The Montreal metro being built under de Maisonneuve, early 1960s
For a long time, the boulevard de Maisonneuve was one of my least favourite streets in Montreal. It was built in the 1960s by linking and widening four distinct streets: de Montigny, Burnside, St. Luc and Western. The final product was a Frankenstein’s monster of crudely-stitched appendages and half-healed wounds.
In the east end of downtown, near Place des Arts, the street curved through a landscape of parking lots and weedy terrains vagues. Further west, it sliced through blocks of greystones and apartment houses, creating a sad streetscape of crudely amputated buildings. Although the metro runs underneath, de Maisonneuve’s primary objective has always been to funnel cars through the city centre, and it was never very pleasant to walk along its narrow sidewalks. The push for automotive supremacy went so far that the road was tunnelled straight through the lobby of an apartment building whose owner refused to sell to the city.
Then, in the mid 2000s, things began to change. The real estate market awoke from a decade-long slumber and new apartment towers rose along the central stretch of de Maisonneuve. The city widened sidewalks and planted trees. Further east, in the Quartier des Spectacles, the 1960s-era curve was straightened, slowing traffic and creating space for some whimsical new public spaces. The renovation of Norman Bethune Square near Concordia University gave the western stretch of de Maisonneuve a prominent facelift. In 2008, a lane of traffic was taken from cars and given to bikes, which immediately gave the hodgepodge street the kind of singular identity it had always lacked.
De Maisonneuve still doesn’t have the cohesiveness of a street that developed organically over a long period of time, like Ste. Catherine or Mount Royal. But, in less than a decade, many of the scars caused by its mid-century transformation have been healed. It’s a lesson in just how long it can take for cities to adapt to sudden and dramatic changes. Haussmann might have made quick work with his boulevards, but Houston Street in Manhattan is still lined by severed buildings and empty lots nearly 80 years after it was widened.
De Maisonneuve in 2008, after façade renovations, the construction of new sidewalks, a bike path and new residential towers
Among the then-and-now photos of Guillaume St-Jean are some that depict the urban scars caused by the road widening, extensions and realignments of the 1960s. I’ve collected a few here.
René-Lévesque Boulevard, 1955 and 2007
René-Lévesque, fomerly Dorchester, was widened in the 1950s
René-Lévesque Boulevard, 1979 and 2011
Notre Dame Street, 1940 and 2011
Notre Dame Street was widened to handle traffic from the Ville-Marie Expressway
President Kennedy near Bleury, 1979 and 2011
President Kennedy was built in the 1960s
St. Urbain and St. Antoine, 1920 and 2010
St. Urbain was widened in the 1960s
Tags: Montreal, Redevelopment, Revitalization, Then and Now