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Griffintown, Montreal: Manufacturing Hub to Condo Haven

Griffintown, Montreal: Manufacturing Hub to Condo Haven

As stylish condominiums continue to rise high into the sky, more of historic Griffintown fades away. This once working class neighbourhood of Montreal, Quebec has been going through a major overhaul since 2008, and developers have been scrambling to get in on a piece of desirable land as early as 2005. It is an example

As stylish condominiums continue to rise high into the sky, more of historic Griffintown fades away. This once working class neighbourhood of Montreal, Quebec has been going through a major overhaul since 2008, and developers have been scrambling to get in on a piece of desirable land as early as 2005. It is an example of poor urban planning at its finest.

Late 19th Century Home, 20th Century warehouse, and 21st Century Condo in Griffintown, Montreal

Irish immigrants, arriving during Ireland’s potato famine, were Griffintown’s first inhabitants when the neighbourhood was booming during the nineteenth century in the wake of Canada’s industrial era. Massive building projects were undertaken, including the construction of the Lachine Canal, the Victoria Bridge, and the Grand Trunk railway. Though living conditions were dire and the neighbourhood was generally poor, there was a great sense of community, even as Ukranians, Italians and French Canadians moved into the area during the twentieth century, boosting its density.

A huge blow came during the 1950s with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, ridding the Lachine Canal of its commercial and transportation purposes. In 1963, under Mayor Jean Drapeau’s era of grand vision planning, Griffintown was re-zoned as industrial, and had its eastern portion razed to make room for the construction of the Bonaventure Expressway. This compilation of events drove many away, leaving the area neglected and underused.

Former Site of St. Ann Church in Griffintown, Montreal

It was only within the past decade that the city of Montreal realized the neighbourhood’s development potential, as did the developers themselves. Land costs were low and the location was more than ideal, lying just south-west of the downtown core. Fast forward to today, and after much speculation, land costs have soared. For developers, it became a land of opportunity.

Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru noted in an interview that the city failed to make a real plan for Griffintown as a community, and as a result, it appears now as a collection of stand-alone buildings in a sea of construction sites. Public consultations took place in 2012 and produced a great outcry to developers over their proposed site plans. The Office de Consultation Publique de Montreal itself urged the city to incorporate more units for families and to preserve parks and public spaces including the waterfront along the Lachine Canal.

Condos in Griffintown, Montreal

Major stakeholder Devimco Immobilier, who is responsible for District Griffin, Griffintown’s soon to be largest development project, was also forced to modify its original plans. In its earliest phase of development, Devimco appeared unwilling to incorporate the existing urban landscape within its plans. Serge Goulet, president of Devimco, explained, "We don't want prospective clients and residents to equate our shopping mall with sooty smokestacks and shantytowns. That's an unfortunate image of Montréal's history which must be erased." Their new scheme which began construction in December of 2013 now includes four high-rise towers, three condo buildings and one hotel building all holding commercial space at ground level, covering a smaller area of land.

Current development trends display a clear example of top-down planning, geared solely towards profitability rather than citizens at the community level. Addressing history and memory is also an important component of neighbourhood revitalization, and though it is subjective, adding complexity and layers to a memory will help achieve proper understanding.

What cohesion do your neighbourhoods have in maintaining the relationships between its past and present?

Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.

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Caitlin Dixon is a recent graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Québec, holding a B.A. in Geography: Urban Systems and a Minor in History. Born and raised in Montreal, her love of travel has propelled her to partake in several international fiel...

  • Good article, but I think you meant “condo heaven”, not “condo haven”. A haven is a safe place where one hides.

    • Thank you for reading Mr. Cunningham. I used ‘haven’ more in the context of a place offering favorable opportunities or conditions. So, in this case referring specifically to the developers and investors treating the area as their playground for making a profit, though all the while, paying little mind to the history of the neighbourhood or current built environment.

  • That sounds like a developer heaven to me, but i think I get where you were coming from with “haven”. No big thing: I wouldn’t have paid any attention to it, except that “haven” forced me to come up with my own title when I tweeted it.

    Getting back to things that matter, it’s obvious from Serge Goulet’s quote that he doesn’t have a clue as to what people enjoy in authentic neighborhoods. The very “blights” he decries can add tremendous value to a project, if properly dealt with.

    “Properly” means keeping them for the authentic context they provide, while simultaneously renewing and/or adapting them in a way that removes their negative elements.

    Thanks for bringing yet another “developer disaster” to our attention! – Storm

    P.S. – On a more positive note: if–while you’re researching development issues–you run across an inspiring story of renewal (community or environmental), please let me know.

    I might want to include it in my forthcoming third book, FIXERS: New Leaders for Broken Times. Email any ideas to me at Thanks!

    • Yes, all too often developers don’t take the time to fully understand their surroundings. Best of luck with your own writing then, and will do for any ideas.

  • I think the recent PPU has helped remedy the lack of cohesion in Griffintown, though it is definitely a patchwork of development. One of the success stories from the neighborhood is Canada Lands’ Bassins du Havre. Despite being a condo development, it does include both family and social housing. A forthcoming development across from the ÉTS Maison des Étudiants will also be primarily family housing. Hopefully things start to look up for the canal neighborhoods!

    • Hi Jordan, good examples, thank you for bringing our attention to them!

  • I just wrapped up two urban planning studios in St Henri and Griffintown (though certain bodies are trying to get the Quartier d’Innovation name stick). Interesting stuff going on along the canal!

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