It is a strange building, made entirely of white concrete, with a mysterious shape. Abandoned for nearly ten years, the Wellington Switch Tower, a gem from Montreal’s industrial past, will now take on a new life.
For fifty-seven years, this two-story bunker, located near the Lachine canal in the Griffintown neighborhood, housed the switching center for trains and boats that passed into the area. At the time, Montreal was Canada’s industrial center: the inspectors posted in the Wellington tower carried out up to 800 train switching operations every day. Yes, 800 train operations every day. And that is without counting the tens of boats that passed through the Lachine canal.
Wellington Tower was constructed in 1943, in the middle of the Second World War. That may be why it has the appearance of a bunker. At the time, with an industrial boom underway because of the war, buildings were intended to be functional, sturdy, and efficient.
The tower remained in operation until the beginning of the 2000s. Since then, it has been abandoned. Squatters have taken up residence. It is covered in graffiti.
Towards a Cultural Venue
As part of the revitalization of the Griffintown neighborhood, the Wellington Tower will be given a new life: the City of Montreal has just called for propositions that will give the building a cultural function. “We want to contribute to the activity and cultural life of the neighborhood,” said Richard Adam, head of the city’s Division of Culture and Heritage.
The tower could, for example, house an art gallery, a café, or a small performance venue, speculates Adam. The goal is to inaugurate several locations in 2016 or 2017 for Montreal’s 375th anniversary.
The city invites cultural organizations to submit proposals for the reopening of Wellington Tower.
This new cultural connection can only be beneficial for the Griffintown neighborhood, which often looks like an example of failed urban planning: towers of one or two-bedroom condos for retirees or childless professionals. At a time when the city is looking to curb the exodus of young families to the suburbs, Griffintown’s developers have forgotten to account for a school, playgrounds, and housing for neighborhood families.
The Wellington Tower and its surroundings will at the very least embellish the area. The small Smith Road, which leads to the Lachine canal will be transformed into a promenade for pedestrians. But for the time being, the neighborhood is one of the largest construction sites in Montreal, where cranes and bulldozers bustle about in a terrible racket.
In cases such as that of Griffintown, can cultural and recreational spaces promote further development and urban planning efforts, or should other concerns be addressed first?
Credits: Data and images linked to sources.
The original article, published in French, can be found here.