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Metro Roulette: You're Driving Me Cremazie!

Posted by Robyn / September 1, 2006

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Highways. They're a kind of awesome blight on a metropolitan landscape. I mean, hell, if you're going to put up concrete office towers, you might as well run a concrete elevated 6-lane highway through the middle of town. These two things are vast, sprawling, functional monuments to progress that fulfill their late-80s po-mo identities by also being ugly and socially destructive.

Don't worry - this article isn't all about that though. There's ART in it. Plus ranting.

I appreciate the Industrial Innovation, but, yeah, I've got a sore spot. It comes partly from having lived for three years in the stretch of land that isn't quite St. Henri and isn't quite Little Burgundy but definitely is a couple of blocks south of elevated highway 720 action. So to get downtown and beyond I had to walk or bike under a dank overpass or through a dank (and at least finally now better lit) tunnel.* It wasn't like my neighbourhood was even far from downtown, and the hill isn't really that big - yet the highway makes it seem that way. It even cast a shadow at certain times of day. Segregation, man. This has been studied. I believe it's called, though not limited to, Urban Planning. Or Not-Planning. Or Crappy-Short-Sighted-Planning, Thanks, Guys.

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The relevance of this here is that the area around Cremazie metro station suffers a similar, if slightly less uber-metropolitan, concern. Highway 40 (also known as Autoroute Metropolitaine, funnily enough) along with two Cremazie Blvds (north-side, south-side) in its shadow on either side rumble in the space between the station's two exits. And, yes, over the metro TUNNEL that connects them. And a bland, ill-lit tunnel it is.
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More tunnels with art, I say. I guess the art at Cremazie is reserved strictly for the platform itself.

It's awesome art though! In fact, this station, based in the hues of taupe, beige and off-white, applauds artistic creativity in its very name: Octave Crémazie (1927-1879) was one of the most important figures in Quebec literature, according to STM. "He was confirmed as the father of French-Canadian poetry by his patriotic poem 'Le Drapeau de Carillon,' published in 1858, about the defense of Fort Carillon by General Montcalm. He fled Quebec for France in 1858 due to a scandal, and died at Le Havre. However, his popularity suffered no decline and Boulevard Crémazie was named in his honour in 1914." Well, then, Mr. Scandalous Poet Man, what did you do? They say you forged signatures - could there be more to it than that? Either way, exile is sad, but makes for a lot of poetry.

The station, inaugurated on October 14, 1966 was designed by architect Adalbert Niklewicz and arted up by Georges Lauda, Paul Pannier, & Gérard Cordeau, who chose to go big or go home, a motto I personally endorse. The pillars above the south-bound platform, could've been bland and institutional, but they are instead rather witty in their geometrical composition, with a few blue concrete forms thrown in to complement the Giant Art that looms above the north-bound platform: Le Poète dans l'Univers (The Poet in the Universe), a ceramic oval o' art representing the motions of the stars and planets through astrological symbols and quotations from the poetry of Québécois poets such as Émile Nelligan, Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, and Octave Crémazie. And, more creepily, weird black masks supposedly representing the poets themselves.

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I'm glad that such a big metro station, what with its two entrances and really long escalator and expansive white walls, has such a giant crazy piece of art in it. But it made still wonder: why not more art? And perhaps not just art made in the 60s, as neat as that can be.

Oh, but in my exploration of the area, which is considered to be part of the Villeray district, I discovered more art. Here is a picture of it. It's three kids holding what I believe is a surfboard? or a large paper airplane? I think it's meant to keep outsiders away, or at least in the giant office buildings nearby - Villeray, Go Back or Get on the Highway Outta Here. I discovered it after I crossed the highway by way of sidewalk and marveled at all the gloomy, unused real-estate underneath the highway. But then, no one wants to work or live in that kind of space, at least not by choice.

Yet work or live nearby? Sure! Some of the gigantor office buildings are for government things, some for people things, and some for making money things. One of the less tall buildings, situated around the corner from the station, is the belly of the beast (that is relevant to this story) itself: STM headquarters. It looks like Expo 86 meets Montreal-brick in office building form.

But it does make sense for all these buildings to be near the highway and a metro station, so all level of worker can partake in all levels of work. The office of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) is even there to represent some of these workers. Though probably not all of them. I'm pretty sure all the buildings are climate controlled and at least somewhat soundproof. And I'm certain that the cute little houses on the cute little tree-lined streets are not.

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But then, during highschool, I lived next to the Lougheed Highway in Burnaby, the din of which softened after a few weeks. I'm not saying it sounded like "the ocean" but it sounded like "an" "ocean," on which sometimes cars honked and brakes squealed. People can get used to almost anything, no matter how far from ideal.**

A lot of people do live around Cremazie metro, after all. The area is a nice compromise between suburban and metropolitan. The houses are still attached and look much like houses closer to the centre of town and the streets are in a similar state of disrepair - no cul de sacs, no new monster dwellings.

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Essentially, this is a work/live metro station. People go there to go home or go to work. Possibly even both. So you get your usual neighbourhood amenities: hot-dog places, delis, a pretty-good-looking cafe, a unisex hair salon next door to a pet-groomer, a barber who's been there forever, a billard hall that's also a Spanish-language church of Jesus, a fancy-looking Italian restaurant, a newer sushi place, tennis and raquetball supplies, banks, deps, schools, parks, etc.

The area population is also boosted by two CEGEPs - Ahuntsic and Andre-Grasset - as well as the massive Claude Robillard Sports Complex, which features an Olympic sized swimming pool, diving, wrestling, track and field, speed skating, skating, 12 tennis courts, gymnastics, boxing, hockey, archery and basketball, and hosts several provincial, national and world championships. Oh, it's true. It is also the home of the Montreal Impact! Soccer is awesome.
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Though there isn't much in the way of retail shopping, I feel that Le Baron, for your fishing/camping/hunting needs, needs a mention. It's pretty much at the corner of Cremazie Blvd (the south one) and St. Laurent. I kind of love Le Baron. It's like Mountain Equipment Co-op got really serious on your ass, stuck a knife in your hand and said "No boy of mine is gonna cry over a fish. Now gut." Trauma builds character, always remember that. I didn't buy a knife, but I looked at them. I bought a super-absorbant camping towel instead. For the gym. Yes, I have been going to MEC since the mid-80s. I totally do not understand all the fishing lure stuff (so many choices! why??) and the camouflage - real camouflage, not fashion - freaks me out a bit, so much so that I began coveting the vests. I really appreciate stores that have diversity in their inventory. Lots of good sleeping bags, hiking boots, camp stoves, rain gear and then knives and binoculars and guns. MEC, being a bunch of hippie-yuppie-kayaking weekend-warriors, doesn't have guns. (But have you seen The Descent? A lot of damage can be done with an ice axe.)

My favourite part of the neighbourhood is between Berri and St. Laurent, on the south side of the highway divide. For the following reasons:
1) cute houses, green trees, quiet streets
2) big church - St. Alphonse d'Youville - with green space and wish for peace on earth
3) explosions of peanuted-ice-cream flavour
4) the barber with all the taxidermied animals that people keep giving him

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These are all good reasons to venture north on the orange line. And one day, you will have your own reason. Oh, you'll have to visit the Regie du Logement or you'll get a job typing out phone calls for the hearing impaired or you'll take up speed skating or you'll need to buy a jellied fishing lure. I only hope the descriptions offered here soften the blow. I have learned something about the co-existence of elevated urban highways and tree-lined neighbourhoods, something like it is what it is and the city would not be same place without it.

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*I understand the expense of car tunnels, but don't they make more sense if a city's downtown and surrounding areas are to remain livable as the city grows? Walking through a pedestrian tunnel is creepy. Driving through a tunnel is still creepy, but at least you're going fast. Even though a tunnel is just a highway underground, our brains get freaked out while driving in such a claustrophobic space. And when walking through, everything echoes and I always feel like I'm being followed, no matter how well-lit it is (and holy hell, it's like high noon in the desert in the east tunnel between downtown and George Vanier metro.) They are also cold and damp.

** Living next to a highway or a busy street, e.g., oh, I don't know, let's say St. Laurent, isn't the most stress-free way to live, and even though I have several rants that are, at core, about this, I can think of far worse situations. Situations that transcend ranting to become the stuff of novels.

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Discussion

12 Comments

Hannah / September 1, 2006 at 12:35 pm
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As if there are people just walking into that barber shop and leaving him taxidermied animals. What does he do, sit there behind the counter with his hands in the air, fluttering them, saying: "No, No, not another dove. Really I can't take it from you. I already have Mimi, Dee and Roco there in the window. Bring we a raccoon. That's what I really want. A nice raccoon to rest on the counter there, right by mirror. Right there where I cut hair.

Do you think they shop at Le Baron for their guns and knives?
rrrobyn / September 1, 2006 at 01:01 pm
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haha, he told me that people just bring them to him! i think this is like the situation with people who have collections of, like, elephant figurines or whatever. they didn't mean for it to happen but they got a couple elephants and the next thing they knew everyone was giving them elephants. he seemed pretty proud of them though. i like how they've faded with time, esp the raccoon - unless there's a red raccoon? maybe?
OJ / September 1, 2006 at 01:43 pm
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What about 'bogie's world'? or whatever it's called now? From my recollection of a birthday party many moons ago, the cremazie stop is the only one that gets you to this billiard hall/arcade/virtual golf/bar/vip lounge establishment, located right under the Met.
Would be a shame if it didn't exist anymore, but would also make sense.
Matthew Hiscock / September 1, 2006 at 04:33 pm
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If the barber *really* wanted customers, he'd put these taxidermied animals in his window:

http://www.jousse-entreprise.com/html/art/thomas/gallery/thogall2.html

Best title ever, btw.
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