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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

What space or place for our collective memories?

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Upon arriving at Strip-Tease QDS last Friday, participants were offered twenty questions exploring the intersection of urban design and the collective imagination.  While only a few of the topics fed the panel discussion, over the next week we’ll pose some of the same questions on Spacing Montreal in the hopes that the discussion can continue and expand on the blog:

Does the imaginary need a space in which to exist?

Every once in a while, to my great pleasure, a post on Spacing Montreal develops a life of its own. Take a look at Christopher DeWolf’s post about a unique building in Snowdon which, for the past four years, has been steadily collecting accounts from people who grew up in the neighbourhood (follow the link and scroll down to the comments section). Names, memories, and contact info are swapped as the comments section becomes a lively – if virtual – reunion among people whose experiences have overlapped in space if not necessarily in time.

Should the memory of a place necessarily be a part of its current design?

A 2009 post about the Faubourg à m’lasse has also continued to collect souvenirs (and even a poem) from those who were born and raised in that neighbourhood. Today, the impenetrable Radio-Canada tower and its vast, sterile parkinglot offer no hint of the 778 homes, 12 stores, 13 restaurants, 8 garages, and 20 factories that once clustered there.  The memories forged in this bustling, workingclass neighourhood remain for now, but with no anchor-points in the physical world, and no landmarks to orient those of us who never knew the place, their existence is tenuous.

Toute mon enfance a disparu avec la démolition du quadrilatère Fullum/Morin/Emmet/Archambault,” wrote Edmond Martel in the comments.

Do ghosts get a say?

On a more chilling note, Guillaume Saint-Jean’s montage of the Orphelinat Notre-dame-deliesse has drawn comments from people still raw from the traumas experienced in this orphanage.

“Que cet édifice reste vide mais reste le monument des souffrances des orphelins de Duplessis,” commented Nicole, herself a Duplessis orphan.

J’espère qu’un jour quelqu’un va démolir cet immeuble car cet endroit est hantée est que des mauvaises souvenir,” replies another commentator, after describing an encouter with a ghost on the site.

Does demolishing the building exorcise the ghosts of this disgraceful past or does it deny the trauma endured there?

How can we evoke the memory of a place without either trivializing it nor freezing it in time?

What are your reactions to these questions? What responsability – if any – do planners and design professionals have towards the memories embodied in the landscape?



  1. I’m a huge supporter of the development in QDS- there’s nothing quite like it in the world- but I’m a little concerned that everything seems to be gravitating towards the same area, specifically Place des Festivals.

    PdF is stunning when it hosts 100,000 plus crowds such as Jazz, Francofolies or the recent Arcade Fire show (again, there is nothing like this in the downtown of any other city), but Juste Pour Rire lost a lot of its charm when it moved there from the intimate confines of St-Denis. Now I hear that Montréal en Lumières will be concentrating solely on the PdF, PdAand Parterre sites instead of Vieux Port and Place Jacques Cartier (although I assume that Nuit Blance will maintain its presence). To me, this is a huge mistake. You can’t replicate the experience of Vieux Montréal and Vieux Port in QDS.. no matter how ‘spectacular’ it may be.

    The upcoming winter installation ‘Nuage de givre’ sounds wonderful, but can’t we have that as well as Lumières in the Vieux? We did it last year with Sphères polaires and the year before with Champ de pixels.

  2. That was one of the things I worried about when the QDS project was first launched — that it would become Montreal’s official “culture” ghetto, with major festivals concentrated there instead of spread throughout the city. The rather flat atmosphere of this summer’s Just For Laughs was certainly evidence of where this goes wrong. It had none of the charm and mystery that it had in the Latin Quarter.

  3. I live in QDS and now my new neighbors have to pay 3 times what’s I pay for a place like mine. A lot of money vanish in the building process of diffrent projet around QDS.

    Creative young people dosent need a unique big international windows, they need more chance. A cheap place where to live in downtown and few money to make a projet is good start.

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