Plans unveiled for new public building made with old Montreal subway cars

Frédéric, left, and Etienne Morin-Bordeleau, co-founders of Project MR-63 pose next to a Montreal Metro, Saturday, October 14, 2016. As Montreal's original subway cars are being gradually pulled out of service, at least a few of the 50-year-old cars will be getting second lives. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Montreal’s original subway cars were taken off the tracks two years ago, but local entrepreneurs have unveiled a plan that would see the blue and white cars serving the city for another century.

Frédéric Morin-Bordeleau, 30, and his brother Etienne revealed details Tuesday of a planned multi-level structure composed of the two-ton cars stacked inside an eco-friendly glass shell.

READ MORE: Montreal says goodbye to the original 1966 Metro car

Frédéric Morin-Bordeleau’s vision is of a building that would serve as a concert hall and meeting space as well as a showcase for local creations, from micro-brewed beer to art and pop-up design shops.

“It should create a sense of pride, definitely, because it’s unique in the world,” he said in a phone interview.

The building, designed by the architectural firm Rayside Labossiere, would feature solar panels that make it carbon neutral and ensure as much energy is created as consumed.

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“It’s going to be mainly glass, so that’s mainly what you’ll see (from the outside),” Morin-Bordeleau said in a phone interview.

“But it’s going to be a glass that will allow us to control the temperature and the humidity inside.”

It’s what will lie behind the glass that makes it an only-in-Montreal project.

Opened in the 1960s as the city prepared to stage the Expo 67 world fair, the metro has long been romanticized by city residents. Just this month, a sale of cast-off transit items, such as subway seats, doors and platform signs, drew hundreds of shoppers.

An architect’s drawing of the project shows the Smurf-blue cars stacked three storeys high. At ground level, they form a U, creating a courtyard where people can sit beneath a blue wall of metro cars.

READ MORE: Montreal commuters get to ride first AZUR train

Tuesday’s announcement is another step in a long process for the Morin-Bordeleau brothers, who began the project while in their mid-twenties with no previous design experience.

In 2016, Montreal’s transit agency issued a call for proposals for members of the public who wanted to buy and transform the first-generation MR-63 cars, which were set to be gradually replaced.

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To be approved to buy the cars at a price of either $750 or $1,000, plus shipping, applicants had to present a project that was environmentally friendly, included a plan for financing and honoured the cars’ legacy.

Morin-Bordeleau acknowledges that transforming their eight subway cars into a building has been “much harder” than he originally expected.

WATCH: Recycling old Metro cars

Click to play video: 'A new lease on life for  old metro cars in Lachine' A new lease on life for old metro cars in Lachine
A new lease on life for old metro cars in Lachine – Feb 28, 2018

An initial concept, in which the stacked cars would have formed the building’s exterior, was scrapped when it proved too difficult to winterize the cars without compromising their signature look.

The design finally chosen will cost a hefty $7 million to build.

“Working with a heritage component is something that we have to put a lot more effort and money into, to conserve the (subway) trains, so it costs a little more than another building of the size,” he said.

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READ MORE: Montreal’s old metro cars to be part of two new exhibits

But Morin-Bordeleau believes that the non-profit society he co-founded will be able to raise the necessary funds.

This summer, the group created a temporary public space out of four of the cars. Dubbed project FMR, the site’s concept proved to be a success and raised the group’s confidence, Morin-Bordeleau said.

The project is supported by the city government, and Bordeleau believes a combination of grants, sponsors, and public support will cover the rest.

The permanent structure is likely to be located in a park in the Griffintown neighbourhood south of downtown, where the group hopes to obtain a 99-year lease from the city.

READ MORE: After 52 years, Montreal Metro’s MR-63 cars go on final ride

He says it will likely break ground in 2020 with a grand opening a year later.

Morin-Bordeleau believes it’s a fitting homage to the subway cars, which were themselves a model of ingenuity and design when they first began carrying Montrealers to their destinations in 1966.

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“By reusing them and keeping them, conserving them and giving them a new life, I think we’re giving them some sort of a thank you.”

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