Understanding the Historical Context

Lachine Canal’s Impact

Upon industrialization in Quebec in 1851, the Lachine Canal became the center of economic activity and a point of entry for the entire continent. Many industries were established on its shoreline, benefiting from the hydraulic energy of the Canal. The industrial development in the region, later known as Pointe St-Charles, attracted many workers who migrated in the area. These workers brought their families with them and with the industrial boom came the creation of one of the most dynamic communities in Montreal and contributed to the creation of the first metropolis in Canada. To better understand the scope of the economic activity in the region, Pointe St-Charles consisted of the region with the highest industrial density in Canada for over a century (1850-1950), processing 15,000 ships through the Lachine Canal every year. #AmériqueFrançaise

Hence, the entire population of Pointe St-Charles became highly dependent on the well being of local industries. This realization was brought to the population severely when the 1929 financial crisis caused a slowdown in the entire North American economy, causing an eventual closing of the Canal. At this time, the Lachine Canal lost its importance relative to the Saint-Lawrence River due to the inability to further widen the canal because of geographical limitations. Accordingly to the rapid urbanization of the area because of the economic development around the Lachine Canal, its obsolescence was as significant for the population, but in an opposite way. The closing in 1970 lead to most companies either shutting down or moving to another location. This resulted in the majority of the population losing their jobs within a very short time period. The adverse economic impact of these massive layoffs was an overall impoverishment of the population of Pointe St-Charles, matched with a sharp decrease in property values. In other words, not only did the population suffer from steep reductions in income, they also were unable to dispose of their property without incurring huge losses. This reduction in asset values prevented the population from moving to locations where employment was available. Overall, the neighbourhood was left with an impoverished unemployed population of unskilled workers, with the financial inability to pursue employment elsewhere. #Vickers2013

Grands Travaux à Montréal 

En 1962, Montréal se voit attribuer l’Exposition universelle de 1967. L’accueil de cet événement motive le gouvernement québécois à entamer des travaux de grande ampleur pour faire de Montréal une métropole aux installations permettant de concurrencer dignement les grandes villes nord-américaines et de préparer ses évolutions futures. A l’heure où la population s’équipe de plus en plus en voitures, d’importants travaux sont réalisés pour leur donner une place centrale en terme de transports. #GrandsProjetsQuebecois

Les travaux de construction des autoroutes Décarie et Bonaventure débutent en 1965 et ont un impact direct sur l’urbanisme et la vie sociale montréalaise : des quartiers entiers sont défigurés, comme Notre-Dame de Grâce qui se voit coupée en deux par l’autoroute Décarie, ou détruits, comme le Goose Village au sud de l’île. Les familles habitant dans les zones de travaux voient leurs maisons expropriées. Sur les 70 M$ affectés à l’ensemble du projet de l’autoroute Décarie, 25 M$ ont été consacrés aux seules fins d’expropriation, et le gouvernement payait alors 125% de la valeur marchande des propriétés. #LeMondeEnImages

Le quartier de la Pointe St-Charles se voit entouré d’autoroutes, avec l’autoroute Décarie à l’Ouest, et l’autoroute Bonaventure à l’Est qui coupe le quartier de l’accès au fleuve St Laurent. Les ingénieurs de l’époque avouent aujourd’hui qu’ils ne pensaient pas à l’impact que ces infrastructures coupant les quartiers les uns des autres pourraient avoir sur la population. Les autoroutes urbaines, élevées ou en tranchée, constituent le principal héritage de l’époque progressiste de l’après-guerre. Elles ont été construites afin de favoriser le désengorgement des centre-villes et le développement des nouvelles banlieues, mais sans considération pour l’échelle humaine, elles ont dans la plupart des cas mené à une déstructuration du tissu urbain et à un isolement des secteurs riverains. #HavreMTL

Dès le milieu des années 1960, la Pointe St-Charles voit sa situation modifiée pour passer en quelques décennies d’un quartier ouvrier ouvert sur le fleuve à un quartier désindustrialisé et enclavé.

Effects of Urbanisation

The first crisis of the 30s had a serious impact on Pointe Saint Charles: from 30 000 inhabitants in 1931, the area decreased to  13 000 inhabitants in 1991. #HeritageMTL

In the years following 1950, the expansion of the road network and the evolution of the St-Laurent into a commercial seaway, the Canal Lachine was partially abandoned as an economic route and closed in 1970. Many industries of the Sud-Ouest and Pointe St-Charles were delocalized where business took place. For this low skilled worker and industrial neighborhood, it translated into a high unemployment rate. This is why Pointe became a place for organisms and social movements to be established: some of them are still active, in terms of social housing, food, health, social services, etc. #SHPSC

The same themes dominate the local policies in the Point St-Charles in recent years: the reconversion of industrial buildings, the creation of social housing, the use of the Canal de Lachine for tourism, etc.

Ethnical Diversity of Pointe St-Charles

In 1850, there was an increasing need for workers to build different types of infrastructure in the South-West Montreal area. There were, for example, many immigrants from Irish descent. 6000 died because of the typhus, which compared to the number of people living in Point St-Charles at the time, was very important.

The Pointe has known an incredible expansion in the second part of the 19th century: there were 200 people living there in 1854, 500 in 1865, 4000 in 1875 and the population “was essentially 25% French-speaking and 75% English-speaking” #SHPSC. The reason of this multiplication was because of the construction of the Canal Lachine, that would prevent the ships to be confronted to the St-Lawrence River rapids #ActionGardien. Agricultural work was replaced by industrialization and urbanization. 

More than two decades later, in 1881, approximately 10 000 persons were living in the neighborhood. 20 000 were added between 1900 and 1950. The Pointe St-Charles became a multicultural community and “stood out as a result of its multi-ethnic make-up”: formed by Irish, Scottish, English, French-Canadians but also Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Poles #SHPSC. The majority of the population migrated from rural areas and were not highly educated, making them the workforce of industries present in the area. The rising population precipitated the construction of hundreds of houses for those families by the city of Montreal. In the year 1850, the first duplexes and quadraplexes were built (rue Sébastopol) for the workers on the soon-to-be Victoria Bridge.

It is between 1880 and 1920 that the majority of Pointe St-Charles’ houses were built. It was a high-risk area, because of water floods problems (the Pointe is a flood-risk area). So it was a densely populated zone, consisting mostly of workers who did not have decent life conditions, living in a risky area of the city. Nonetheless, near the end of the 19th century, the Pointe is Canada’s most important industrial sector. #HeritageMTL



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