ontreal wears many of its ambitious failures on its sleeve but others have been forgotten. Some never made it off the drawing board, others were built only to be scrapped when the city changed. Here are six of Montreal’s forgotten visions of a future that never came.
1. The Turbo Train.
Introduced in 1968, the Turbo was Canada’s first – and only – attempt at high-speed rail.
Built in Montreal, and using a jet engine, Canadian National Railways claimed the train was capable of speeds of over 270 km/h. But because of traffic, track conditions and the need to slow down for crossings, its maximum speed in actual service was just over 150 km/h. That was still fast enough to make it from Montreal to Toronto in almost exactly four hours, a full hour faster than previous trains.
While CN boasted that the prototype had performed “perfectly” before it was launched, the train suffered problems from the beginning. On the train’s first demonstration run in December 1968, the Turbo hit a truck at a crossing near Kingston. One person was injured, though not seriously, and the train was damaged enough that the passengers, mostly reporters and railway officials, were put on another train and taken back to Toronto.
By January, the five Turbos had already been withdrawn from service for another year of testing. When the trains finally returned to service, they only lasted another nine months before were removed for another two and half years of testing.
In June 1973, with testing and repairs complete, regular Turbo service began. It didn’t go well. Four days later, two Turbos broke down mid-trip. At the time, CN officials speculated that the trains’ full passenger loads might be at fault. Despite the years of testing, they had never been tested at capacity.
A month later, a Turbo built for American railway Amtrak crashed into a freight train near Lachine during a testing run, injuring 11 people. Poor hydraulics and an inability to deal with cold temperatures were blamed for the Turbo’s troubles.
In November 1982, the Turbo took its last trip – arriving in Toronto half an hour late.
“It was to have been ‘The Train of the Future,’” the Gazette’s Ian Mayer wrote at the time. “The future has come and the Turbo has gone.”
2. The Metros that never were
The Montreal Metro officially opened in 1967, but plans had already been in the works for over 50 years.
In 1910, the Quebec government authorized the Montreal Street Railway to begin construction of a subway over two years, with the province offering a $2 million investment. However, after an internal power struggle, the railway, renamed The Montreal Tramways Company, announced they would improve the city’s existing streetcar service rather than build a subway. By 1913, the Tramways Company was already asking for the right to build a subway in the city – within 40 years.
While subway construction was an issue in the 1914 mayoral election, the winner, Médéric Martin, wasn’t a fan of the Tramways Company. He, along with the majority of the city’s aldermen, had opposed its mergers with other streetcar firms.
Ultimately, World War I and the city’s post-war debt pushed the idea to the background.
By 1930 subway plans were back on the agenda. City council received a proposal from the Tramways Company but no action was taken.
In 1938, promising to build a $60 million subway, Camillien Houde was elected to his fourth term as mayor in an election that the Windsor Daily Star described as “one of the most turbulent in the violence-spotted history of Montreal voting.”
“Scores of street fights broke out across the city,” and over a dozen people injured, including a police detective who was hit with a “nail-studded plank,” the Daily Star reported. Over 107 people were arrested for voter fraud.
By 1944 the Tramways Company had a real plan, a north-south line running along St-Laurent to Jean-Talon and an east-west line running along St-Catherine, with another three-station line on St-Antoine (then called Craig St.) downtown. But the private Tramways Company wasn’t very profitable and couldn’t secure funding for the endeavor.
In early 1950, the city decided to expropriate the Tramways Company’s surface lines to create a municipal transit commission – which would also be responsible for building a subway, with the cost then estimated at $180 million.
According to Houde – who was back in the mayor’s office – the subway would not only reduce traffic congestion in the city, it could also serve as a bomb shelter in case of another war.
Even by then, the subject of a subway actually being built in Montreal had become something of a joke. Gazette sports columnist Dink Carroll wrote that it rated “with such noted long distance discussions as the possibility of” a United States of Europe or a Canadian winning the Canadian Open golf tournament (which would actually happen in 1954).
There was some discussion of subway plans during the 50s. A plan was developed in 1953 and multiple mayoral candidates promised subways during the 1957 municipal election. But there was little movement.
In 1959, an Ottawa Citizen editorial claimed that Montreal’s “will-o’-the-wisp of a subway” irked Montrealers more than the state of the city’s airport, which was described as “simply disgusting.”
3. The Metro that could have been
In May 1962, construction finally began on the Montreal Metro. That December, then-mayor Jean Drapeau began negotiations with the federal government in an effort to secure funding to extend the Metro, or build a monorail, to the airport.
While a deal wasn’t reached in time for Expo, plans to extend the Metro to the Dorval Airport were included in Montreal’s 1967 transit plan.
That wasn’t even the most ambitious part. The plan called for nine lines and over 100 km of track, around twice the current length, to be built by 1982. Specific permission for a Metro expansion to Laval was granted by the provincial government that year, an expansion that didn’t actually happen until 2007
By 1976, rising costs, soaring inflation, the City’s Olympic debt and slower than expected population growth forced the province to freeze expansion plans for three years and eventually scale them back.
4. Labatt Park
Montreal’s Olympic Stadium never quite worked as a baseball venue and by the late ’90s it was clear that if the Expos didn’t find a new home, they’d probably have to leave.
In 1998, the team’s owners announced a plan to build a $250 million stadium. The stadium, which was to be located between Peel and De La Montagne, and St-Jacques and Notre-Dame, was scheduled to open in time for the 2001 season. In exchange for naming rights, Labatt brewery promised the team $100 million, over 20 years. To fund the rest, the team hoped to pre-sell $100 million worth of luxury boxes and season ticket rights, with another $150 million coming from the province. But the province wasn’t interested and seat sales stalled at $40 million.
In 2000, the Expos’ new owner, Jeffrey Loria, who had purchased the team in December 1999, unveiled a new, somewhat scaled-back plan for the stadium. The cost was estimated at $200 million. But again, the province refused funding and the deal with Labatt soon fell apart.
5. A downtown “airport”
In 1974, the federal government introduced the fastest way to travel between Ottawa and Montreal: flights using short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft. Flying from a former Expo parking lot, now rechristened the Victoria Airport, to Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Airport; the trip was advertised as taking 90 minutes downtown-to-downtown, including travel time to and from the airports.
The 11-seat planes flew every hour and tickets cost $20, low even by the standards of the day. The federal government had recently purchased a manufacturer of STOL planes and hoped the demonstration service would increase demand. Even from the beginning, the government expected the service to lose $1 million a year.
But after two years, with little commercial interest, the demonstration was shut down. In 1979, a private firm attempted to launch a STOL service between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, but it never took off.
6. A NFL team
In a 1979 interview with the Montreal Gazette, Drapeau—who had been in power for 22 of the previous 25 years—told the paper he was working to secure an NFL franchise for the city. “I believe our citizens have a taste for the best. When they know the best, they want the best.”
“So now they have learned football,” Drapeau continued. “So well, they want to see the best. I believe there is room here for both Canadian and NFL football.”
Drapeau had returned from a trip to the Super Bowl just days before that interview, part of his effort to woo the league and win a team, which was to be called the Olympics.
While Drapeau hoped the city would be included in a planned 1982 expansion, the plan hinged on the completion of the Olympic Stadium’s retractable roof – which didn’t happen until 1987.
The stadium wasn’t the only factor though, the heated political climate in Quebec during the 1980s helped diminish interest in Montreal on the American side. Closer to home, the federal government opposed to the plan, in an effort to protect the CFL.