Le REM de l’Est: Another threat to Montreal’s Chinatown

The arrival of the REM and of a station at the corner of René-Lévesque Blvd and Saint-Urbain Street without a citizens’ consultation raises many concerns, as it does anywhere else on the territory of Montreal. While it does enhance the public transit system and improve Chinatown’s accessibility, it is, however, detrimental to the integrity of the living and built environment.

The recent announcement of the possibility to bury a portion of the eastern section of the REM, which at first seems beneficial to the downtown area, would have devastating effects if it adds to the closure of Jeanne-Mance Street and creates an immense aerial structure blocking off the entire north side of Chinatown from downtown Montreal. The superposition of a ground structure emerging from the tunnel, followed by an aerial structure added to an entrance building along the northern border of Chinatown:

  • leads to less connectivity of the neighbourhood with the downtown area;
  • creates a physical barrier that would further isolate it from its environment;
  • would block remarkable and identifiable views (in particular towards the Notre-Dame Basilica, towards and from the arch on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and towards the Hydro-Québec building);
  • creates a break in the alignment of grey stone buildings on the Main (particularly the link between the Brunet Building and the Monument-National).

In the past year, the community mobilized itself to save Montreal’s Chinatown, both its built heritage and its cultural practices inscribed within this area, threatened with gentrification, marginalisation, and disappearance. This trend is not unique and can be observed in all Chinatowns in North America, to the point where the question of their survival has become a national issue. Let us remember that the size of Montreal’s Chinatown was greatly diminished in the modern era by the widening of Dorchester and Saint- Urbain streets, and by the construction of the Ville-Marie Highway, the Complexe Desjardins, the Palais des congrès, and the Complexe Guy-Favreau.

Although it has survived, the neighbourhood still bears the scars and the memory of the displacement of its population, and the demolition of places to live, to work and to worship, which resulted in an isolation of the neighborhood that affects, to this day, its capacity to develop its economic and social vitality.

The Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec and the City of Montréal are currently working to define the means and tools to be deployed as soon as possible and at different scales to protect the authenticity of the heritage, identity, characteristics, specificity of the attractions, and cultural practices of Montreal’s Chinatown. In this context, the community is concerned about the impact of the pressure on the land generated by the arrival of the REM and the ability of its residents and independent merchants to continue to live and work in an area that is already subject to significant land speculation.

For these reasons, the Chinatown Working Group recommends:

  • that the implementation of the REM be seriously discussed with the working committee led by the MCC and the City to ensure a coherent vision of the development of the territory;
  • that the Chinatown community be consulted and invited into the process by CDPQ Infra;
  • that the tunnel option be privileged;
  • that the tunnel be extended towards the east (at least for an additional station, to avoid closing Jeanne- Mance Street)
  • that the entrance building of the REM station be integrated into a real estate project at the corner of René-Lévesque West and Saint-Laurent Boulevards that respects best practices in terms of design and integration of the arts;
  • that the station considers the distinctive architectural and urban characteristics of Chinatown in its design.

By respecting these recommendations, we believe that the REM could contribute to the improvement of Montreal’s quality of life and to the respect of the environment into which is inscribed.

The Québec government surely does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, when it knowingly destroyed the heart of Montreal’s Chinatown, leaving wounded indeed those who were expropriated and saw their homes and businesses demolished in favour of major transportation routes and complexes without regard of their presence. In this era of inclusion and reparation for oppressed communities and those who have suffered injustices, we dare to hope that history will not repeat itself.

Crédit image: PierreB Fortin, Twitter

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