Angrignon to Lionel-Groulx at 40: STM offers free tours of Montreal's Green line extension this weekend

Eight Green line Metro stations — each designed with its own unique flair — opened in Montreal's west end on Sept. 3, 1978, and now, 40 years later, the public transit agency is taking people on a tour of those stations and learn the history.

LaSalle Metro architect Didier Gillon remembers designing station that integrates tradition with art

Natural light pours into LaSalle station, designed by architect Didier Gillon — light that is reflected off panelling and pulled further into the station. (Julien Perron-Gagné/STM)

UPDATE: The free tours are booked solid, the STM said Thursday.

Eight Green line Metro stations — each designed with its own unique flair — opened in Montreal's west end on Sept. 3, 1978, and now, 40 years later, the public transit agency is inviting people to tour those stations and learn the history.

"There are many things to say about each of the stations we will visit this weekend," said Benoît Clairoux, a public affairs official with the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) and the agency's unofficial, in-house historian.

This is the second year in a row the STM has offered free station tours as part of the Journées de la culture, three days of free cultural events across the province.

Clairoux will be the tour guide, pointing out the intricate details, telling tales and discussing the construction materials used in the Green line extension project.

"They are very nice stations, but they have history, you know? They are different from each other."

Participants will learn more about the Montreal Metro planners' decision to give each station its own unique design. That tradition continued with the extension from Lionel-Groulx to Angrignon — creating new architectural novelties in each neighbourhood. 

The stations have stood the test of time and still catch the eye of attentive visitors.

The Charlevoix station, which opened in 1978 as part of the Green line extension, is one of only a few stations in Montreal's network that has east-west trains coming in on two different levels. That subject will be explored during an STM-hosted tour of eight west-end stations this weekend. (Julien Perron-Gagné/STM)

The construction process wasn't without its hiccups, despite using almost the same experienced work crews that built the original network in the 1960s.

For example, digging under Wellington Street for the De L'Église Station caused the street to collapse — a disaster that forced the evacuation of the neighbourhood, delayed the entire Green line extension project and led to significant changes in the Metro line's design.

The Wellington Street collapse is one of many stories Clairoux said he looks forward to sharing with people on the tour.

The collapse of Wellington Street in the early phases of construction of Charlevoix Metro in 1974 delayed the Green line extension's construction. Here is the immense hole that became the Charlevoix station, as it looked in 1977. (Radio-Canada Archives)

From Angrignon to a lifetime

Two years after the project was completed, Clairoux, then seven, stepped into Angrignon station for the first time. He remembers that moment well.

"This day, it changed my life," he said.

He fell in love with the Metro, setting him on a career path that led to the STM.

All these years later, Clairoux is offering the two-hour, free tours of the eight Green line extension stations in French, but he will be happy to answer questions in English.

The building of De L'Église station resulted in the collapse of Wellington Street, delaying the entire Green line extension project. (Julien Perron-Gagné/STM)

There will be five tours in all from Friday to Sunday, although as of Thursday, all spots had already been booked. 

Award-winning architect on hand

Didier Gillon, architect of the LaSalle station, and Metro builder Jacques Bourassa will accompany the tours, sharing their own first-hand accounts.

When Gillon designed the station, he said he merged tradition with painting and sculpture.

"It is an integration of three disciplines," he told CBC News. "It is very structured architecture, but very supple architecture."

Gillon, now 80, will be telling tour participants the story behind his design — with its striking angles, skylights, bright colours and reflective panels on the ceiling that pull the sun's rays into the station's depths.

Gillon won an architectural award for the design in 1976, before it even opened for business.

Angrignon station, which ends in Montreal's Angrignon Park, is half in the ground and half out. STM historian Benoît Clairoux was seven when he stepped into that station in 1980 and became hooked on Metro lore. (Julien Perron-Gagné/STM)

The original design had transparent flooring on the main floor to allow even more natural light to the lower level.

"It would have been very interesting," he said, but, laughing, he said there were some fears the glass would crack. The builders ended up finishing the floor in cement and tile.

Four decades later, Gillon recalls the project fondly and said he looks forward to revisiting the station with people on the tour.


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