Ghost Airport

We took our flight to France from Mirabel Airport (YMX) in Montréal. Airports generally interest me because of their nature as transitory spaces. The unpleasantness of the tasks that await you at the airport, such as being searched, waiting in long lines, and hauling baggage, are partially cloaked by the cheery displays at duty-free shops, a hot cup of coffee from a familiar chain, or some other strategically placed item, such as a piece of public art. The conversion of airports, and the attendant waiting experiences within, into opportunities for shopping, drinking, and other diversions, seems simultaneously opportunistic (we have a captive audience) and sympathetic (we have a tired and cranky audience, so the least we can do is offer them a coffee.)

At Mirabel Airport however, the airport itself is sufficient diversion from the acts of waiting in line and being submitted to search. The airport is massive; when it went into service in 1975, its’ operations zone of 7,000 hectares made it the largest airport in the world. At that time, all international flights, and many domestic flights, were transferred from Montréal’s other airport, then named Dorval(1), to Mirabel. Mirabel’s construction was somewhat controversial, because it was an expensive project and was built on expropriated farmland that is far from downtown Montréal. Despite these two arguments, under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, this large-scale airport was constructed and touted as a symbol of Montréal’s bright future. Two busy airports signified economic prosperity and also Montréal’s perceived importance on a global scale.

Now, Mirabel {{popup mirabel2.jpg emptychairs 400×300}}stands nearly empty, and it’s a long, quiet walk along the departures level, where you might look down and see {{popup mirabel1.jpg baggage 400×300}}rows and rows of inactive baggage carousels. The grandiosity of the vision that was behind the airport’s construction is apparent both in scale and in materials – a huge expanse of glass affords a view of what was to be a bustling runway.

This tranquil stroll through the airport allowed me time to think about what it will become now, since the last passenger airline, Air Transat, is due to leave the airport before the end of this year. Apparently the airplane and rail-car manufacturer Bombardier is going to take it over and convert it into a factory. A more interesting, though fanciful, option might be for it to remain much as it is today, as a sort of museum or monument. A monument to what, I can’t say exactly – some combination of airport design, boundless optimism, 70s style, and Trudeaumania, though not necessarily in that order. A transitory space that is unable to transport you anywhere, except into a deeper analysis of our expectations of these types of spaces.

(1) In a curious and controversial gesture, given Mirabel’s failure as an airport and the fact that Mirabel was Prime Minister Trudeau’s initiative, the other, more successful airport in Montréal, Dorval, was renamed Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in 2003.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.