Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Friday, August 31, 2012

Abandoned in Montreal II - Silo No. 5

This is the king of silo, period.

As I mentioned in the previous post about abandoned structures along the Lachine Canal, this 14.5 km long canal opened in 1825 used to be a bustling hub of industry and transportation until the opening of the St Laurence seaway in the late 50's.

Refereed as the "bread basket of the world", Canada was the major source of grains just after WWII.  The major beneficiaries of the export were European nations whose agricultural industry was left with little recovery.

Silo No. 5 (or Elevator No. 5) consists of three sections constructed in four different stages between 1903 and 1959. The Elevator 5 B1 (left in the above picture) was completed in 1959. The oldest, Elevator 5 B (the rusty part in the middle) was completed  in 1906. The construction of the Elevator 5 Annex (on the far right connected by a corridor between Elevator 5 B) began in 1913. It took almost 20 years for the completion, possibly due to WWI and the great depression of 1929 made the construction process slow.

Elevator 5 B (completed 1906)

If I make a ranking for my favorite abandoned industrial structures, this comfortably sits on the position of No. 2. (No. 1 is Battersea Power Station in London. No. 3 is now gone International Paper Co. in Somerville. After that, it's contingent.)

Elevator 5 Annex (completed 1934)

The first time I saw the silo was probably when I was writing my BA dissertation about modern architectural history. My fascination with industrial architecture began with my discovery of the Crystal Palace, the main pavilion for the Great Exhibition 1851 held in London.

The works of Bauhaus equally fascinated me. Linear aesthetic for the sake of functionality felt very appealing for the mind of 21 years old. If my memory is correct, I saw this very grain elevator through Walter Gropius book called International Architecture.

Even after the closure of the Canal in 1970, Silo No. 5 kept operating. But beginning from the 80's, the silo experienced a significant decline due to the loss of significance of the Port Montreal. The competition with more modern Silo No. 4 (which was constructed in 1963) was also a factor.

Silo No. 5 was closed in 1994. The economic turbulence caused by 1995 referendum left Montreal cityscape frozen in time. Silo No. 5 just kept sitting on the port left abandoned.

For last 20 years, the silo stays abandoned, but it kept in Montrealer's mind as a landmark of the city's industrial past. Its iconic look --approved by Bauhaus for its machine aesthetic-- somehow gained a "cool" outlook to the young Montrealers.

My friend and I visited the silo after 5 o'clock (or say 17h), and a group with colorful spandex gathered for an after-work training session at a park by the silo. A sleek spa boat seems to be docked by the silo permanently, offering a spectacular view of the Old Montreal, Habitat 67, and needless to say, Silo No. 5 while spa patrons relax in an outdoor Jacuzzi. The park was oddly dotted with people clad with white robes, roaming aimlessly as if a college dormitory's fire alarm went off in the morning.

I quickly gain a fascination how the younger generation of Montrealers view the relics of the pre-Referendum era.

While we are looking at all the humanity around the silo, a man was also struck by this completely transformed sight. He explained that he's from here and left for a job in Alberta. It's been 7 years since he left Montreal, and he seemed to be surprised by the transformation the town went through while he had been away.

From his accent, I gathered that he's an anglophone. He said he's around 50 years old and his childhood landscape was predominantly industrial. He seemed to be exited by his return to the home and began explaining his recent genealogical discovery.

He's Scotch-Irish origin whose ancestor came to Montreal during the 17th century. He just discovered from library archive that his ancestor owned a land in a now busy section of the town and began feeling territorial to the now disconnected land.

The tone of voice reflected his feeling. I sensed he felt the discovery well represented his life as a continuous process of being taken away. His intense frustration sparked when he mentioned the city went thorough such a sleek transformation because Quebec didn't leave Canada.

I wish he didn't say that. Between my francophone friend and him, I felt like I stepped into an internal battle that I cannot mediate. Probably he well knew she's a francophone and wanted to ignite a bomb in front of an outsider.

I lamely cut off the conversation and sped away from him.

My friend was calm, explaining she didn't react to his words because she didn't grow up in the city; she didn't face an intense friction between francophone and anglophone around the Referendum era. 

I felt awkward after a glimpse of the tension between the two groups. I've heard it loosened a lot but is still lingering...

Suddenly, a train pulling grain tanks came to our sight. The engine slowly approached to the silo and made a complete stop as if the train is loading phantom grain from the silo.

After 5 minutes or so, the engine made a huge yawning sound. Like a snake shaking its body after a long hibernation, the sound echoed, and vibration went through the entire load. It started U-turning.

We were puzzled why the train needed to stop and U-turn in this very spot. The silo is disused for almost 20 years! Why didn't it U-turn by a working silo adjacent to*?

* It's "Farine Five Roses" silo, another landmark of the city.

Silo No. 5 stands as Montreal's industrial past. Oddly, it's now joining the transformation of Montreal in a symbolic way, as a visual cue to remind its industrial past. It's unlikely demolished or turn into a condo soon because the entire structure is protected by a Federal heritage program.

What's the future of Silo No. 5? And what's your idea?

Locate Silo No. 5 @ Google Map

Grain elevator, Wikipedia:
Walter Gropius, Wikipedia:
The former glory of grain, the McGill Daily:
Silo No. 5, Héritage Montréal:
Canada's Historic Places:
History of Silo 5 complex, Pointe-du-Moulin:


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Dave,

      I waited until 5pm to get the right lighting! Well the weather was kinda cloudy, and I felt disappointed with photos I took... but it turned out to be good!

  2. Amazing how the silos, which processed nature into a product to consume, are so devoid of obvious reference to the natural world.

    1. Hi Jason,

      I guess such a detachment occurs when we deal nature as a commodity. It needs to be managed like a machine tool for the sake of continuous, projected profit.

  3. Hi Shuko,

    I love how you told the story!

    True, the friction with the anglophone guy was palpable. I guess I knew better than getting involved into a polarised discussion with such a careless opponent. Too bad this opposition between anglos/francos is still going on though...

    It was a great trip and thanks for all the research you did about it!

    1. Hi Claudia,

      I didn't expect him getting into such a politicized argument considering from the initial friendly chit-chat.

      You never know...

  4. Bonjour a tous !

    Purée quand je suis tombée devant ce batiment en rouille, abandonné cela m'a fait mal au coeur! je vois pas pourquoi on garderai ce batiment alors que je verrai tellement mieux des condos magnifique! on aurait une vue superbe! ce batiment va mettre tellement longtemps à se détruire ... j'étais en train de regarder des condos a vendre et y a en a des pas mal au centre de montreal et on a une vue sublime!

    Regarde ce site ce sont des condos a vendre dans montreal! je suis tombé sous le charme...

    condo a montreal

    A bientot !

    1. Je trouve justement que c'est agnifique. Le fait que le batiment soit abandonné et que la végétation ait pris le pas sur la rouille est un fait formisable.
      Sympa ton lien, c'est un gros projet de condos, au calme maiss proche de la ville.
      Tu fais quoi dans la vie ? :)