Retired Montreal metro cars finding second lives as public spaces
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 28, 2018 3:36PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 28, 2018 6:54PM EST
After more than 50 years on the rails, some of Montreal's retired metro cars will find new vocations this summer as galleries, restaurants and pop-up fashion shops, two local entrepreneurs announced Wednesday.
Four of the cars will be integrated into a new public space that will open as a pilot project between May and September of this year, brothers Frederic and Etienne Morin-Bordeleau told a news conference.
The two-ton, blue-and-white cars will house a temporary art gallery, snack counter, recording studio and design showcase at a site near the Lachine Canal which will also play host to concerts, conferences and public events.
The initiative is a precursor to a larger, permanent community space that involves transforming eight of the cars into a multi-level sculpture that will function as an art gallery, community space and cafe/bar featuring local products and vendors.
That project, named after the MR-63 cars, is expected to open in 2020.
"This project is a four-month test of what our mission could look like in a permanent space, and what it's like to have a coffee in a metro car while the sunshine is pouring down," Frederic Morin-Bordeleau said at the news conference.
Montreal's transit agency issued a call for public proposals in 2016 to repurpose the Smurf-blue MR-63 cars, which are being gradually replaced after serving since the opening of the subway in 1966.
To be approved, a project had to meet certain criteria including heritage value, sustainability and feasibility.
Any outdoor projects also had to include a plan to weatherproof the cars, which were designed for underground use.
Frederic Morin-Bordeleau said the one wagon they've already received has proven to be surprisingly weather resistant so far.
"The top needs to be sealed so no rainwater comes in, but neither the sun that radiates on the fibreglass nor the rain damages the metro train," he said.
The inside of the cars will also be renovated to give them "a cool Montreal feel" that also honours their heritage, he indicated.
Mayor Valerie Plante, who attended Wednesday's announcement, praised the initiative as a way to keep the cars "vibrant and alive" in Montrealers' memories.
"Let's not forget those metro wagons, when the metro was opened, totally changed how Montreal was perceived around the world," she said.
The transit agency said in an email that two of the seven projects it approved have been completed so far.
One of them, an art installation out of 12 subway doors created by sculptor Michel de Broin, was displayed in Montreal's entertainment district last fall.
The piece, called "Thresholds," allowed members of the public to circulate through the row of motion-activated doors, evoking a chewing motion, according to the artist.
De Broin said in an email he was eager to work with the historic subway material, whose image he added is tied with "a certain image of modernity in Montreal."
"Today, the shapes, the pale blue and white colours of the cars is part of the heritage," he wrote.
"I knew that the simple gesture of recontextualizing these objects would appeal to a certain nostalgic feeling Montrealers often have towards objects tied to the 1960s."
The transit agency has also delivered a subway car to a public garden and says others are scheduled to be sent to a school and a train museum.
At last count, 224 have also been recycled for scrap, according to the agency's website.