When I was first told that Montreal had an ‘underground city’, for a brief few seconds until it was described to me, my eyes widened like saucers, and all sorts of fantastical images leapt into my head. It had ancient stone tunnels built in medieval times, carved from rock and lit by flaming torches, sagging wooden beams and creaky staircases, endless chasms, skyscrapers built under a sky crawling with dripping metal pipes and concrete foundations of Montreal proper above. There were cars down there too, getting around through huge storm drainpipes. Perhaps even an underground society of mole people . If you’re a Futurama fan, picture the ruins of Old New York, combined with a sprinkling of Vietnam’s claustrophobic Cu Chi tunnels, and that underground city from The Matrix.
What the underground city really looks like is a big shopping centre (or mall), white, clean and tiled, criss-crossed and zig-zagged with escalators and lined with boutique shops and cheap clothes outlets alike. It has open skylights so the sun can pour in, and often you don’t even realise you’re in it. The underground city is called the RÉSO, to sound like réseau, the French word for network. It’s the largest underground complex in the world, and as you’ve probably guessed, is nothing like my childish fantasy-land. It connects seamlessly with 10 metro stations and opens up to the streets through normal shoppng centre doors, spiderwebbed over a massive area covering basically the whole of Montreal downtown. Within it’s 32km of tunnel, there’s over 2000 shops, 200 restaurants and 7 hotels, with 1200 office buildings connected. It’s an impressive engineering achievement to say the least, and Montrealers are grateful to have it during the hard winters!