Héritage Montréal tours connect Metro to history on its 50th anniversary

Montreal's Metro is often thought of as a way to get from point A to point B. But rarely do rushed commuters take the time to understand point A. That's what Héritage Montréal's ArchitecTours aims to do.

ArchitecTours celebrates Montreal Metro by exploring history, link to neighbourhoods

The Pie-IX Metro station was built in 1976 just in time for the Olympics. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

Like all public transportation, Montreal's Metro is often thought of as a way to get from point A to point B.

But rarely do rushed commuters take the time to understand point A.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Pie-IX Metro station, a dozen people from as close as Verdun to as far as New Zealand gathered to do just that at one of Héritage Montréal's ArchitecTours, a two-hour tour that targets different metro stations every weekend.

Héritage Montréal ran a two-tour of the Pie-IX and Viau metro stations on Saturday, Aug. 27 and the following day at the LaSalle, De l'Église and Verdun stations. (Melissa Fundira)

"In the tour, we try to emphasize the fact that the Metro stations are representative of the time in which they were built," tour guide Bianca-Desirée Arciero said.

"So this entire area came up all in the same moment, so it's representative of what was happening in Montreal in '76," she said.

Tour guide Bianca-Desirée Arciero explains to participants the connection between the Pie-IX and Viau metros and the 1976 Olympics. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

That history can be seen in the wall-to-wall concrete that lines the station and makes up its exposed beams, an ode to the brutalist architecture indicative of many second-generation Metro stations built in the 1970s.

The vastness of the station – whose near emptiness can be puzzling in 2016 – was purposefully designed to accommodate the 10,000 visitors who funneled through it during the Montreal Olympics.

Arciero explains that the artwork just beyond the turnstiles, made by Jordi Bonet out of aluminum and concrete, carries the same name as the Olympic motto – Citius Altius Fortius, a Latin translation for "Faster, higher, stronger."

Jordi Bonet's artwork at the Pie-IX metro station is entitled Citius Altius Fortius, which was also th emotto for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and is Latin for "Faster, higher, stronger." (Melissa Fundira/CBC)
Most of artist Jordi Bonet's artwork at the Pie-IX metro station is made of concrete. The rest is made of aluminum. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

Even the process of convincing architect Marcel Raby to design the Pie-IX metro station is detailed – then-mayor Jean Drapeau wined and dined him.

An hour later, Arciero guides her group towards the Viau Metro station. On Sunday, she will do the same at the LaSalle, De l'Église and Verdun stations.

50th anniversary of the Metro

Though ArchitecTours has been in place since 1980, this year's edition celebrates a big milestone – the Montreal Metro's 50th anniversary.

Héritage Montréal hopes to use this year's tour to help Montrealers and visitors rediscover the history behind the Metro, half a century after it came to be.

"You're standing on the platform, you're reading your paper, you're looking at the screen – you're not looking at the building around you," said Nancy Dunton, head of Montreal's public activities committee, which organizes the tour.

Commuters rarely look up from their phones or newspapers to appreciate the building they're in, says Héritage Montréal's Nancy Dunton.
The Pie-IX metro station is so large because it was built to accommodate the 10,000 expected visitors during the Montreal Olympics. (Melissa Fundira)

"We decided we should celebrate Metro stations," she told CBC Montreal's All in a Weekend.

To run the tours, which continue until Sept. 25, Héritage Montréal depends on a group of young and "passionate" volunteers. They usually have a background in related fields like architecture, urban, planning and art history, Dunton says.

As a recent architecture graduate from Université de Montreal, Arciero fits that mold.

"I wanted to find a way to express my love for architecture to the people of Montreal," she says.

Arciero says she learns as much from giving the tours as the participants. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

But with all the research she has to do beforehand, Arciero adds that giving the tours is as much a learning experience for her as it is for the participants.

"What was incredible to find out was that when they were digging the Metro, they used all the earth of the Metro to build the two islands – Île-Ste-Hélène and Notre-Dame – which is epic," she said.

"Also for the first inauguration of the metro station," she continued excitedly, "they opened up 26 Metro stations and it took only four years, which is something that's very difficult to make happen now."

ArchitecTours participants came from as close as Verdun and as far as New Zealand. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

For Dunton, a Metro station's size, lighting, materiality, colour and public art are all inextricably linked with Montreal's history.

"What makes our Metro stations, of course, so interesting is that each one if different one from the other," she said.

"And that goes back to the beginning."

Jordi Bonet's Citius Altius Fortius is indicative of the brutalist architecture of the 1970s. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

For more information on when and where tours will be held, visit ArchitecTours' website.

With files from CBC Montreal's All in a Weekend