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Renovating Old Montreal to look new again

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Renovating Old Montreal – There is something tricky about renovating an old place, especially if that old place is a public space of historical importance. Renovating something that, by definition, is old and is valued precisely for its age, presents many difficulties, mainly in terms of keeping its authenticity. Of course, we don’t have to get rid of electricity and instead install gas lamps to make Old Montreal look as it was until the 19th century. Although, streetlights looking like old gas lampposts were installed in parts of St. Paul Street some years ago. The question is always how to be authentic, after all, Old Montreal is a collection of buildings and streets ranging from the 17th to the 20th century. Therefore, we don’t need to set it in just one period, but rather to synthesize its evolution, from the colonial period to the time of being the industrial and financial hub of the city, to the current time in which it is basically a tourist attraction.

St. Paul St Old Montreal
The sidewalks of St. Paul St. have been widened, but nobody though of planting some trees, despite the extra space

Renovating Saint Paul Street in Old Montreal

When in 2015 then-Mayor Denis Coderre announced the renovation of Saint Paul Street, one of the most popular in Old Montreal, he said he wanted to make it more pedestrian-friendly. This new focus would be achieved by lowering and widening the sidewalks. For vehicles, the maximum speed in the area would be 20 km/h.

It was not the first renovation the street has had.  Years ago, the ugly asphalt that had covered the cobblestones in some of its sections, was removed, and the old pavement of rectangular stones was again visible.

However, in the new St. Paul Street, the old cobblestones have been replaced by industrially-produced pieces that resemble cobblestones, but are not. First of all, cobblestone, because of being created in a half industrial, half artisanal way keeps some irregularity in its shape, texture, and even in its colour. The ones that are being installed on St. Paul and other streets in Old Montreal are totally regular because they are industrially produced.  (One has to ask whether they were manufactured here in Montreal or imported from China, one never knows these days when everything seems to come from there).

The old cobblestones are being replaced by industrially-produced pieces which probably will be less resistant to our harsh winters

No added trees in Old Montreal

The sidewalks have been widened, which gives more room for the circulation of pedestrians; however, the city forgot one important thing: despite the extra space on the sidewalk, not a single tree was planted. Once again the bureaucrats in charge of urban planning have overlooked the fact that trees are not only a beautiful addition to any neighbourhood –old or new– but that they also provide much-needed shade, especially when there is a heat wave like the one we experienced in mid-July. They also are essential contributors to the quality of the air in the city.

Of course, Old Montreal and St. Paul, the street that took its name from the founder of the city, Paul de Chomedey, will survive all these attempts at making it “look new”. Not even the nondescript stones that have replaced the old cobblestones could change its character. The city bureaucrats once more made a mistake thinking that to make an old street look “new” you have to impose uniformity where before reigned an anarchic but charming diversity of shapes.

By: Sergio Martinez – info@mtltimes.ca

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