A popular tourist destination, Old Montreal and the Old Port have gained popularity amongst locals in recent years, as seen by an increase in both residents and businesses. Settled in 1642, it is now home to historical landmarks and museums, government buildings, restaurants, bars and clubs, art galleries and souvenir shops. During the period of late spring to early fall it is a bustling district. Coupled with its many outdoor spaces, it is the perfect host for the seasonal Third Place.
In the summer, all of Montreal seems to spring into action due to extended store hours, the arrival of seasonal vendors, and a heightened period of internationally recognized festivals, events and concerts. Attention is paid to people at the community level, the utilization of the spaces around them and the exchange of ideas and information in an array of capacities and places.
By taking the time to enjoy one’s surroundings both equally indoors and outdoors, throughout Montreal’s diverse neighbourhoods, people truly make use of the Third Place, beyond that of the primary place of home and the secondary place of work. According to urban planning sociologist Ray Oldenburg, the Third Place is one where everybody knows your name. Thus, NBC’s “Cheers” got it right: a comfortable, regularly frequented location within outdoor and pseudo-commercial public spaces that prompts conversations between strangers and friends alike.
While the warmer months offer virtually unlimited place making possibilities and thus increased opportunities for community building, the winter months host a strikingly different scene. When outside temperatures can feel like -30°C, Montrealers simply hustle from Point A to Point B, heads down against the gusty winds, eyes watering, noses running. It’s a familiar scene, even in the city’s historical district.
While Montrealers are hustling from Point A to B, the city of Montreal heavily promotes winter events and activities in Old Montreal. While the ClockTower Beach is closed, an ice fishing village takes primary focus on the frozen St. Lawrence river below. Similarly, the Old Port skating rink replaces paddle-boating along the river. Electronic music festival Igloofest and artistic all-nighter Nuit Blanche also draw thousands of people to the area on winter nights.
Yet a shift occurs in the winter from place-making to mobility. When most people enter Old Montreal in the colder months, they generally have a goal-specific destination in mind and intend to get there by the quickest means possible. The streets, rather than acting as a gathering point, transform solely into a means of travel. For this reason the city only pedestrianizes certain streets during the summer, when walkability within neighbourhoods is at its prime. As such, while the Old Port waterfront is a permanently designated pedestrianized zone, it is underused during the winter because people are generally uncomfortable in the cold for extended periods of time.
Further, many businesses operate seasonally, specifically cafés, restaurant terraces, cycling tours, and artist pop-up vendors selling jewelry, crafts and paintings. Public spaces like the Jacques-Cartier Square and Rue des Artistes are virtually void of activity when these commercial venues are absent during the winter.
Though the use of outdoor spaces may decrease during the winter and the streets lose their place-making capacities due to an increased focus on mobility, indoor pseudo-commercial public spaces become ever more important for place-making.
Which indoor or outdoor public spaces act as a Third Place in your city?
Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.