Montreal—old and new

Montreal—old and new

Very often the new things, the contemporary and common things emerged from an older version. The modern transportation system of containers with RFID chip has its roots in a simple system of boxes and palettes, sorted and consigned by hand and lifting devices. The promising container ship of new times that runs with electricity from renewables, until now seems to be at the end of a long chain of developments starting with the steam ship that was covered in black clouds of soot. In a similar way, the harbours of the world have changed their character in the course of the decades and centuries. Some harbours made way for others, the old ones were shut down while new ones were built. Montreal is one paradigm how an old traditional harbour serves its time and a new area is taken into operation. In a commendable way, however, the old district was not just abandoned like that to decay nor was is torn down immediately. Instead, it has been taken care of and promoted as part of the city's cultural heritage, which nowadays shapes the character of a whole quarter and is integrated into the cultural calender of the city.

Montreal Old Harbour

What we call Old Harbour of Montreal today, was used as a trade and reloading point as early as 1611 by French fur traders. Only by 1646 Montreal as a city is founded and with the developments in fur trade the first harbour installations are built in 1760. Initially trade is limited to the distance between Montreal and Quebec. The breakthrough in 1825 suddenly makes possible the passage in the other direction, upstream the Saint Lawrence River to the Great Lakes. In 1850 Montreal is in the position to take in overseas ships, in the hinterland the railway system spreads out, and a few years later is has evolved to be Canada's most important junction for railway and maritime transport. With huge investments from the government at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, quays, docks, lifting installations, cold warehouses and silos are built. Montreal is said to be the world's largest trade centre for grain by 1922. By 1928 the entire turnaround of goods in the harbour reaches a peak of 12,5 mio. tons. With the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, a long system of canals and locks, a thirty years later, ocean ships from the Atlantic can go upstream the Saint Lawrence River through to the Great Lakes without even landing in Montreal. In this context, the Harbour of Montreal suffers a radical decline in activities. It is declared a historical district in 1963, and as a new harbour area is taken into operation some way further up to the northeast in 1976, the henceforth Old Harbour of Montreal comes to a close in its previous function.

Port of Montreal

Located 1600 km upcountry from the Atlantic along the Saint Lawrence River, Montreal provides the shortest passage for container ships from Northern America to Europe. In 1968, so even before the first official operation as the new harbour as a whole, the first container terminal in Canada is built in the harbour area and handles TEU-container No. 1 Mio. in 1977. Based on the Island of Montreal, the harbour district includes 6,35 km² and stretches out 26 km along the river. Besides, the Port Authority operates a second branch of the harbour with further space 40 km down the river in Contrecoeur. This is a good option for the future to increase the container handling in that area since it is already obvious that the capacities on the Island of Montreal will be exhausted one day soon.

After Vancouver, Montreal is the number two in container ports in Canada. It has three international container terminals and one for domestic handling where oceanships with a size of up to 300m length can berch. In these terminals fifteen dockside cranes accomplish the whole process of loading and unloading, each of of them with lifting capacities between 40 and 65 t. Furthermore, the harbour has fifteen terminals for handling dry and liquid bulk, grain and break bulk. Two third of Canada's international trade run through the Port of Montreal, the first place takes the trade with Northern Europe at a rate of 44%, another 20% go to the Mediterranean region and 15% to Asia. According to the last report presented by the Port Authority, the annual handling amounted to 30 mio. tons—this is equivalent to a herd of some 6 mio. elephants. The handled goods altogether had a merchandise value of Can$ 41 billion of which the Canadian State had a revenue of Can$ 2.1 billion. But in return the State of Canada, the regional and city government reinvest in the harbour. An electronic navigation system, e. g., for the Saint Lawrence River was implemented and new feeder roads are to be built for better access for trucks as well as to relieve other city streets of massive traffic. And last but not least there are initiatives for pollution control and sustainability that are funded, too. Since 2001, the Montreal Port Authority (MPA) has successively been implementing guidelines and rules geared to contain any negative effects on the environment and to push sustainable shipping. With shortened driveways and, for example, a fleet of hybrid-driven vehicles that move around the harbour area, a first goal of drastically reducing emissions has been achieved. Ships that succumb to stricter environmental regulations get rebates. With these kind of initiatives the MPA takes its place in the first rows on an international level as it comes to promising measures for a (relatively) sustainable shipping.

Old id gold

What to do with the old harbour district that suddenly lost its function? It was never an option to just consign it to its fate and the ravages of time. Canadians seemed to be very aware of the saying "old is gold". And thus already in 1977 it was decided at governmental level to keep the area, slightly modifying it but also maintaining its character. In the following years there were a lot of measures that evolved out of a cooperation between governmental actors and representatives of public will. A park was located and layed out, old rails were dislodged, the Clock Tower restored, warehouses and quay installations renovated and overhauled. Today, visitors, residents as well as tourists, have the opportunity to set up a miscellaneous day programme in the district. That is why by recent numbers 6 million people per year feel attracted to visit the spot. For those interested in sciences, the Montreal Science centre opened its doors to the public in 2001. Sports fanatics can go on long paths for running or cycling. The visitor who simply wants to enjoy a warm day in spring off the hectic business district will just take a seat in the park or on a pier. And even from the waterside in small leisure boats, one can take in this so European part of a Canadian city that is framed by skyscrapers in the background. Truly, the Montrealers managed to keep the old and the new, both of them with their own respective function and right of existence, to an extent that daily life and the city's character wouldn't be the same if one of them were missing.