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Windsor Station: 60 Years of Corporate Credulity and Greed (*Excerpt from Quebec Heritage News)

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larger_station.jpegIn response to a plan to connect Montreal’s airport to the downtown by diverting the existing CPR tracks around the Bell Centre and old Windsor Station to a new elevated terminus with multi-story commercial and office space, Michael Fish has publicly expressed his opinion that it would be cheaper to demolish the Bell Centre and reopen the old Windsor Station as a commuter terminus. This article, which explores the history of the problem and evaluates the current situation, appears with the gracious permission of the author.

In the 1960s, the then one-hundred-year-old Canadian Pacific Railway Company ceased passenger service in Canada. Faced with increasing travel by bus, plane and automobile, the company decided to redevelop many rail properties for new real estate uses. In Montreal, these included the seven-kilometre-long rail line from Montreal West to Peel Street, the 175,000-squaremetre marshalling yards at the Glen in Westmount, and a similar sized train turn-around yard in NDG. The crown jewel, however, among these opportunities for redevelopment was the 37,000-square-metre site under Windsor Station and its enclosed track fan: six platforms with eleven train tracks and room for more.

Built between 1880 and 1956, the station complex was a unique collection of buildings with national historical importance. The corporate giant that had built what would be its head office for eighty years was itself an historical icon. Its initiatives, its colourful personalities had done more to create and develop the Canada we then knew than any other institution. The station building itself was equally highly appreciated, as much for its architecture and its creators as for rich association with the stories of the city and the country.

In the late 1960s, Canadian Pacific chose architect Arthur Ericson to imagine a continuous residential and commercial mega-building along the seven kilometres of the rail right-ofway. Even without being published, knowledge of this idea got everyone’s attention, for, as a part of this plan, the rail terminus would find itself not downtown but in Montreal West.

In 1970, Canadian Pacific announced that they would demolish all of Windsor Station. Replacing it would be a hotel and two office towers, at least one of which would be sixty-odd stories high. The architect was to be the American, Minoru Yamasaki, whose twin-towered World Trade Centre in New York had recently started construction. Vague references to other new plans were put forward in 1972. These too entailed wholesale demolition of the station. All announcements were heavily criticized. No plans were ever published...

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The complete version of this article appeared in Quebec Heritage News, Vol. 6, Number 1, Spring 2011. For back issues of Quebec Heritage News, or to order a subscription to this magazine, call QAHN at (819) 564-9595, or at home@qahn.org.

Michael Fish is the President and Co-founder of the Friends of Windsor Station, founded in 1969.