Friday, August 01, 2008

Urban exploration ride: Railroad artifacts of Montreal

Dalhousie Station and elevated road - located on the Berri bike path in Old Montreal

Here's today's urban bike ride theme: Montreal's railroad history.

Photograph | Dalhousie Station, Montreal, QC, about 1880, lithograph by unknown artist | MP-0000.2263
Dalhousie station before cars (Courtesy the McCord Museum and Notman Archives)

Montreal was the capital of the Canada's railroad system from it's conception until the middle of this century, we mean the last century (damn this new millennium!).

But relentless urban renewal has removed much of the history from around us. We are left with a few crumbs of history, it tends to be very much "history-lite" and as far as we can tell, there is not a locomotive or rail car in any park or historical location on Montreal Island.

At this point, it's important to mention that just off-island in the south shore town of St-Catherine is the amazing railway museum Exporail. This is Canada's National Railway Museum and it is great.

But our point is that we could use some real history ON the island of Montreal. There is some, if you know where to look, so let's go find some. Let's ride!

Traces of history exist at Dalhousie train station.

There are three train stations in downtown Montreal that have been converted to modern uses. These are the Windsor, Dalhousie, and Viger Stations.

The magnificent Victorian castle-style Windsor Station is the most recent closure, closed when the new Canadiens hockey arena was built. You will find a courtyard with some train tracks in a sparse setting. Go here for more information of the history of the Windsor station. Other buildings of interest nearby are the uphill neighbour of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates' IBM-Marathon building (a.k.a. 1250 Réne Lévesque) and The Chateau Champlain hotel, built as it is on an elevated platform extending over the area where the downtown Montreal elevation takes a sharp downhill along the escarpment that is such a prominent feature of downtown Montreal's topography. Elevated platforms intrigue us a bit, the redevelopment plans for the Radio-Canada building in the east feature platforms posing as solid ground. These completely synthetic environments have one thing in common, their elevation provides a good scenic view-and bikes take you there.

The Dalhousie station used an elevated Oops, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The Dalhousie station is a bit less well-known. Located on Berri street (on the Berri bike path!) in Old Montreal, it served as the station for the first transcontinental train trip across the huge country of Canada. The interior is converted into an gym for circus arts. and is now the home base of Cirque Eloize, a local circus product of high calibre. A railroad track park is installed beside the station, and there is an overhead street (above the arch) and viaduct that gives you a good view of the station and the city skyline. In fact, it is on our list of our favorite montreal lookouts. We attended the école nationale du Cirque when it was the previous occupant of this building, before the creation of the Cite de la cirque in St-Michel district. ( Cite de la cirque will be the focus of an upcoming ride, but a quick faq would say that the attraction here is the Tohu theatre and the outdoor festival space, and a lots of post modern architecture. Cyclist-vistors should ride around the gigantic rock quarry environmental centre. (End of digression)

A long-ignored third station is just a few feet north of the Dalhousie station. The Chateau Viger station. is Montreal's own "Chateau" style train station (like the Banff Springs, Chateau Laurier, Chateau Frontenac, etc) It is undergoing a redevelopment and it is a real beauty, one of the gems of Montreal.

Click here for the Old Montreal's tourism association information on this part of the "railway district" and for many other interesting bicycle destinations in Montreal.

Very strange things on poles in park that was a gift from Lyon France. On the Berri bike path at Viger. Look closely, there's a TGV here.

To see a huge number of historical photographs, we encourage you to visit the online Notman photograph archives at the McCord museum. The Notman archives are completely amazing.

We say amazing and we mean amazing: Here's a photo of a man touring the Yukon in winter in 1898, on bicycle.

Photograph | Rev. Wright touring the Klondike on bicycle, at 85 Road House, Klondike, YT, about 1898 | MP-0000.2360.78
Man + Bicycle = Fun


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