November 11 2013

Restoring an “Industrial Ghost” in Montreal, Canada

Griffintown Tower, Montreal, Canada

It is a strange building, made entirely of white concrete, with a mysterious shape. Abandoned for nearly ten years, the Wellington Switch Tower, a gem from Montreal’s industrial past, will now take on a new life.

For fifty-seven years, this two-story bunker, located near the Lachine canal in the Griffintown neighborhood, housed the switching center for trains and boats that passed into the area. At the time, Montreal was Canada’s industrial center: the inspectors posted in the Wellington tower carried out up to 800 train switching operations every day. Yes, 800 train operations every day. And that is without counting the tens of boats that passed through the Lachine canal.

Nearly everything that entered and left Montreal’s factories passed by here,” says Anne-Marie Dufour, architect at the Division of Culture and Heritage of the City of Montreal.

Wellington Tower was constructed in 1943, in the middle of the Second World War. That may be why it has the appearance of a bunker. At the time, with an industrial boom underway because of the war, buildings were intended to be functional, sturdy, and efficient.

The tower remained in operation until the beginning of the 2000s. Since then, it has been abandoned. Squatters have taken up residence. It is covered in graffiti.

Interior of Griffintown Tower, Montreal, Canada

Towards a Cultural Venue

As part of the revitalization of the Griffintown neighborhood, the Wellington Tower will be given a new life: the City of Montreal has just called for propositions that will give the building a cultural function. “We want to contribute to the activity and cultural life of the neighborhood,” said Richard Adam, head of the city’s Division of Culture and Heritage.

The tower could, for example, house an art gallery, a café, or a small performance venue, speculates Adam. The goal is to inaugurate several locations in 2016 or 2017 for Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

The city invites cultural organizations to submit proposals for the reopening of Wellington Tower.

This new cultural connection can only be beneficial for the Griffintown neighborhood, which often looks like an example of failed urban planning: towers of one or two-bedroom condos for retirees or childless professionals. At a time when the city is looking to curb the exodus of young families to the suburbs, Griffintown’s developers have forgotten to account for a school, playgrounds, and housing for neighborhood families.

The Wellington Tower and its surroundings will at the very least embellish the area. The small Smith Road, which leads to the Lachine canal will be transformed into a promenade for pedestrians. But for the time being, the neighborhood is one of the largest construction sites in Montreal, where cranes and bulldozers bustle about in a terrible racket.

In cases such as that of Griffintown, can cultural and recreational spaces promote further development and urban planning efforts, or should other concerns be addressed first?

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

The original article, published in French, can be found here.

Marcus Khoury

Marcus Khoury is a recent graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where he obtained a B.A. in French & Francophone Studies. Aside from his native Michigan, Marcus has lived in several states, in addition to France and Chile. Owing to his experiences with a variety of cultures, languages, and environments, he has always been keenly interested in how the exchange of ideas between different cities, regions, and countries helps to shape both physical and cultural landscapes. His linguistic background, in addition to his interest in the diversity of international urban environments and experiences, has led Marcus to fill the position of French Language Translator at The Grid, where he will be translating and presenting French language material involving environmental design.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 11th, 2013 at 9:40 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Marcus Khoury, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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