The History of Montreal’s Eastern Bus Terminal

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Éric Soucy told you about the history of the Ilôt Voyageur site. Readers were just as surprised as we were to discover that it used to be home to this correctional facility:

The correctional facility was both a reform school for delinquent youth, and a prison. It was demolished some time in the 1940s. Pictured here is the view of the facility from below Mignonne, now better known as Maisonneuve.

This yummy piece of info was revealed in the process of researching the Ilôt Voyageur’s history, which I did for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Concordia professor Cynthia Hammond — who I interviewed about the work she and her colleagues did around the redesign of the Wellington Tower in Griffintown — recommended that I look up old maps in the city’s archives to see if there had ever been a market on or near the site. Because our Marché Voyageur project wants to convert the old bus station into a public market, finding that kind of correlation would help us demonstrate that there was a precedent.

Secondly, architecture and engineering students have joined the Marché Voyageur team, and they need as much information about the site as possible. Most crucially, they need building plans to understand its structure.

I’ve actually been looking for these plans for weeks, and after a whole lot of digging, I found them in a magazine that’s available through the BaNQ’s periodical collection.

The article was published in the now-defunct Architecture Bâtiment Construction, in the February 1952 issue. It not only shows us architect David Shennan’s plans; it also has photos of the bus station in its original state, as well as descriptions of each floor. Here’s what I discovered about the old bus terminal.

A picture of the bus terminal, when it was first built. Look at that marquee!

At first, it was just that building on the corner
When we think of the old bus terminal on Berri and Maisonneuve, it usually conjures up the image of a brown L-shaped building across the street from Place Émilie-Gamelin on one side, and the National Library (BaNQ) on the other. That’s certainly the case now, but those extensions along Berri and Maisonneuve were add-ons that came some time in the 1970s. When the bus terminal was built in the early 1950s, it was just that square. The building’s curved corner and vertical Googie-styled signage suggests Streamline Moderne architecture, somewhat echoing the other bus terminal in Montreal at the time.

The third floor of the bus terminal would become the accounting office of the Provincial Transport Co. The rooftop was made of cement, sturdily built to accommodate the construction of three more levels above this floor.

Sturdy structure
The rooftop of the third and final floor is made of cement. This is so that they could eventually add up to three more floors to the building. Another idea was to build a solarium on the rooftop for the building’s employees. The point is, they wanted that third floor to be solid enough to put something else above it.

Montreal’s other bus terminal on Dorchester and Drummond. Also a Streamline Moderne piece of architecture, they don’t build ‘em like this anymore.

Montreal’s second bus terminal
Known as the “Terminus de l’est” (tr. “eastern terminal”) because of its location in the city’s eastern area, it was built for buses going to the Eastern Townships, the Laurentians, and the St. Lawrence River valley. It was the second bus terminal in Montreal; the first was located on Dorchester/René-Lévesque and Drummond (pictured above). It was one of 5 bus terminals run by the Provincial Transport Co.; the other 3 were in Chicoutimi, Ottawa, and Kingston. In its lifetime, the Terminus de l’est has had many names: Terminus provincial, Terminus Voyageur, Gare d’autocars de Montréal, and Station centrale d’autobus de Montréal.

Barbershops are the future!
Curvy lunch counters: a contemporary twist.

A modern marvel
When it opened, the eastern bus terminal was the most modern of its kind. On top of its futuristic Streamline Moderne silhouette, it was also a highly multi-functional space. There was Macy’s restaurant and lunch counter (an air-conditioned space, to boot), a barbershop (pictured above), a newsstand, and two floors above that were used as office spaces. The concourse by the main entrance was two floors high, and a sweeping cantilevered concrete marquee characterized the exterior along Berri.

About David Shennan, the architect
David Shennan (1880–1968) was born in Scotland and emigrated to Canada in the early 20th century. In Montreal, he was hired by the Saxe & Archibald firm. He went overseas to serve during WWI, then returned to Montreal, whereupon he was made partner at John S. Archibald. During his career, Shennan designed several renowned architectural structures, including the cliffside Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie (now the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, pictured), the Hotel Tadoussac in Tadoussac, and “Le Sabot,” a mansion in Senneville built for philanthropist F. Cleveland Morgan (grandson of Henry Morgan, owner and founder Henry Morgan & Company department store on Ste-Catherine, which was eventually sold to Hudson’s Bay). The contractor on the bus terminal project was Foundation Company of Canada, and the client at the time was the Provincial Transport Co.

This structure is part of our history, and it deserves to survive.

Why I’m telling you any of this
The current plans for the site would demolish the L-shaped building along Berri and Maisonneuve completely, and replace it with a commercial tower (or twin towers), which would house Revenu Québec’s new offices, among others.

The old bus terminal is a part of Montreal’s history, and that beautiful corner building is structurally sound. It doesn’t have to be left to waste, and neither do the extensions that were added along its sides.

The Marché Voyageur project wants to reclaim that space and make use of it in a way that would benefit the Quartier Latin neighbourhood and its economy. On top of maintaining the public nature of the site, the Marché Voyageur would also cost taxpayers a lot less than a 240-million-dollar tower.

Buildings witness our history, and that makes them a living thing. We believe the old bus terminal is still alive, and worth saving.

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