Understanding the Built Form of Industrialization along the Lachine Canal in Montreal

By Bliek, Desmond; Gauthier, Pierre | Urban History Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Understanding the Built Form of Industrialization along the Lachine Canal in Montreal


Bliek, Desmond, Gauthier, Pierre, Urban History Review


Abstract

This article tracks the morphogenesis of one of the birthplaces of Canadian industry: the Lachine Canal corridor in Montreal. The authors propose a reading of the evolution of the artifacts and spatial forms to be found along the canal from its construction starting in 1819. This work complements the history of Montreal's industrialization and working-class communities by offering the untold story of a piece of the city whose birth and long sedimentation of built forms testifies to the emergence, peak, and decline of a new industrial order. The urbanization of the Lachine Canal corridor is, we argue, the result of a complex dialectic between a residential spatial order of the faubourg and a first- and second-generation industrial spatial order. Accordingly, the fine folds and articulations of domestic space and the sidewalks, streets, and church steps that are the sites of socialization and exchange succeed, or have imposed upon them a divided space organized by the flows of goods, materials, and energy destined to serve the industrial machine. The urban tissues, residential and industrial, today testify through their artifacts and spatial configurations to the historical conditions that saw them created and transformed.

Resume

Cet article trace la morphogenese de l'un des berceaux de l'industrialisation canadienne : le corridor du canal Lachine a Montreal. Les auteurs livrent une premiere lecture de l'evolution des artefacts et des formes spatiales qui se deploient de part et d'autre du canal, depuis sa construction a compter de 1819. A l'histoire de l'industrialisation et a celle des communautes ouvrieres des abords du canal Lachine, se superpose ici une histoire inedite, celle d'un morceau de ville dont la genese et la lente sedimentation des formes baties temoignent et enregistrent l'impact de l'emergence, de l'apogee et du declin du nouvel ordre economique industriel. Nous demontrerons que l'urbanisation du corridor du canal Lachine est le fruit d'une dialectique complexe entre un ordre spatial residentiel de faubourg et un ordre spatial industriel de premiere et seconde moutures. Ainsi, aux tissages et modes d'articulation fins des espaces domestiques et de leurs espaces contigus de socialisation et d'echange que sont les trottoirs, rues et autres parvis d'eglise, succede ou se superpose un espace divise et organise en fonction des flux, tantot de materiaux et de biens, tantot d'energie, qui sont destines a alimenter la machine industrielle. Les tissus urbains, residentiels comme industriels, livrent aujourd'hui le temoignage, en dur dans les artefacts, ou en creux, dans les configurations spatiales, des conditions historiques qui les ont vues naitre et se transformer.

Introduction

New debates over the future of now derelict or underutilized landscapes of production have prompted a critical examination, (1) re-contextualization, (2) and extension of concepts of built heritage in the wake of de-industrialization (3) in North America and the West. This paper presents the results of an ongoing case study that seeks to understand the history of one such area, the Lachine Canal basin in Montreal, by exploring the spatial dynamics of its particular industrial landscape. Using the theoretical framework and methodological approach known as urban morphology, we develop a historical reconstruction of the underlying spatial logic of the site that reveals a century-long dialectic between industrial and residential spatial orders, informed by major currents in the political, economic, and technological histories of Montreal, and continues to shape contemporary spatial conditions. Our aim is to enrich the understanding of the industrial history and geography of the Lachine Canal by unveiling the role of the built landscape as a structure influencing the industrial urbanization. We argue that the mechanisms of transformation and conservation of the built landscape--the structural permanencies (what remains ingrained in the landscape in spite of ongoing change)--present in the system of the built landscape play a critical role in mediating the actualization of cultural, economic, and technological transformations. …

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