Champ-de-Mars Metro: A Gateway Among Many to Old Montreal
January 29, 2018 / Posted by Heritage Montreal - Collaborator
If you wish to take a sunbath during the winter months, your first reflex will probably not be to bury yourself underground in the maze of the metro. That being said, you should definitely keep an eye out for a fabulous glass roof created by Quebecois artist Marcelle Ferron. Upon entering Old Montreal, right beside the new Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) and our elegant City Hall, in the Champ-de-Mars metro station, look up to the sky and gaze at a lovely array of colours which come to life with the winter sun. This metro station is much more than a space for transit; it forms a lovely crossroads between the historic city and the modern skyscrapers. This dialogue is absolutely beautiful, and has piqued our curiosity.
The Champ-de-Mars metro was included in the original metro plan, and was designed by City of Montreal architect Adalbert Niklewicz, who also helmed the Sauvé, Crémazie and Beaudry stations. Its name was inspired by the park built around it which, in the 19th century, was host to military parades, promenades and assemblies. You can still visit this park today to admire the city’s ancient fortifications; you’ll see that it now features a small pavilion with an inclined roof. The glass roof was designed by Marcelle Ferron, and features three facades which let natural light enter the metro platforms, a rare sight in Montréal’s transit system. The north side of the metro, for its part, is fully adorned with concrete geometric designs. The interior features a sober combination of cream and blue paint on the platforms’ walls. Its humble design makes the glass roof shine to let metro-goers bask in different shades of light according to the hour of the day.
“Great Dancing Shapes’’
Marcelle Ferron’s monumental glass roof was inaugurated in 1968. It is a lovely collage of “dancing” shapes and colours such as red, green, orange and blue. This piece made from stained glass, a material often used in places of worship, was a part of a massive public architecture project. The result was a lovely creation featuring bravely abstract visual language, which was completely contrary to the vision of Robert Lapalme, the artistic director of the metro at the time, who wanted the underground transit system to be filled with figurative pieces illustrating the history of Montréal. In her piece, Ferron used a technique that she developed in the labs of the Superseal company, which allows workers to insert antique glass between two windows. In doing so, Ferron showed that it was possible to adapt a traditional art form to the reality of Quebec’s climate. The glass roof was damaged, but was then restored in 1999 by master glassmaker Aurèle E. Johnson, who used new techniques to safeguard it against vandalism and degradation. His project earned him and the STM an Orange Prize from Sauvons Montréal. Recently, work was done to expand the Champ-de-Mars metro station, and the STM installed Un solide, a wonderful piece of art by Jacques Bilodeau which toes the line between sculpture and architecture, and establishes a quintessential dialogue with Ferron’s piece as it values the singularity of the place and its history.
During the project to repair parts of the Ville-Marie Expressway between avenue Hôtel-de-Ville and rue Sanguinet, a new public space will change the face of the Champ-de-Mars station. The place des Montréalaises will be a testament to the city’s most distinguished women throughout its history, and will be linked to the underground by a pedestrian walkway. It will be fully completed by 2022 for an international multidisciplinary landscape architecture contest, so keep and eye out for it!