a much different neighbourhood than the one that exists today. Jean-Talon seemed like much less of a retail street back then, with fewer commercial spaces. There was no sign of the immigrant communities that would establish themselves along the street in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s — the space at Saint-Denis and Jean-Talon that is now home to a large Chinese supermarket was a “Centre du Billard” back then.

The Jean-Talon Market seems like it was much less lively than it is today. The photos were taken in mid-October, right when the fall harvest is at its peak, but the market is virtually empty, with only a handful of stalls scattered amidst all the parked cars.

The late 70s were probably the market’s nadir. It was a period when the city’s population was beginning a long decline due to suburban flight and a weak economy; the waves of new immigrants that revitalized the market and surrounding neighbourhood in the 1980s and 90s hadn’t yet arrived. If you took an aerial photo from the same spot today, you’d see a market that has expanded to twice its original size, with plenty of spillover retail in the surrounding streets.

East down Jean-Talon from Saint-Denis, 1977

Jean-Talon and de Châteaubriand, 1977

Looking west over the Jean-Talon Market, 1977

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday November 01 2010at 04:11 am , filed under Canada, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

7 Responses to “Vintage Aerials”

  • I can only imagine what sort of zoning disaster lead to the Tour Bell on Jean-Talon. Part of me wants to appreciate the Transit Oriented Development aspect, but… really? I assume the lot was empty as a result of metro construction, but, even so, I cannot imagine a building like that going up without a fight. Can any villeray/petite-italie old hands elucidate?

    As much as people will bitch endlessly about Montreal’s problems – urbanistic, linguistic, or economic – I continue to be taken aback by the positive changes that this city has undergone in recent decades. Unbelievable, really.

  • Michael, I’ve always admired your usernames.

    I’d like to know whether there was any opposition too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t any. Community groups and development watchdogs seemed limited to areas like Milton-Park in the 1970s, which is why things like Cité Concordia were averted while poorer neighbourhoods got stuck with disasters like Place Saint-Henri.

  • C. Szabla says:

    Keep in mind that serious investment and modern construction were considered “positive changes” in previous decades, which explains part of a lack of opposition. Future generations will probably view today’s urban planning trends with the same contempt at some point in time.

  • Alex Gore says:

    I love the picture of the Acadie Circle, does it work well?

  • Nick says:

    Alex, the circle is no longer there. Within the last 10 years, a new interchange has been constructed. I never had any problems negotiating the circle back in the day, but I can’t comment on whether the new solution is better, since traffic patterns in the area have changed so much over the years, especially with all the development in Marché Central (top left); big box stores, multiplex, restaurants, etc.

    Finally, important note, for as long as I drove the old circle, there were lights controlling traffic around it, so it didn’t function as a conventional rotary during my time.

  • The new interchange was built by a corrupt construction company and tends to flood everytime there’s a big rainstorm…

  • Nick says:

    It still floods? I remember it flooded during some massive rainstorms 2-3 years back, and some less massive ones. I haven’t lived in Mtl since 2004 so I haven’t paid attention day to day.

    Look at the 1974 pic. Notice all the greenery around the circle. The new construction is virtually devoid of vegetation (not sure if they added any since the first floods). Besides fresh air and esthetics, plant life and soil are also very good at absorbing lots of water