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Les vents déferlants

Les vents déferlants, using art to make a busy road more pedestrian-friendly

Using art to make a busy road more pedestrian-friendly

When the City of Québec brought in partners to redesign the strip of road where the Dufferin-Montmorency expressway meets Québec’s city centre, they wanted an artist at the table. Born and bred in Québec City, Paul Béliveau was just the man for the job, bringing the city’s storied history to life with an evocative artwork that, like the wind or time itself, remains in perpetual motion.

Teamwork

In 2000 the city tasked a team of designers, engineers, and artists with making the short stretch of the Dufferin-Montmorency expressway that feeds into the historic Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood more pedestrian-friendly. The priority was to make this area, where Rue Saint-Jean had been bisected by the highway in the mid-1970s, less intimidating. The project would breathe new life into a somewhat inhospitable, cold, and noisy road.

The team’s attention was immediately captured by the site’s strong winds. They also noticed the magnificent views of the Lower Town neighbourhoods below and the Laurentian Mountains beyond, and were determined to preserve them. Paul Béliveau attended several planning meetings and joined in discussions with traffic engineers, urban planners, and the project’s urban furniture and lighting designers. An idea in harmony with the whole team’s vision gradually took shape. It was a true team effort.

Preserving and playing with memories

Les vents déferlants, Paul Béliveau’s artwork on Avenue Honoré-Mercier, is at once a continuation of an artistic approach that began decades earlier and a response to the unique opportunities of the site.

Béliveau’s work always bears the marks of weather, which jostles us and leaves its trace, and of history, which brings together old and new, past and present—like the days gone by that have shaped the evolution of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood.

For Les vents déferlants Paul Béliveau created an airborne work, afloat in a wide-open horizon but fastened to six “masts” that recall the ships that brought Jacques Cartier to Stadacona (near present-day Québec City) in 1535. The six weather vanes atop the masts, shiny and golden, echo the precious objects that decorate the city’s churches, a reference the artist drives home by giving each whirling weather vane the shape of a steeple, just like those that can be seen down below in Lower Town neighbourhoods. Their design incorporates other objects of historical significance, which we can see only by observing closely and attentively; like all Béliveau’s work, this one is rich in deeply layered meanings.

Taking back Avenue Honoré-Mercier

Les vents déferlants is just one of a set of measures to make the Dufferin-Montmorency expressway, which somewhat brutally cleaved the city in two, more inviting for pedestrians. Mission accomplished: the transformation was so dramatic the city decided to give the thoroughfare a new name, Avenue Honoré-Mercier.

But much had to be done first. The project team cut the number of vehicle lanes, substantially widened sidewalks, added safety zones for pedestrians in the traffic island, planted trees along the shoulder and decorative plants throughout the area, and took special care with traffic control and lighting. The urban furniture, created by internationally renowned industrial designer Michel Dallaire, also winks at a Québec City heritage icon: the cannons along the ramparts.

Pedestrians can now walk safely from one end of Rue Saint-Jean to the other. And Avenue Honoré-Mercier, a popular route between local offices, hotels, and businesses all the way up to parliament and Grande-Allée, is now much more inviting.

The redesign was a resounding success that proves a little art therapy can work wonders on an ailing downtown.

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