by Kevin Griffin of The Cruise People, Ltd – London writing for cybercruises.com
The Port of Montreal is in the midst of investing $78 million in restoring its cruise terminal, the Iberville Passenger Terminal, on Alexandra Pier. The terminal is closed for the 2016 season while the facility is being completely rebuilt.
Montreal’s existing cruise terminal with Mackay Pier opposite
The present terminal is located just below the entrance to the old Lachine Canal on the Alexandra Basin at the foot of McGill Street, where the Cunard Line and Anchor Line Transatlantic ships used to berth, while Canadian Pacific Steamships’ Transatlantic ships docked on the opposite side.
For this year’s season, cruise ships and passengers are being handled at temporary facilities at Pier 34-35 and 36-37, located downstream from the iconic Jacques-Cartier Bridge, about five miles away from Old Montreal.
This bridge, which first opened as the Montreal Harbour Bridge in 1930, has served as the backdrop to many Port of Montreal postcards.
Montreal’s temporary terminals at Pier 34-35 & Pier 36-37
Smaller vessels continue to dock at Mackay Pier, which is located close to Bickerdike Terminal but unfortunately on the wrong side of the port, meaning shuttle buses are needed to get to town. Victory Cruise Lines’ 210-berth Victory I and Blount Small Ship Adventures 88-berth Grande Caribe and Grande Mariner are using that facility this year.
For this summer, two large marquees have been put up at Pier 34-35 and at Pier 36-37, offering a waiting area with access for the disabled, tourist information counter, free WiFi, vending machines for coffee, soft drinks and snacks, public telephones and facilities, taxi ranks, shuttle service to Old Montreal and free long-term parking.
Pier 34-35 is primarily serving Holland America Line’s 1,266-berth Maasdam and 1,348-berth Veendam, Regent’s 708-berth Seven Seas Mariner, Silversea’s 388-berth Silver Whisper, and overseas visitors such as Aida Cruises’ 2,050-berth AidaDiva, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 516-berth Europa 2, Viking’s 930-berth Viking Star plus a single call by Pearl Seas Cruises’ 210-berth Pearl Mist.
Victoria Pier Montreal (© Peg & Jim Healy)
Pier 36-37 is being used to handle overflow when two ships are in port. Thus Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ 848-berth Marco Polo will call there on September 10-11, Holland America’s 1,404-berth Rotterdam on September 17, Oceania’s 684-berth Regatta on September 30, Seven Seas Mariner on October 1, the 684-berth Azamara Quest on October 23-24, Phoenix’s 594-berth Amadea, with a two-night layover on October 13-15, and the 450-berth Seabourn Quest on October 21.
Seabourn Quest will use all three terminals this summer. She will call at Pier 34-35 on September 11, at Mackay Pier on October 1 (with Rotterdam at 34-35 and Seven Seas Mariner at 36-37) and will be at 36-37 on October 21 (with Seven Seas Mariner at 34-35).
The use of these sections for cruise ships actually raises some history in the Port of Montreal as passenger cruising from Pier 34-35 occurred once before, when the Clarke Steamship Company was based there from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. Before the war, the piers had been used for ocean vessels while the coastal passenger ships called at Victoria Pier.
But with the 1950s mining boom on the North Shore and increasing purchases by Canada’s newest province, Newfoundland, cargo flows soon outstripped the shed capacity at Victoria Pier.
The 76-berth s.s. North Shore cruised weekly from Montreal’s Pier 34-35 to the mighty Gulf of St Lawrence
In 1955, Pier 34 therefore became the base for Clarke’s passenger and cargo sailings to Newfoundland and the Gulf of St Lawrence. A big reason for this was that Pier 34 had over 44,000 square feet of shed space compared to only 2,970 square feet in Clarke’s previous shed at Victoria Pier.
On the passenger side, two ships sailed every week of the navigation season, usually April through November, from Montreal to the Gulf of St Lawrence. Every Monday and Tuesday, the 76-berth North Shore departed for the Quebec North Shore and the 46-berth North Gaspé for the Gaspé Peninsula, with alternate voyages extending to les Iles de la Madeleine.
Montreal’s new terminal rendering (© Port of Montreal)
As Pier 34 was downstream from the Jacques Cartier Bridge, departures were not as dramatic as they had been from Victoria Pier, where ships would swing out from the pier, turn and catch the current and then sweep down under the bridge before proceeding down the St Lawrence. Nevertheless, passengers still had the long sweep of Montreal’s port before following the St Lawrence Ship Channel down towards Quebec.
But after three years at Pier 34, the line’s passenger ships moved back to Victoria Pier, with the cargo ships remaining at Pier 34 and expanding as well to Pier 35, which offered an even bigger cargo shed of 53,600 square feet.
The North Gaspé thereafter sailed from Victoria Pier’s Windmill Basin, but North Shore moved back to the cargo piers in 1959, spending the next three years based at Pier 35. Clarke’s passenger services came to a close, however, with the transfer of the North Gaspé to a new base in Nova Scotia in 1960 and the sale of North Shore to Greece’s Typaldos Lines in 1961. That same space that was once used by Clarke ships is now being used as a temporary home for cruise ships.
Artist impression of the planned glass observation tower with gardens (© Port of Montreal)
Among the attributes of Montreal’s new cruise terminal will be a glass observation tower, from which it will be possible to view not only Mount Royal and the Montreal skyline but also the deep sweep of Montreal’s port, itself a thousand miles from the sea. The new tower will join the earlier Sailors’ Clock Tower on Victoria Pier, which was officially opened by the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor in October 1919.
A Century later, in 2019, the new observation tower will be opened to celebrate Montreal’s 375th Anniversary as one of the oldest cities and centres of civilisation in North America.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the new cruise terminal design, however, is that, like Vancouver’s Canada Place, which was built on Canadian Pacific’s old Pier BC, it will open up Montreal’s port to the public. By being included in the plan, the new terminal’s public areas will allow the public to appreciate the city’s port and historical and economical ties that are still important today.