The Portage to Place du Portage


Ephemera, Hull / Gatineau, Midcentury, Ottawa / Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Admittedly, I have been slow to warm up to the cold concrete of the Brutalist aesthetic. Like most, I had found the style cold, inflexible, and forbidding. As many examples of these concrete creations approach an age at which their heritage must be considered, a number of advocates have appeared to rehabilitate the image of this misunderstood style. While those advocates like Sarah Gelbard or Shawn Micallef might not win everyone over, I’ve personally found the arguments convincing.

Of course, I might have been especially pliant or vulnerable to such arguments. At 35, I’m at an age where that smell of concrete and those sometimes playful and inventive nods of the advanced engineering behind the style were dizzyingly common through childhood. It’s hard not to be transported back into some nostalgic vortex. When younger, many of the buildings were still too new to have been altered (at least drastically) to fit contemporary styles. Many memories were formed in those environments.  Or maybe I just like grey and burnt orange more than I care to admit.

Although not really a brutalist structure, I first noticed the twinge at Carleton University’s University Centre in 2000, when I arrived in the city. Z. Matthew Stankiewicz’ judicious use of concrete, leaving the unmistakeable scent awoke something that is stronger today. If only Carleton had retained the building’s original design.

The University Centre's main hall at opening. Source: Pamphlet, "University Centre" Carleton ARC "University Centre, Pt. 3" Box PINFO-46.
The University Centre’s main hall at opening. Source: Pamphlet, “University Centre” Carleton ARC “University Centre, Pt. 3” Box PINFO-46.

This story, however, is about Place du Portage, especially Phases I and II. I quite like them. I don’t intend to go into the complex’s history here. This is mostly, and perhaps predictably, because Robert Smythe has already seen to it. Over the span of a number of blog stories, he has covered the original visions and plans for urban renewal in Hull, the four phases of Place du Portage, the old Hull Post Office displaced by Phase VI, Etienne Gaboury’s own contributions, and even some more residual contemporary concerns. My aim here is simply to share the collection of photographs, taken by Ted Grant, the Department of Public Works, Hans Blohm between 1972 and 1977.

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