Montreal has a love-hate relationship with its design heritage. Ours is an organic city - some great institutions rooted like oak trees in the soil for generations, others having been killed by neglect. Fertile neighbourhoods encouraging the growth of beautiful architectural flowers while land elsewhere lies fallow. Some failed and some successful experiments in the evolution of buildings. And of course, ugly weeds and quite a lot of damaged land that we must work to restore before it can be used again.
Some people believe the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. We definitely see that here in Montreal, where some of our most majestic modern legacy is slowly being allowed to die. It’s hard to underestimate the importance of Expo 67 in Quebec and Canadian history, both as a symbol of a cultural change and as a driver of it. And yet, less than 50 years later, Montrealers mostly ignore their contribution to post-war world history.
That indifference was underscored in today’s Gazette by John Trivisonno. “According to Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand, some of this money will be used to highlight the 50th anniversary of Expo 67. However, one wonders how much of our Expo heritage will remain by then,” Trivisonno wrote. “Just last week, a sculpture titled Iris by Raoul Hunter, whose works are installed across Canada and the U.S., was also found in the dump. The work, created for Expo 67 and installed at La Ronde, is listed in Montreal’s inventory of public art as having been ‘temporarily removed’ in recent years. Yet it seems to have been unceremoniously tossed into the trash.”
And indeed, here it is (photo courtesy of DC Hillier.)
There are unfortunately many, many examples of the neglect of Expo 67 heritage, from the abandonment of Place des Nations through to the insult of the Quebec Pavilion. Expo 67 is far from being a rare case study: as minute as the gradual removal of the Univers font from the Métro or as immense as the calls for the demolition of the Olympic Stadium, Montreal’s modern heritage is being destroyed every day.
Organic: Death, Rot, Regrowth. The good news is that while the original works are slowly being passively and actively destroyed, their influence lives on. Ironically, Montreal’s disregard for a large part of its heritage is due to its obsession with modernity. That in itself is an important legacy - the city’s interest in new design led to its recognition as a UNESCO Design City.
Check out this awesome video about the redesign of public spaces in Montreal. It’s in French only, but the visuals will be interesting even if you don’t understand the archi-waffle. You can actually see the influence of Expo 67 on the designs these architects suggest for a new soccer stadium in the post industrial Saint-Michel neighbourhood. The first one reminds me of the USSR Pavilion, the second is very similar to the Quebec Pavilion (now deformed as part of Casino de Montréal).
It is ironic that Mme Manon Barbe, the Mayor of the Lasalle Borough, says “Anything that deserves being done should be done well,” before mentioning the 25,000 architects and designers we have in Montreal. I think the challenge for architects and designers is perhaps to go past their natural attraction for the new and to turn their attention to conservation.
What do you think the legacy of Montreal’s modern heritage should be? Should we protect actual objects, or should it be something more ethereal? And with the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 coming up in a few years, do you have any thoughts about how it should be celebrated?