The term «Vieux Port» (Old Port) almost automatically conjures up mental images of yachts lying flank to flank, awaiting their captains. The wind provokes the metallic parts of the rig to drum against the mast-poles, and in crowded bistros glum-faced waiters tiptoe between tables, balancing round trays full of half-spilled coffee. In front of the restaurants dead fish lie on beds of ice and black lobsters creep in slow motion over mountains of algae. Inside the boutiques, where blue-and-white striped sweaters are sold, it smells of lavender.
In Montreal, too, there is a «Vieux Port» lying right adjacent to the old city centre, which is as it should be. But looking for yachts in this port is a futile exercise – and, furthermore, too little of a holiday mood comes up. This has less to do with the fact that this port is located on a canal – Canal de Lachine, which was once built for the circumnavigation of the rapids that bear the same name. Astonishing instead are the giant silos that bedeck the docks like abandoned space stations. These concrete-grey monsters make it immediately clear to the visitors that there will be no striped sweaters to be found here. The entrance to the Lachine Canal was once a giant hub where goods were loaded onto river vessels via hangars and silos from ocean freighters – and vice versa.
In the 1920s Montreal was, on account of these facilities, the world's most important port for grain export – and one of the largest river ports ever. In the late 1950s, however, the channel became superfluous because of the newly built Voie du Saint-Laurent which, being of a much greater depth, enabled ocean freighters to directly navigate almost 4,000 kilometres into the interior of northern America. Since then, the silos and hangars, crane systems and locks have gradually disintegrated. An industrial landscape that had once been much vaunted, photographed, painted and essayed had suddenly lost all importance – but it was still there, just a stone's throw away from the handsome old town with its little houses and neo-Gothic Notre Dame.
First Publication: 30-11-2014