Hopeful about Les bassins du nouveau havre


“Actually, they are the basins of the ancien havre but that ‘s what happens when the branding guys get hold of this,” commented Mark Poddubiuk, an architect who has worked on the project, in his email inviting me to the Canada Post site open house today.

A detail perhaps, but the historical significance of this area has profoundly shaped the project. Located between rue Ottawa and the Lachine Canal, and bordered by Richmond street and Rue du Séminaire, this site was once the cradle of Montreal’s industrial revolution. The Bassins du nouveau havre project would excavate the four St-Gabriel Basins, which were built between 1848 and 1885 and later filled in with earth from the metro system.

Two of the basins would be completely excavated, maximizing water-front homes (and even lending some extra waterfront to the adjacent Griffintown project). Another two basins would be partially excavated to reveal their historic structure and then used as recreational green space.

The proposal would also reconnect the local street grid by re-opening rue Basin as the neighbourhood’s main street. The North-South links would all be pedestrian and the canal-side bike path would bridge the reconstituted piers.


A panorama of the bassins in 1896 (from the Bassins du nouveau havre press package).


The Canada Lands corporation is once again working with local architecture firm L’OEUF, as they did for the international award-winning Benny Farm housing development. Mark Poddubiuk, an architect with L’OEUF,  says that the proposal meets the criteria for LEED neighbourhood development certification.

Neighbourhood commerces and a focus on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure mean that car-ownership will be far from a necessity. One innovative system would divert all the rainwater runoff from the site into a filtration pond located in the 2nd basin, rather than into city’s storm sewers. A central waste processing system for garbage, compost and recyclables has also been proposed.

Furthremore, and site will be decontaminated during the excavation of the basins and the Canada Post building will be dismantled so that the component materials can be re-used and recycled as much as possible.


After consulting with local community groups, the Canada Lands corporation has made housing for families a focus of the project. The development would include 1400 condos, of which a quarter are to be designed for families with children; 400 units of social housing (for instance housing co-ops), and 200 affordable private units. Of the social and affoardable housing, half the homes would cater to families with children.

Poddubiuk explains that family-friendly housing means large units with 2 or 3 bedrooms, ground access, play parks and recreational facilities.  Yep, that’s an outdoor swimming pool in Basin 1 – or it will be if the developers can find someone to pay for it. Just north of there, a sports field will double as a skating rink during the winter.

Although the plans were inspired by successful family-friendly housing developments in Europe, Poddubiuk says that a big questions remains as to whether condo-style living will really capture the hearts of North American families.


Proposed zoning for the Bassins du nouveau havre: red is commercial, orange is mixed use (local commerces with residential above) yellow is residential, with social and family housing concentrated in the 2nd pier from left; numbers represent building height in stories.

Another Griffintown?

Its hard not to compare and contrast the Bassins du nouveau havre with the neighbouring Projet Griffintown. The plans for the Canada Lands site are being released just one day after Devimco announced that construction Griffintown Project will be delayed, due to difficulty in recruiting financial backers in the current economic downturn.

“In the economic slowdown, we have to recognize the value of crown corporations who have decided to invest [in Montreal]” said Mayor Gerald Tremblay this afternoon. The Canada Lands spokesperson also pointed out that, since the site is a surplus government land, the developer does not have to negotiate the purchase parcel by parcel with local property-owners.

Here are a few other distinctions I’ve noted so far:

  • During the press conference, one member of the Irish community who grew up in the neighbourhood during the 1930s thanked the presentors for respecting the neighbourhood’s history and engaging in constructive dialogue with community partners. During Projet Griffintown‘s public sessions, community members expressed outrage that historical buildings would be destroyed or displaced.
  • The Bassins project reconnects the historical street grid while the Griffintown project eliminated streets by lumping several blocks together under giant towers.
  • The Bassins will undergo public consultation by the Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal in the spring. The Griffintown project tried to bypass this by running public consultation through the borough only.
  • After the site is decontaminated and the infrastructure in place, the Bassins will ultimately be developed by various private firms and co-ops, whereas Devimco would remain the proprietor of the entire Projet Griffintown site, and the landlord of the commercial spaces.

The developers encourage feedback from the public on their website, although unfortunately they provide no forum for public comments and debate. Comments submitted on-line will be taken into account by the borough before they approve the project.

Check it out for yourself: the Canada Post site will be open to the public Thursday November 13th, from 4pm to 8pm and Saturday, November 15th, from 12 noon to 5pm.


  1. Wow! This looks fantastic! Everything that Projet Griffintown (RIP) was not.

    I’m sure that there will be heaps of detractors though as many of the buildings appear to exceed 3 storeys and there seems to be no provision being made for a belly button lint recycling co-op.

  2. I’ll have to read a lot more about it, but it certainly sounds much more promising than the orful suburban transplant in Griffintown. Great historical photos!

    I think Montréal families are much more amenable to urban living than generic “North American” ones. It depends on the amenities – and perceived safety – for children. Is it well-served by public transport?

    I keep humming “Basin Street Blues”… But then, I find “Ancien havre” far more evocative. It is obvious that it is a new redevelopment.

  3. The buildings all exceed 3 stories in height, and they should. Montreal should be building in high density, not building 2 story detached houses.

    With the way gas prices, etc are going a lot more people are going to want to live closer to downtown, and building higher than 3 storeys is the only way to do it.

    When will you people learn?

  4. I think it’s got great potential. (I nitpicked their marketing materials for their terrible translations and grammatical errors, but that’s minor.) I rather wish they had shown development on smaller lots, and allow the area to be built up more organically; this rendering looks a little too much like a planned office park, but overall the pluses outweight the minus.

  5. “a big questions remains as to whether condo-style living will really capture the hearts of North American families.”
    I think that question has been answered sufficiently over the years to not even be worth asking any longer.
    Families are increasingly opting to be closer to where everything is, and the days of the suburban sprawl are coming to a close, as all level of governments are realizing that they will need a closer food supply to be able to feed even their current populations.

  6. This basin area has been a major wasteland for quite a while, I always wondered why no summer entertainment occurred here. More housing downtown is probably a good thing, since montreal has a liveable downtown, and this is close to downtown. where do I sign up! Right on the bike path too. I hope some non-corporate deps happen, they are often absent from new development and the corporate ones are beer and junk food only, like crap-tarde.

    fyi jason – basin, as in boat-parking basin alongside lachine canal.

  7. I agree that is project is far more promising; the fact that they are conscious about re-drudging the basins and re-establishing the street grid is especially exciting. I also agree with the comment about building higher density – not too high of course – but in the 4-6 floor range. If we are going to create denser, lively, 24 hour communities, we have to re-invent certain neighborhoods at least a little. Montreal is a now a post-industrial metropolis and developments must suit the role. That said, 2-3 storey buildings lack the grandeur worthy of a downtown neighborhood. Let’s save the 2 and 3 floor triplexes for Ville d’Anjou. My big concern is the quality of the architecture and materials. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  8. 4-6 storey is perfect – that is Parisian. More 6 than four. Doable by stairs for healthy people not carrying heavy loads – though of course a lift is necessary for older people, heavily pregnant women, people with major and minor handicaps (I have arthritis that flares up at times) and to move and lift large grocery deliveries, etc.

    Think one problem with Anjou is that the streets are too wide. Another, of course, is that the blue line built over 20 years ago was supposed to go there, making it much less car-dependent. Pity that it doesn’t even reach Pie-IX.

    But I think lower existing historic buildings – even “vernacular” ones – should be preserved, and higher ones can be worked in. All of this can be done, along with little parks and squares, while achieving a higher overall density.

  9. On my recent visit to Mtl. for a funeral, I heard of this place named ‘couche turd’, which I suspect is a modern version of a dep?

    I suspect ‘crap tarde’ is the same thing?

    One has to love certain aspects of Montreal and it’s slangualization in various languages, and that I DO miss in my absence.

  10. Please enlighten us as to how a 6 stories building is denser than a building occupying the same lot but with tiny 20 stories.

    Please explain your magic maths.

    Some sectors of downtown Toronto, became denser than the plateau and thats with two dozens of tall condo towers, with still plenty of space to build more.

    Please enlighten us.

  11. In response to AJ – Canada Lands corp is decontaminating and developing the infrastructure (streets, pedestrian paths, parks, sewers etc.) Then it gets parcelled out to various developers. Its not yet clear how much they will regulate the design of the actual buildings in the plans.
    When i spoke with the architect, he said that they put a good deal of detail into the model because people tend to react badly when they see just boxes representing building volume. I admit that the detail in the model made it look a little more human scaled and reassuring.

  12. That is true, Alanah. I think that was some of the problem with the very preliminary computer model we had here of the proposed housing development on the excess land confiscated for parking around Maision Radio-Canada. I’m glad to see the care they seem to be taking with this project.

  13. @ Malek. I do believe that certain sectors of Toronto have become more dense than certain sectors of Montréal, however: the end result is that the dense sectors of Toronto wind up looking like.. Toronto, and no city in their right mind wants to look like Toronto.

    I believe that they refer to it as “messy urbanism” in Toronto. The rest of the world calls it “ugly”, “unplanned”, “no character” etc. I lived there during their last boom and thought that they may have learned from their mistakes but no.. ‘More green-glass condos and half-assed starchitecture!”.

    Twenty storey buildings at the edge of the Lachine Canal would be a Toronto solution. A Montréal solution would be more like what is being proposed, consulted upon and what will hopefully be more than 3 storeys but less than 20.

  14. It sure is much, much, better than the Griffintown farce on so many levels. My feeling about that stretch of the canal has always been that you have views of Mount Royal and downtown that just don’t happen like that anywhere else. Be a shame to close it all in. Keeping the heritage buildings is also very wise, seeing as how most progressive cities have learned how to make those sites more valuable than almost any possible new structures could become. What goes around comes around.

  15. Three stories works very well in many areas of Montreal which are very dense–don’t need to go to 5 or 6 as in Paris. That height works there for historical reasons but why not use a height here that doesn’t require elevators?

    One thing I haven’t heard about is any discussion with school commissions or day care authorities. Families want to have schools not too far away, but my understanding is that very few schools remain in the central area. One of the advantages of the Plateau/Mile End/Villeray is that schools were still open, so that as young families have moved in, it has been more a matter of filling underused schools than of finding new school space.



  16. Well, when the Haussmann architecture was first erected in Paris, there were no elevators, and even now, many of those buildings don’t have lifts. That is why a “garret” isn’t a penthouse, and more affluent people lived on the lower storeys of the building. But true, I don’t think most 21st-century people would willingly opt for such compulsory daily exercise.

    The Montréal triplexes are certainly an important vernacular form. I do think they could be combined with slightly higher buildings, but not the forests of towers one sees in Toronto – or worse, the suburban developments with towers in the midst of empty space that somehow never really becomes pleasant parks and gardens.

    The school just north of Jean-Talon market, Ste-Cécile, is if anything overpopulated, as there are many new immigrant families with children as well as young “Québécois de souche” families priced out of the Plateau and appreciating the area for the market, parc Jarry and other amenities.

    Yes, families need local schools, CPEs, other amenities, and a “critical mass” of kids to play with in unstructured ways.

  17. I agree with Mary, if schools are not planned right in these neighborhoods none of your goals are sustainable. Busing is not a great option. All great neighborhoods are self serving to a large degree and have a basic intergenerational flavour. It s a simple formula that has proven itself over and over. Trends are just that, things that don’t have any staying power. People have different needs at different points in their lives. Neighborhoods that provide those possibilities will do very well.

  18. In response to Malek: sectors of downtown Toronto are definitely more developed and populated than the plateau, but because the massive condo towers are spread thinly along the lake with the virtually uninhabited financial district to the north, one can’t really lump them into any kind of comparable borough unit to meaningfully measure their density against the Plateau. Comparisons to such small and unintegrated spaces as a cluster of 40 story condo towers aren’t really relevant as the smaller the sample area one examines the less telling it becomes, logically ending with a discussion of the most densely populated ‘neighbourhood’ in canada defined as the single building with the most floors and smallest units. Its scale makes it measurable and it’s in this sense that the plateau remains a unique and succesful example of high density urban space for the nation.

  19. I just want to thank Alanah for this informative and very well written article. Keep it up!

  20. So let me know if I get this straight. You guy are against sprawl because it’s unecological, but at the same time you are against tall towers even though they create more densely populated areas next to where people work, which is much better to the environment.

    So which is it?

  21. Malek: that’s a really simplistic way of twisting things. Just because you can cram a tonne of people into a tal building doesn’t mean its better for the environment. Delivering water, heat, elevators, etc. are eneergy suckers, not to mention how poorly insulated and sealed many new buildings are.

    And the impact a tall building can have on an area can be lessened in many ways if a more humane (or urbain) design scheme can be delivered. Some places are good for tall buildings while in many places they are poorly placed or considered.

    You shouldn’t try to make it one or the other option. It only creates factions instead of finding common ground between appropriate use of height.

  22. Tall buildings do work some places–Singapore, for example. There they are part of an integrated urban plan where street life is lively, and transportation is always handy. The classic Le Corbusier tower in the park is much less successful precisely because it doesn’t have the dense and interesting life at ground level.

    Julia says that “you shouldn’t try to make it one or the other.” I agree heartily. In Montreal I’d say that using the three story pattern is perhaps the most intersting option, though.


  23. Mary, I’ve received a notice of your talk on Walkable Cities at Mile-End Library on the 6th December – I hope you won’t be shy about posting a notice of it here as it seems most interesting.

    So if there isn’t as much snow and ice as last year, it will certainly be walkable from my place north of the viaduct, if it isn’t still cyclable…

    That is also the sad anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre. I was writing a graduate history exam at Université de Montréal that evening, so it will be nice if I can attend an event that DOESN’T pertain to the massacre.

  24. There was another basin off of the Lachine Canal on the south side just east of Gilmore Avenue near where St. Remi passes beneath the Canal next to Rue Angers just downstream from the Cote St. Paul Locks.

    What was interesting about this basin was that both St. Patrick St. and the CPR Canal Bank branch ( from the Harbour to La Salle ) both crossed the mouth of the basin on a Bascule Bridge similar in design to the upstream bridge at 6th Ave. in Ville St. Pierre.

    With the bridge raised, vessels were moved in and out of the basin with a steam winch and cable similar to those found on the deck of a canaller. The winch was on the east side of the basin.

    This bridge carrying St. Patrick St. and the CPR was removed c. 1958.

    The steam winch remained well into the sixties and we used to go look at it from time to time.

    Once there was a small two-generator Hydro plant parallel to the Cote St Paul Locks on the south side of the canal.

    St. Patrick St. did NOT pass thru west to Rue de l’Eglise at this time, as there was a condemned frail narrow concrete bridge upstream from the power house over the channel carrying water to the turbines.

    This private hydro plant once supplied electricity to local industry,

    Around 1958, the last downbound canaller for the season got stuck in the ice at the Cote St. Paul swing bridge, as the bridge, being in the centre of the Canal, caused an ice jam which the canaller could not plough thru.

    As the weather was very cold, there was a danger that the boat would freeze in, blocking the bridge OPEN all winter.

    A cable was run from the ship to a locomotive on the parallel railway and finally the vessel worked free.

    Streetcar southbound Cote St. Paul Bridge at Rue de l’Eglise


    CPR crosses left to right just under front of car.

    The three horizontal bars beneath the front of the streecar are a ‘Trip’. When the car strikes an object, or a person on the track, the trip drops a hinged ‘Catcher’ ahead of the wheels preventing derailment or, hopefully, major injury.

  25. Where is the park?
    That big open space on the west side of the site that is still part parking lot should stay green. It has a lot of potential as a great canal-side park. Some of the best views of downtown Montreal can be seen from there. They could possibly add tennis courts, a dog run, skating rink in the winter, and a playground if the rest of the site is going to be home for families with children.
    I don’t like the way that the bike path looks like it will be cramped up against the canal and have to go over many bridges. The exercise cyclists will hate this, and it will take away from the historic-ness of the Lachine canal front there.
    Lastly, what would be greatly appreciated would be a boat launch, for canoers and kayakers.

  26. As I understand it, the area along-side the canal belongs to parks canada and will stay that way (that is why they are unable to develop closer to the canal). There is also a playpark and a sports field in the northern part of the northern half of 2 of the partially excavated basins. (thats on the top left in the image above).

    I believe there is a boat launch not far from here, but on the southern side of the canal.

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