Montreal’s Silo #5: Love In A (Grain) Elevator On Pointe-du-Moulin
Written by: Carly Steven
One of Montréal’s most prominent and domineering landmarks, Silo #5 squats like a great concrete toad on the lily pad of Pointe-du-Moulin. A former grain elevator, it propelled the city to the forefront of global grain exportation in the early 20th Century, holding ‘over five million bushels of grain or enough wheat to fill 30 Olympic-size swimming pools or make over 230 million loaves of bread’ [pointedumoulin.ca].
Built in four stages (1906, 1913, 1924 and 1958), Silo No 5 is the only example of the evolution of grain elevators in the 20th century. With the demolition of Silo No. 1 and Silo No. 2, it is now the last vestige of the harbour panorama of Old Montreal in the 20th century.
Spanning 850m in length and soaring to sixteen storeys in height, this great behemoth oscillates in public opinion from eyesore to icon.
Since decommissioning it has been closed to the public but JM and I were lucky enough to get on one of a handful of tours organised by Héritage Montréal in collaboration with Canada Lands Company (CLC) who, as of November 2010, now own the site.
Even in the company of glorious sunshine and a dozen or so be-hard-hatted enthusiasts, it’s quite an eerie place to wander around. Inside the silo is cold and reeks of pigeon poo; huge funnels hang ominously overhead and large lumps of metal rust noiselessly in pools of turgid rainwater.
Trains still travel across Pointe-du-Moulin – we had to step across the tracks – but the rails that run through the centre of Silo No 5 are now quite silent. Eighty people would have been responsible for operating the grain elevators which, thanks to the port’s early adoption of electricity, could function 24 hours a day.
Even as late as 1970, after the construction of Elevator No. 4 and its first annex in the east end of the Port, Silo No. 5 delivered 30,257,082 bushels, or 20%, of the total 158,33,703 bushels delivered by the Port’s five elevators.
However, starting in the 1980s, Silo No. 5′s activities decreased in conjunction with the decline of the Port of Montreal’s dominance in the handling of grain for export.
As of 1991, Silo No. 5 was partially closed, with only the structure “B-1″ still used as a storage annex for the neighbouring mills. By 1994, with revenues no longer covering expenses, Silo was emptied and operations ceased entirely at the end of the year.
As our guide explained, the man-made land upon which the silo is built – a complicated construction of crates and concrete – is too precariously put together to confidently start digging it up.
But CLC does have an obligation to redevelop the site. The Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO) has classified Silo No 5 as a “recognized” building, and ‘recommends conservation of the industrial complex as a commemoration of the importance of grain handling for Montréal and Canada’ (Pointe-du-Moulin). One proposal is to use the top section of Annex B as storage space for computer servers.
Just to add to the spookiness, our guide told us about something that happened when a group of Héritage Montréal representatives came to the silo earlier in the year. It was grey and miserable so they decided to close the main entrance to keep out the horizontally-inclined raindrops. As they were gathering round a table in the darkness they became aware of signs that someone had been there before them; that they were, in fact, not alone.
When they tried to exit through the side-door they found that it was jammed. They eventually got out through the main gate but our guide had to go back into make sure the door was locked. She didn’t see anyone but I’m still glad we heard this story after we’d all been for a poke around the silo rather than before.
After having a play with the Silophone installation and contemplating the rather brutal, Star Wars-esque sculpture that has been transferred to Pointe-du-Moulin from somewhere Downtown and is now only really visible to sailors and pigeons, we finished up and headed for Sainte-Catherine St and our first taste of Aires Libres in Montréal’s gay village.
Aires Libres is when Rue Ste. Catherine between Berri and Papineau closes down to automotive and cycling traffic and becomes a pedestrian paradise. Themed decorations go up, terraces on every single restaurant, café and club roll out and the gays come on down for another summer of fun.
Montréal’s Village is the largest in North America and is actively promoted as one of the city’s major tourist attractions. Beaudry Metro station has even been decorated with rainbow pillars. As part of Aires Libres, strands of pink baubles have been strung across Sainte-Catharine’s for several blocks. We had a few beers in the Oscar Wilde pub while there was still some sunshine on the terrace and it looked like the evening was just about to kick off as we were leaving. According to Gay Cities (Montréal):
Visitors may also be interested in learning that regulations in Canada are rather more liberal than our own, which may make your night at the corner strip joint a bit more exciting than expected.