Saturday, November 18, 2017

Amazing Montreal website allows you to compare today's view to 1947

  Watch the video about the amazing website that allows you to fly over Montreal from above in 1947

It's the craziest, funniest, scariest and most insightful book ever written about Montreal. Absolute must-reading! Kristian Gravenor's Montreal: 375 Tales of Eating, Drinking, Living and Loving, order your paper copy here now.


  1. Montreal then and now - Part One

    Fascinating to see the changes since 1947 and to see how certain streets were the first to open up otherwise yet-to-be-developed tracts of former farmland on the island. One can study this map for hours and never lose interest. Glad that someone has taken the time and trouble to organize it more conveniently than it originally was.

    Too bad certain sections of the metropolitan area were cut off from the camera lens and that, presumably, aerial maps covering earlier and later periods are unavailable for comparison--or maybe they are? Surely there was a contract to take such aerial pictures on a regular basis at least every ten years? If so, someone with access to them should dig them out of government, commercial, or private archives and likewise organize them for online study.

    Many of today's boroughs (previously referred to on various historical maps as paroisses, wards, and districts, etc.) grew up around their local town churches and streams, the latter of which were later placed underground such as the Raimbault Creek clearly visible on the 1947 aerial map.

    Subsequently-built railway lines divided adjacent districts until level crossings and--beginning during the Depression--underpasses were excavated to enable easier accessibility by the steadily increasing road traffic, not to mention sustaining a reasonable level of employment during those difficult times.

    In addition to researching Lovell's Directory regarding the timelines of city district expansion, a street's original layout can often be determined (as viewed from ground level) by the age of its trees as compared to trees on adjacent streets constructed or extended as the city and its on-island suburbs became annexed.

  2. Montreal then and now - Part Two

    Zooming in on the 1947 map, our streetcars and their trackage are visible and no doubt our resident streetcar buff Mr. MP&I will agree with me that the many, many hours of 8 millimeter film taken by various rail fans during special excursions as well as the final runs of certain city tram routes ought to be released and organized for today's researchers to analyze.

    These excursions, parades, and final-day-of-operation events are well-documented in the archives of Exporail's website, but--as far as I know, with the sparse exceptions currently visible on YouTube, the great majority of such films have not as yet been unearthed nor collected for potential sale or viewing online.

    Hopefully, someone at Exporail who reads our Coolopolis posts and can do something about this oversight as I can easily imagine dusty boxes of such film treasures sitting in various attics and basements throughout Canada and the U.S. from where the aforementioned fans and rail buffs came to immortalize our streetcar history. It would be a shame if vital films were lost, damaged, or deliberately scrapped by younger family members who too often tend to consider it "junk". :-(

    Unfortunately, back in the day as a young kid I had neither the inclination nor enough spare coins to go gallivanting off by myself to ride tram lines through distant parts of the city that were too far afield from where I lived. Besides, my pals and I were more keen to walk or ride our bicycles. Therefore, up until the end of 1959 with the exception of routes 17, 29, 48, 65, the Amherst trolley route 1 in its final year 1965, and perhaps a few other tram lines whose exact route numbers momentarily escape me, I have, for example, only a vague memory of riding the open-air observation tram car with my father through city streets before that fabled route--including its tunnels--was foolishly removed and converted into the paved Camilien-Houde roadway.

    In the opinion of many at the time, that former tram route 11 over Mount Royal should have been kept operating as a tourist attraction and not replaced by a busy thoroughfare which in recent years has wisely been reconfigured down to fewer lanes with the result that noise and air pollution has thankfully been reduced.

    Who knows, maybe some future municipal administration will reinstate the 11 tram? Or am I dreaming in technicolour?

  3. Kristian, I believe I have solved the mystery of that landscaped, circular area on the 1947 map which you describe might have contained a possible monument. This was located on the northeast sector of the downtown city block where Place des Arts exists today.

    According to Lovell's Directory for 1947, the entrance to the former St. Patrick's Elementary School building was at 1480 St. Urbain, with its building directly north of the circle which likely did contain a statue and possibly even a fountain. Perhaps someone more familiar with the school itself can provide photographs for this blog.

    Likewise in that same edition of Lovell's, at 117 St. Catherine Street W. was the headquarters of the Commission des Ecoles Catholiques de Montreal, directly to the east of which appears to be a laneway running north and connecting to the aforementioned circle.

    A Google search reveals very little about that Plateau district elementary school other than it was later closed and reportedly relocated to Pincourt, west of the island.

    I have not researched exactly why that particular downtown block was chosen for the future Place des Arts although I suspect that the Catholic School Commission was more than happy to sell their property--including the school--to the city and move to a more practical location.

    I do remember that a "Civic Centre" had been proposed in the late 50s early 60s by Mayor Drapeau and which was to be built somewhere downtown, but unfortunately did not make a specific note of exactly where it was supposed to be located.

    In any event, that so-called Civic Centre (not to be confused with the future Convention Centre) never did materialize for whatever reason or that possibly it was transmogrified into the Place des Arts project.

    Another source (my 1951 city map (routinely given away free by service stations) shows a red marker within that block being identified as the Montreal Catholic School Commission--presumably the English division (?)--if indeed it was housed in separate quarters from the French division at the 117 address.

    The "lovely" building that you point out on the northwest corner with St. Urbain is 105 Ste. Catherine W. This is directly to the east of 117 which in the year 1947 belonged to Woodhouse, an appliance and furniture company.

    You mentioned a subsequent fire at the 105 address. I suspect you may be confusing this with the major 1963 fire at 95 St. Catherine W. right across the street on the northeast corner with St. Urbain which in 1947 was also owned by Woodhouse.

    A Google search will retrieve information about that memorable and tragic event of 1963. I remember seeing the story on the TV news at the time.

    As for CNR's Central Station, there are many sources of historical data about it as well as loads of fascinating photos to be found in Google Images, not to mention the many relevant posts elsewhere within this very blog.

  4. This following link contains further information about the construction of Place des Arts which opened in October of 1963. It also includes a map which shows that "mysterious" circular area adjacent to the Catholic School Commission properties demolished to make way for the new project. Prior to the opening, newspaper articles referred to Place des Arts as the "Civic Centre".

  5. Around Westmount High ... empty fields ... my mother was born in Canada but in 1947 returned, and chose to live in Montreal. She told of the cultivated corn fields at Clarke and St. Catherine Street. They were part of the last working farm in Westmount and apparently were worked by nuns. I would guess they were affiliated with the parish of St. Leon. The 1947 aerial photos show barn-like buildings along Clarke and pictures exist of the view from Western Avenue (de Maisonneuve) looking south over the corn towards the old MAAA Clubhouse that stood where Westmount High is today.

    When I was old enough to ride a bicycle on my own in the early 60s I noticed the still-empty lot along Clarke Avenue from St. Catherine to Western. There were no fences but were diagonal paths worn through the weeds to shortcut from each corner of the lot to the other. By then the 4300 West had been built, c. 1958, and by about 1961 the 4300 East was put up. A few years later the other massive apartment block called Royal Westmount occupied the last of the former farm fields.

    The Sulpician brothers still worked the farmlands above Sherbrooke at Atwater until they were sold off in the late 20s for the Priests' Farm development, and the low-rise apartment buildings opposite today's Dawson College. The last remnant of agricultural land is today's Queen Elizabeth Park which as late as the 60s still had a few ancient crabapple trees from the farm days.

  6. Interesting about those lingering farmlands.

    In the early '60s I also remember seeing a few cows in the private field just to the north of Villa Maria. I assume these were kept by the school staff despite the widespread availability of dairy products from our local dairies.

    The last remaining farmlands that I remember lingered within the industrial park of Ville St. Laurent. Many deserted barns could be seen well into the '80s until inevitably the land was re-zoned and sold off.

    Furthermore, before the Trans Canada Highway was constructed through Ville St. Laurent in 1964, there were several former farms along Cote Vertu and later converted into horse riding stables. These too were eventually closed and their large tracts replaced by various corporations to increase tax revenue.

    I suspect that one reason these particular properties remained agricultural for so long was due to the fact that they were--and still are--directly beneath the Dorval Airport flight path (as well as that of the former and now-defunct Cartierville Airport) and therefore not a favourable location to build industrial or commercial establishments due to the constant noise and potential danger of crashes, the latter of which likely increases the cost of insurance premiums.

    Of course, long-time St. Laurent residents who live within neighbourhoods such as Norgate and west of Vanier College have been well aware of the constant air traffic noise and it wasn't until the '90s that newer residential complexes having superior soundproofing began to appear along Thimens, Poirier, and upper Cavendish.

    How many know that many of our Montreal island streets were named after the original farmers through whose land various industries and housing were later built? Everyone knows about the Decarie and Snowdon properties, but there was also Hodge, Benny, and several other such farm owners easy enough to discover through etymological research.

    Another oddity: on occasion in the late 50's, I distinctly remember seeing a horse tied up inside the fence at the northeast corner of Lavoie and Cote St. Catherine Road--land owned by the Jewish General Hospital. Since mare's urine is used for the production of Premarin, I assume these horses were kept close by for that reason. However, the mares are long gone and the space behind the fence subsequently completely overtaken by the parking lot which, reportedly, is notorious for charging exorbitant rates.

    The Town of N.D.G was originally farmland which, among other produce, grew the famous Montreal Melon routinely sold to city restaurants. It would be interesting to know when the last of these melons were grown to be included in our menus.

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  8. For newbies or for those who are not already aware, a more comprehensive coverage of the 1947 aerial map of Montreal (and others) can be found here: (French only so far. Sorry, no check box to click "Hi" ;-)

    The map file consists of 3923 individual grids. In order to view the island grid-by-grid, choose one of the "Données et ressources" that you are already familiar with or which proves to be the most user-friendly to you and follow the instructions.

    I use Windows 10 and chose the XLS option which is compatible with the Microsoft Office Excel Viewer.

    Download it FREE from the official website here:

    After you have clicked the XLS option, a new page pops up and from that page click the grey "Aller a la ressources" tab. This will immediately download the "vues-aeriennes-archive xls" map file into your computer's Downloads file. You will likely want to move the "vues-aeriennes-archive" to another location on your computer for future reference, however.

    Next, open your already-downloaded Microsoft Excel Viewer from your computer's Desktop Settings list, after which the colourful, blueish, Excel Viewer user screen will appear simultaneously overlapped by your Downloads screen.

    In your Downloads screen, click the word "data", click Open, and the "vues-aeriennes-archive" file will appear. Open it as well, and the map file will automatically load into the Excel Viewer screen from which you can choose and click the individual map grids.

    Yes, there is a learning-curve but with a little patience, the more you use it, the easier it becomes to locate the specific island map grids you seek and to familiarize yourself with the procedure necessary to move north, south, east, and west from the specific grid you are viewing at any given moment.

    To enlarge a map grid, left-clicking it will toggle it to its fullest possible size. However, if you want to zoom incrementally with a grid map, those using Windows can simply click "save image as" which sends that specific grid map to your Pictures file from where you can zoom it to your heart's content.

    How much has changed following the post-WWII building boom! Those vast tracts of empty fields became housing developments. Zooming in on various grids one can see steam trains, streetcars, the odd horse wagon, and even people on the sidewalks!

    As a starting point, below is one of the grids which overlooks St. Joseph's Oratory and its surrounding streets and buildings. Not many visitors that day!

    To view a grid further east of the one above, increase its suffix 7P12-21.jpg to 7P12-22.jpg., and higher. To move further west, decrease the suffix to 7P12-20.jpg and lower, etc.

    Moving north and south follows a certain pattern as well but, depending on the district, this is somewhat trickier due to the Island of Montreal being off-centre geographically according to longitude and latitude as based on how it was initially set up by the map-maker. In any event, trial and error, patience, perseverence, previous familiarity with the city's districts, intersections, and landmarks will inevitably result in a clearer picture.

    My apologies if the aforementioned instructions are confusing. Technical writing is not my forté, unfortunately. Enlist a tech geek who will kindly set it up for you.

    Good luck and enjoy the historical view. :-)


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