November 4, 2016 § 2 Comments
I grew up as a fan of the Montreal Expos, or ‘Nos Amours,’ as they were known. I went to my first game with my dad in 1978, not long before my sister was born, when I was 5 years old. I was transfixed by the experience at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was still new, it had not yet become the albatross hanging around the neck of the franchise. It was glorious. So were the hot dogs, consistently ranked amongst the best in Major League Baseball. I don’t remember who the ‘Spos played that day, I don’t remember the score. But I remember the centrefielder, Andre “The Hawk” Dawson. He quickly became my favourite player. Others loved Gary Carter, the charismatic catcher. Or Tim Raines, the left fielder. And eventually, ‘Le Gros Chat,’ first baseman Andres Gallarraga.
In 1987, Dawson left the Expos. His knees were bad and the notoriously horrible artificial turf at Olympic Stadium made them worse. He signed with the Chicago Cubs. For a brief moment, I shifted my allegiances. It made sense to me, I was a kid. Plus, I was a Chicago Bears’ fan, and had been since I first discovered the beauty that was Sweetness, the Bears running back, Walter Payton, 4-5 years earlier. So I got a Cubs cap. And I was a Cubs’ fan. But old allegiances die hard, and in my heart, I remained an Expos fan. Imagine my disappointment in 1994.
But, underneath, I remained a Cubs partisan, and experienced heartbreak after heartbreak. But then Major League Baseball colluded and Nos Amours were stolen from Montreal in a skeezy deal that saw them move, eventually, to Washington and the horrible owners of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria, get the Miami franchise, while the owner of the Miami franchise, John Henry, moved up to Boston to take over the Red Sox. I was angry and devastated. I swore off baseball. Even today, I refuse to recognize the validity of the Washington team.
And then, in 2012, we relocated from Montreal to Boston. And I needed to cheer for at least one Boston team. See, the problem is this: I hate the fucking Boston Bruins. Hate them. The only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate is that team. Cheaters. Liars. Dirty SOBs. Hate them. And that deep, abiding hatred for the Bs seeped out to the other Boston teams, especially the Patriots. But, when I was a kid, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox tended to be the two teams that rivaled each other for the AL East title. And I always cheer against the Jays, so, by default, I kinda cheered for the Sox. So, I took up a fandom for the Boston Red Sox. The fact that they play in Fenway Park helped. I love that stadium. And, they also won the World Series in 2013, which I appreciated, it being my first full year in Boston and all.
But I always kept an eye on the Cubs. In 2015 I tuned into a baseball game and watched it start-to-finish, without doing something else, but actually watched it, for the first time in forever. On 30 August 2015, the Cubs, beat the LA Dodgers 2-0. And pitcher Jake Arrieta got a no hitter. The last time I watched a complete baseball game was on 28 July 1991, when those very same Dodgers were victim to another no hitter, this time a perfect game, against the Expos and the brilliant pitcher, Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez. So I felt I had come full circle. I was still a Red Sox fan, but my affection for the Cubbies remained.
I enjoyed the 2016 baseball season. Both the Red Sox and Cubs were contenders, both won their division. Both made the post-season, though the Sox crashed out in the ALDS to Cleveland (I will not use that team’s nickname, as it is racist). The Cubs, on the other hand, made it to the World Series, against Cleveland.
On Wednesday night, the Cubbies won the World Series for the first time in 116 years. The last time they won was 1908. The last time they even made the World Series was 1945. In my lifetime, since Dawson signed there, they had met heartbreak after heartbreak. In 1989, they won the NL Central, but were easily defeated in the NLCS by the San Francisco Giants. They made the playoffs a handful of times between 1989 and 2015, and each time came up short. And let’s not get into that Bartman incident.
I was at a concert in Nashville Wednesday night, but kept checking my phone for the score. I was really caught up in it. I thought they had it in the bag when it was 6-3 in the 6th. But then, all of the sudden, it was 6-6, after Aroldis Chapman gave up a homerun. And it went to extra innings. And then there was a rain delay. All of this meant that by the time we got back to the car for the drive home, the game was still going on. We found it on the radio, and caught the final out and the victory. And it happened. The Cubs won the World Series.
I was down in Atlanta yesterday running errands. Wearing my Cubbies hat. And had all of these conversations with people. Everyone kept asking how it felt. I felt a little bad, not being a die-hard Cubs fan, but, I still found myself saying that it didn’t feel real. It doesn’t. It doesn’t feel real. I can only imagine what a real Cubs fan feels.
October 31, 2016 § 2 Comments
I just recently received the cover art for my forthcoming book, Griffintown: Identity & Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood. It will be published in May 2017 by the University of British Columbia Press. To say I’m stoked is a minor understatement. The art work is by my good friend and co-conspirator on many things Griff, G. Scott MacLeod.
September 14, 2016 § 2 Comments
I’m reading a book that is, for the lack of a better term, a biography of the Kremlin. I am at the part where the Kremlin, and Moscow itself, gets rebuilt after Napoléon’s attempt at conquering Russia. Moscow had been, until it was torched during the French occupation, a haphazard city; visitors complained it was Medieval and dirty. And it smelled. And not just visitors from Paris and Florence, but from St. Petersburg, too.
In the aftermath, Moscow was rebuilt along Western European lines, in a rational manner. And the city gentrified, the Kremlin especially:
This was definitely a landscape that belonged to the rich and the educated, to noblemen and ladies of the better sort. It is through the artists’ eyes that we glimpse the well-dressed crowds: the gentlemen with their top hats and shiny canes, the ladies in their bonnets, gloves, and crinolines. They could be leading citizens of any European state, and there is little sense of Russia (let alone romantic Muscovy) in their world.
Leaving aside the fact that there were no citizens of any European state in 1814, this sounds remarkably familiar. This is the same critique I have written many times about Griffintown and Montreal: as Montreal gentrifies, it is becoming much like any other major North American city.
But it is also true of gentrification in general. There is a part on the North Shore of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I really like. It finally dawned on me that it is because it reminds of me Vancouver architecturally, culturally, aesthetically, and in the ways in which the water (in this case the Tennessee River, not False Creek) is used by the redevelopment of this historically downtrodden neighbourhood. But. I could also be dropped into pretty much any North American city and see similarities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Boston, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville. These are all cities (amongst others) where I have seen the same tendencies.
And, obviously, one aspect of gentrification is the cleansing of the city of danger and vice. Just like Moscow was cleaned up in the aftermath of 1812.
August 24, 2016 § 1 Comment
When I was in Montreal in the spring, I was interviewed by Tricia Toso, a PhD candidate in Communications at Concordia University/Université du Québec à Montréal, about the Montreal Shamrocks Lacrosse Club. Tricia is a multi-media practitioner and does some pretty wild stuff, and this particular interview was for a podcast on rue Shamrock, which is up next to Marché Jean-Talon in the north end of the city. The market is on the site of the old Shamrocks LC grounds.
July 26, 2016 § 2 Comments
I was back in Montreal a couple of weeks ago to finish up shooting for the documentary my good friend, G. Scott MacLeod, and I have been working on for the past few years. We travelled around Griffintown, doing some B shots, and re-doing some other shots. And then we found ourselves at Parc Faubourg Sainte-Anne, on the site of the former St. Ann’s Church at the corner of de la Montagne and Basin. Across the street is one of the last remaining stands of 19th century rowhouses in Griff. And right behind and beside it is yet another condo development (because there never can be enough, right?).
Part of these rowhouses were part of a co-op. One Friday afternoon in April, a bunch of men in suits and hardhats showed up, milled around, pointed at things, and then disappeared. Later that night, the residents of the co-op were forced out of their homes. Their homes were quickly condemned and they weren’t even allowed to go back in to get their personal belongings (the fire department had to go back in to get the ashes of one woman’s husband). Why did this happen? Well, it seems that a water line had been opened and that had compromised the foundation of the 1867 building.
(photo courtesy of G. Scott MacLeod).
That Sunday night, around 10.30pm, a huge backhoe showed up and tore down the end unit of the co-op, the one with the leaky foundation. The residents were “temporarily” re-housed.
Today, the co-op units are empty, only three of them still stand. And they all have a notice of eviction on their front doors.
As we were filming, we were approached by a Griffintown old-timer. He doesn’t want his name used, so he will go unnamed. He showed us a bunch of photos on his cellphone of the suits and the backhoe. And he told us what he saw happen. He said that a retaining wall had been built behind the co-op units when excavation work began on the condos around it. But, interestingly, the wall behind the fourth unit of the co-op had somehow disappeared the week before the water leak. And, just as amazingly, it suddenly re-appeared after the fourth unit was torn down. As to who turned on the water, well, he left that to our imagination.
Whether or not his version of events is true or not, to me, this is symptomatic of the new Griffintown, one that is beholden to condo developers and the accumulation of tax money for the Ville de Montréal. We all know Montreal is a historically corrupt city, and the recent Charbonneau Commission detailed corruption in the Montreal construction industry.
And whether or not something fishy happened with respect to the co-op or not, the events of April do not pass the smell test. That no one seems to care is even more worrisome. Montreal is a wonderfully progressive city in so many ways, but Griffintown is a fine example of what happens when greed takes over. The city had this wonderful opportunity to remake an entire inner-city neighbourhood. And rather than engage in sustainable development, or even, for that matter, a liveable area, the Ville de Montréal took the money and ran. And this is to the city’s detriment.
Oh, and the residents of this co-op? Call me cynical, but I’ll be shocked if they end up back in their co-op. See, the developer’s office is right next door to the co-op and my guess is that these buildings will either also mysteriously fall down or become condos as part of this larger development.
January 8, 2016 § 7 Comments
I’m reading a bit about theories of place right now. And I’m struck by geographers who bemoan the mobility of the world we live, as it degrades place in their eyes. It makes our connections to place inauthentic and not real. We spend all this time in what they call un-places: airports, highways, trains, cars, waiting rooms. And we move around, we travel, we relocate. All of this, they say, is degrading the idea of place, which is a location we are attached to and inhabit in an authentic manner.
I see where these kinds of geographers come from. I have spent a fair amount of my adult life in un-places. I have moved around a lot. In my adult life, I have lived in Vancouver, Ottawa, Vancouver again, Ottawa again, Montreal, Western Massachusetts, Boston, and now, Alabama. If I were to count the number of flats I have called home, I would probably get dizzy.
And yet, I have a strong connection to place. I am writing this in my living room, which is the room I occupy the most (at least whilst awake and conscious) in my home. It is my favourite room and it is carefully curated to make it a comfortable, inviting place for me. It is indeed a place. And yet, I have only lived here for six months. In fact, today is six months sine I moved into this house. I have a similar connection to the small college town I live in. And the same goes for my university campus.
So am I different than the people these geographers imagine flitting about the world in all these un-places, experiencing inauthentic connections to their locales? Am I fooled into an inauthentic connection to my places? I don’t think so. And I think I am like most people. Place can be a transferrable idea, it can be mobile. Our place is not necessarily sterile. It seems to me that a lot of these geographers are also overlooking the things that make a place a place: our belongings, our personal relationships to those who surround us, or own selves and our orientation to the world.
Sure, place is mobile in our world, but that does not mean that place is becoming irrelevant as these geographers seem to be saying. Rather, it means that place is mobile. Place is by nature a mutable space. Someone else called this house home before me. This house has been here since 1948. But that doesn’t mean that this is any less a place to me.
September 23, 2015 § 2 Comments
Sometimes I’m shocked by segregation, in that it still exists. It exists in Canada. Don’t believe me? Look at East Vancouver, the North Side of Winnipeg, the Jane-Finch corridor in Toronto, or Saint-Michel in Montreal. But, in the US it is even more shocking. Boston was the most racist place I’ve ever seen, the casual racism of Bostonians towards black people, the comments on BostonGlobe.com. Or the fact that people told me that The Point, an immigrant neighbourhood of Salem, MA, was a place where “you can get shot.” Or the simple fact that residential segregation was very obvious in and around Boston. Unless you take public transit (as in the bus or the subway), you could live your entire life in Boston without noticing people of colour there.
Down here in Alabama, though, it’s not a simple question of race, class is also central to residential segregation. I live in a small city (so small, in fact, that my neighbourhood in Montreal is about the same size as this city in terms of population). I live in a neighbourhood that is comfortably middle-class, veering towards upper-middle class the closer you get to the university. But, in the midst of this, there are a few blocks that look like something you’d expect to see in the 1920s in a Southern city. These images below are from one of these streets, a block behind my house. These houses are essentially a version of a shotgun house. The block behind me is about 70% black, 30% white. It is also full of abandoned houses, empty lots, and lots with the ruins of homes. The street itself is about a car-width wide, and where I come from, would be called a back alley.
What is perhaps most shocking to me is how an apartment complex (which my neighbours all eye suspiciously) ensures this segregation with fencing designed to keep the riff raff out. To me, the very clear segregation of this block is shocking. Almost as surprising and shocking this block is in the midst of my neighbourhood. For example, the final photo is of the next block over from this street.
December 6, 2014 § 12 Comments
Twenty-five years ago today, on 6 December 1989, a deranged young man wandered into the École Polytechnique in Montréal and opened fire. He was angry at women, he was angry at feminists whom he blamed for ruining his life. So he targeted women studying at an engineering school. He killed fourteen of them:
- Geneviève Bergeron
- Hélène Colgan
- Nathalie Croteau
- Barbara Daigneault
- Anne-Marie Edward
- Maud Haviernick
- Maryse Laganière
- Maryse Leclair
- Anne-Marie Lemay
- Sonia Pelletier
- Michèle Richard
- Annie St-Arneault
- Annie Turcotte
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz
Today, I’ve seen patently stupid media articles in Canada praising us for being so much better today than we were then. Bullshit. We’re not. I’m not even going to list all the misogyny and other bullshit I see around me on a daily basis. I’ve noted much of it on this blog.
I’m sick of. I’m sick of misogyny. I’m sick of men’s violence towards women. It’s time to man up, it’s time to end this.
September 29, 2014 § 1 Comment
The Griffintown Horse Palace Foundation has met and exceeded its goal, and with three days to spare! As of right now, the Indiegogo page has raised $49,335! The goal was $45,000.
The Foundation is also hosting a fundraising soirée at the Horse Palace, 1226, rue Ottawa, in Griffintown, on Thursday night, 2 October, from 5pm. Tickets are $75, and can be purchased here. More details on the soirée can be found on the Foundation’s Facebook page here.
A huge thank you to all who have contributed. Even though I am no longer involved with the Foundation, I strongly believe in its mission and want to see Leo’s Horse Palace saved!
June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
As I noted in yesterday’s post on Frank Hanley, we really do live in a different era today. In one of the chapters of The House of the Irish, I talk about hockey in Griffintown in the 1950s and 60s. I interviewed Gordie Bernier, an old Griffintowner, a few summers ago about his life and growing up in Griff and his thoughts on it today. The previous weekend, he was playing in an old-timers hockey tournament in Pointe-Claire, so clearly it was a major part of his life. I can relate.
Bernier recalled playing with the Christian Brothers who ran the School for Boys in Griff and who liked to play hockey against the young men:
Keep your head up. But the league we had, we were only young…I was only, I think 17 or so, and we were playing against men, so some of the guys were older. It was a good experience….You keep your head up [laughs]. We used to go there, I think 8 in the morning to the rink on Basin, I lived other on Duke, we used to walk with our skates on, by the time we get over there if there was snow, give us the shovels, we had to clear off all the snow, and we’d play from 8 in the morning ‘til closing time, 10 at night. We were still there, play hockey all day at the weekend. Walk back, your ankles [were all swollen and sore].
Don Pidgeon, a man who has done more than anyone to create the memory of Griff as an Irish neighbourhood, also remembers playing the Brothers, and smashing one over the boards of the outdoor rink on Basin Street Park in Griffintown, with a hip check.
The Brothers, obviously, played hard, and they played to win. And the lads of Griffintown were not about to give any quarter, as David O’Neill recalls, the Brothers were
great athletes, and a lot of them liked the rough stuff just as much as the boys, and the older boys used to try to establish themselves among their own friends, and there were a few of the priests who used to give and take as good, or better. That generated the respect from the local community towards the priests, and a lot of people respected the priests for their ability to give and take without any complaining. No punishment, except that you got decked back when you weren’t looking.
Certainly, then, this was a different era, when decking a priest, or getting hit back as hard, if not harder, was a means by which the young men and priests earned each others respect, and that of their friends and colleagues, and the wider community.