Montreal's retiring subway cars to get second lives as cafes, galleries


MONTREAL – 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.

As part of an event celebrating the subway’s 50 years, the city’s transport agency recently announced seven projects it has tentatively approved after putting out a call for proposals this spring.

Etienne Morin-Bordeleau says he was thrilled to learn he and his brother Frederic will be the lucky new owners of eight of the two-ton, smurf-blue and white MR-63 cars.

Their $4 million project involves transforming the cars into a multi-level sculpture that will function as an art gallery, community space and cafe/bar featuring local products and vendors.

“These cars are the symbols of Montreal and we want to give them back to Montrealers,” Morin-Bordeleau said of his venture, dubbed project MR-63.

The agency said it received about 30 submissions from members of the public wishing to purchase and repurpose the first-generation cars, which are being gradually replaced.

They offered to sell the cars for $750 or $1,000, which doesn’t include the approximately $4,000 it takes to ship the car within the Montreal area.

To be approved, a project had to meet certain criteria including heritage value, sustainability and feasibility.

Because the cars run underground and were never designed to stay outside, outdoor projects needed to include a plan to winterize them without compromising their signature design.

The seven projects that were green-lighted range from a car to use in firefighter training to an artist’s request for 16 doors for an art piece.

An English-style public garden near Quebec’s Gaspe region plans to put one of the cars “out to pasture” – literally – by using it to create a train-inspired landscape exhibit.

“To put it in a planted and landscaped environment, we think will be a whimsical contrast and one that will bring a smile to people’s faces,” said Alexander Reford, director of Reford Gardens in Grand-Metis, Que.

The transit agency said final approval depends on the applicants being able to finalize the details of their plans.

Morin-Bordeleau says he and his brother are already rolling up their sleeves to make their project a reality.

They have joined up with engineering and architectural firms, and have several financial partners and local politicians backing them.

He says they hope to start building in the city’s south-west neighborhood by 2018, with a grand opening a year later.

Eventually, he hopes the signature cars will turn his project into a “new Montreal icon.”

“We want people to come to Montreal and go to the Olympic Stadium and then come to our MR-63 project,” he said. “It’s our ode to Montreal.”

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