Interview with Mr. Gérald Morel and historical commentary: Stéphane Tessier.
Directing and filming for this video: Nicolas St-Germain.
Mr. Gérard Morel (GM) describes to Stéphane Tessier (ST) the area around the factories in 1950 and the constant shuttling of trucks on La Visitation Island. He compares this to the site as we know it today. He explains what the industrial buildings were like in his youth, and the hopes raised by the public consultations of the 1990s. He remembers the dismantling of the workshops, but also the concerns of the island’s residents over the potential expropriation of their homes. He talks about the different floors of the factory, the view of the river and basins, the condition of the turbines, and the dam’s canals. He later deplores the lack of proper maintenance for these vestiges and the loss of understanding of the industrial site, which is now fenced off and inaccessible to the public. Mr. Morel wants the promised sums to be effectively invested in its preservation.
GM You went to the island, and the first thing you saw was what is now a square patch of trees.
But there used to be a fairly tall building there. It was used as a warehouse. There were these gates that would open straight onto the main street. Trucks would load up, and leave.
Then you had the smokestack, a red brick smokestack. That’s the one that had the famous whistle that marked the time in the village.
Further back, to the left, where you have the picnic tables today, a bit closer to the river, was what you called the “carré à charbon” (coal pen).
So as I was saying, at that time [the early 1990s], I had moved away. I’m not on the island anymore. I pop by now and then. And I see people worried, saying, “the factory’s moving away … they’re going to expropriate everybody … they’re going to tear down all the houses…”
Those were questions that the villagers on the island had.
ST Did the dismantling of the factory mills happen gradually, or all at once?
GM I figure gradually because you had to take out all the machinery.
But some of it was left there because you can still see the turbines.
GM The turbines worked well; the canals were cleaned twice a year…
The City of Montreal had plans for the site. There were a lot of consultations in the miller’s house that had this big meeting room. Then they explained, “Here’s what we can do. Here’s what we want to do. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
But between what they were planning… I thought the initial idea was very interesting. You would have access to the whole floor, while today it’s all fenced off. We could walk around the entire upper floor, and go right up to the river, on a belvedere, to see the view.
Now you can’t go because of safety concerns…
The thing is, if it’s not safe anymore it’s because someone didn’t maintain it properly.
That saddens me.
Sure, you can see some cracks, but those can be fixed. It’s concrete.
I wish they’d straighten up all the concrete that needs straightening up. That could be done, in my opinion.
They already promised money for it, but they somehow forgot. We should bring that money back. And give people access to those spaces again, so they can enjoy their beauty.
Give them back the real thing.
Today, driving down Du Pont Street, you can only see it through the fences. Whereas before everyone could walk about in it.