Friday, March 11, 2011

Growing up in Montreal

I've been interested with architecture for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was young I looked at how buildings worked, and I wondered why a McDonalds looked the same, no matter where in the city it was. I lived in a tall building in St. Laurent, and since school was nearby and all the students lived nearby, there was no reason to travel outside the city and explore back then. All I knew was that I lived in a nice big concrete building. It was strong and I felt safe... I remember our balcony and the fact there were openings on both side large enough to dangle my foot out of. It sacred me when i peaked out and looked at the ground from the 11th floor... I liked the height because it amde me feel powerful. It was fun being able to see so far away! I was close to a highway too, and I could look out my window and watch the cars pass by on their daily commute to and from work. There was the footsteps of the people above us. Being in the city made me feel like I was never alone.

As I grew up and the brother came along, we moved to a suburban house, and I stayed there for many years. I'd go downtown very rarely maybe a handful of times during my teenage years. I ws always impressed by the architecture. It looked so old, and I never realized how old it was until I started my life in art history, and I could see in a photograph the montreal that was. I don't think people are as impressed and awe struck as I am when i see a picture from the late 19th century, or the mid 20's for example, and people are walking around in suits and house carriages and such, and the only thing I could recognize, the only thing I could see that would prove to me that the location of this photograph is really in that part of the city was the building in the background. It looks the same today, the road leads up to it, just like it used to! I can even read the painted ad on the wall, which is worn or partially blocked today. I think every time I go downtown (and that's essentially every day, I go to school downtown now) that i had some way to go back to that time, when the photograph was taken. I'd do anything to see the tramways pass, to see the men in their suits and the women in dresses, and to see everything in colour, with my own eyes. I'd love to experience it, instead of just seeing a black and white picture. don't get me wrong, I'm glad it's here, to show me what was... as proof that this time was real. I just feel like it's teasing me... it gives me a taste, but doesn't let me in more then that.

I found this movie on the National Film Board Website titled The Memories of Angels. It's not the first one I've posted focusing on Montreal and this wasn't even what I was originally planning on putting up ( an interview with Jean Drapeau about his plans to build a highway infrastructure way back in '55.) It's a cutup of different scenes, put together by Luc Bourdon, from the many movies the NFB did over the 50's and 60's focusing on Montreal. Apparently I'm not the only one who imagines how the city used to be (or perhaps he's just reliving his childhood?), but seeing montreal moving like that made me happy.

I haven't had the chance to watch the entire thing, I scrolled through certain screens, but the last 15 minutes were saddening to me, especially the part where they tear down buildings. I've always found that each building we tear down today, robs our children of a piece of Montreal's beauty. I might be afraid of change but I don't find Postmodernist architecture all that beautiful on the most part (the Concordia buildings are in fact quite nice; the art history auditorium is actually a really nice place, apart from all the stains on the seats.) Realistically, if we want the city to grow, there's two ways; expand upward, or outward. If we expand outward, we contribute to urban sprawl... it takes us longer to get to work, clogs up our infrastructure and is bad for the environment. If we go upwards, well, we can't save as many buildings as we'd like. The truth is Montreal is kind of a low city, at least towards its center, and we'd have to demolish old buildings to create the high rises we'd need to have to avoid urban sprawl. Either way the answer is not easy, and most likely a combination of both will have to be done. So Enjoy the movie and I guess we'll see where Montreal will be in the future

The Memories of Angels by Luc Bourdon


  1. J'adore tout particulièrement e que tu as écrit aujourd'hui. J'adore regarder des vieilles images de la ville de montreal et j'aime savoir a quoi servait les buildings. Par exemple, le Ritz Carlton, dans le temps ou le Golden Square Mile était le quartier le plus riche du canada, était l'appartement des hommes riches qui travaillaient Downtown et qui avaient une maison a westmount avec femmes et enfants. Au Ritz, ils menaient une vie secrète avec leurs maitresses... Et maintenant il y a des penthouses de luxe tu imagines!!! Je me demande comment seront nos buildings et nos appartements dans 50-60 ans!!! Quel souvenirs allons nous laisser? Quelle est le patrimoine du 21e siècle? Des condos construits a la vitesse de l'eclair qui vont tomber en ruine?

  2. hmm exactly. notre idee de montreal va changer... comme ca a change pour now ancetres... you can't go back to the past.. no matter how hard you try you can't go back.. you just have to go forward...

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  4. Did you know that the guy who owns the land that the Maison Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine occupies is the owner of some art gallery on Sherbrooke and doesn't seem to give a fuck about that insanely historical house?

  5. what really!? I didn't know that! what a prick.