Getting Redevelopment and Community Right

March 12, 2013 § 2 Comments

Yaletown in Vancouver has undergone massive redevelopment in the past two decades.  It was once the site of Expo 86 along False Creek, and before that, an urban wasteland (actually, after Expo, too).  But today, it is a sea of glass towers; one statistic I’ve seen said the population just in Yaletown approaches 30,000, though I find that hard to believe.  All along False Creek is a string of residential condo towers; all along Pacific Boulevard, from Granville to Cambie streets there are towers and pied-à-terre condos.  Some of them even look nice.

IMG_1128As I went out for my morning run today (I’m staying with my sister here), I noticed something: this is actually a well-thought out urban redevelopment.  There’s a billboard on Pacific Blvd that says that Concord, one of the developers is building community here.  It’s easy to scoff at that claim.  But it’s not a ridiculous claim. My sister knows her neighbours.  More than that, she has friends amongst them.  Dog owners around here have claimed a patch of Cooperage Park on False Creek as a dog run.  They police each other, making sure nobody leaves their dog doo behind.  They also police each other’s dogs, making sure they behave.  There’s a bunch of cafés and restaurants along Marinaside Drive (I know, what a horrible name), and they’re populated with regulars, the neighbours around here.  People nod and say hello to each other on the streets and along the path that goes along the bank of the water.


There’s more, though. There’s actual, real parks here.  Cooperage stretches almost from the Plaza of Nations at the head of False Creek towards and under the Cambie Bridge.  A few blocks on is David Lam Park, which lies between Pacific, Drake, and Homer streets.  But it’s more than that.  These parks are actually used.  There’s basketball and tennis courts at David Lam, and a playground. An elementary school is on David Lam and the children can be seen playing in the park at recess and lunch and after school.  The path along the water is almost always busy with joggers and cyclists, as well as roller-bladers and walkers (Vancouver was experiencing one of its trademark torrential downpours when I was out taking pictures today, thus, aside from one intrepid jogger, there was no one out playing).

When I lived in Vancouver in the late 90s, there was a lot of hand-wringing about the redevelopment of the old Expo site. The city was determined to increase density, to follow the model of the West End, which is apparently the densest neighbourhood of North America that’s not Manhattan.  So the old Expo lands saw these condo towers grow out of the ground.  The major difference between the West End, which lies on the other side of the Burrard and Granville Street bridges and this area, which is part of the larger Yaletown neighbourhood, is that Yaletown tends to be resident owners, whereas the West End is largely rental units (there are, of course, many exceptions to both).

IMG_1111At the end of the day, however, Vancouver got it right.  There is community here, the public spaces are widely used.  The cafés and restaurants are, with the exception of one Starbucks (this IS Vancouver, after all) independent operators (this isn’t as true as Pacific Blvd., the main east/west thoroughfare, which has plenty of chains in between and around the indie stores).  This also contributes to community, as the small business owners connect to their local community in a way that Starbucks and Quiznos can’t.  And studies show that locals are more likely to patronise these small businesses than the chains.  Indeed, this morning, Bojangles, the local indie café was busy, filled with both commuters on their way to work and those with more time to sit and enjoy their coffee.  Whereas the Starbucks, while it got a fair amount of foot traffic from commuters, it doesn’t have the same community feel.

I fear, however, that Montréal is getting it wrong with Griffintown.  The early plans for the massive redevelopment of Griff by Devimco called for massive shopping areas and big box stores.  The commercial developments were supposed to pay for the residential developments.  As for anything else that urban residents might need, well, “Whatever,” Devimco seemed to say.  Of course, Devimco’s bold plans were thwarted somewhat by the recession.  The redevelopment is now a mixture of Devimco’s big District Griffin (how tragic it would be to have that old English name on the neighbourhood, eh, OQLF?) and a smattering of smaller developments, with the massive redevelopment of the old Canada Post Lands at the other end of Griff at the foot of rue Guy.

Missing, though, from all these redevelopment plans in Griff was any idea of what residents were supposed to do.  There still are no plans for schools in the neighbourhood.  It wasn’t until early 2012 that the Ville de Montréal announced that it had earmarked some money to create public parks.  It’s still not entirely clear where they’ll be, other than the already extant Parc St. Ann/Griffintown at the bottom of rue de la Montagne at Wellington.  And given Montréal’s history of development and redevelopment, and the fact that the mayor, first Gérald Tremblay and now Michael Applebaum, just has dollar signs in his eyes when talking about Griffintown, I have zero hope of Griffintown being redeveloped right.  In fact, I am almost positive it will be a disaster.

It’s tragic, as Montréal has a chance to redevelop a huge swath of valuable land at the foot of downtown, to emulate what Vancouver did with Yaletown in the 90s and 00s.  But it has done nothing to suggest that it will get it right.  And that’s trafic.


Writing Montréal

February 2, 2013 § 1 Comment

I am reading Kim Echlin’s beautiful novel, The Disappeared, right now.  It was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in Canada, and it won a Barnes & Noble award down here in the States.  The awards are very much deserved, Echlin’s prose is beautifully constructed; sparse, taut, sensual sentences follow the heroine, Anne Greves, from the cold streets of Montréal to the scarred streets of Phnom Penh in the wake of Pol Pot and genocide in Cambodia.  It is compelling reading.

But (and you knew this but was coming), I find myself fascinated with the problems in writing Montréal, as The Disappeared is full of them.  I have sometimes wondered if Montréal, being the complicated, chaotic, bizarre city it is, can even be successfully written, especially en Anglais.  But, of course it can.  Mordecai Richler.  Rawi Hage.  Occasionally, even we academic types get it right, most notably, Sherry Simon in her brilliant book, Translating Montreal: Episodes in the Life of a Divided City.  Montréal is not your average city.  Your average city is a huge, complicated, seething multitude of humanity.  Your average city is complicated, it is corrupt, it is beautiful and it is dirty and savage.  Montréal is all that and more, in large part because it is, as Simon argues, a divided city.  Divided cities, of which there are many in the world, are necessarily more complex and complicated.  There are competing historical narratives and political realities battling for space on the cultural and political landscape of the city.  Derry, Northern Ireland, is a small divided city, but the city is caught between two competing narratives of the city’s past, one Catholic, one Protestant, fighting for dominance.

Montréal, of course, is rent between the francophone version of the past and vision of the present and the anglophone equivalent.  Historically, the city is split down the middle, blvd. Saint-Laurent, the Main.  To the east, francophone and Catholic, to the west, Anglophone and Protestant.  But this dichotomy doesn’t really work in reality, as the Irish complicated it, they were Catholic and lived in the west end, they were English-speaking and lived in the east end.  Then the Jews came around the turn of the last century and settled in between the French- and English- speakers.  And then the rest of the world came, and the city became multicultural in the last third of the 20th century.  Then there’s the question of class.  Montréal today is a city that holds a history for all these diverse populations, speaking their own languages, going to their own houses of worship, patronising their own businesses.  But Montréal also holds a history of these people crossing their divides, and working together, shopping together, sharing their food and their language across these divides.  We historians are left to find all these disparate strands of Montréal and attempt to unravel the complications, to look at how the complications arose, to see how all these peoples co-operated, and how they conflicted.

To return to The Disappeared, Echlin gets caught up in all of these complications.  For example, the main character, Anne Greves, an Anglophone teenager in the 1970s, whose father teaches at McGill, lives on avenue du Parc.  Anglos in Montréal today tend to call it Park Ave.  Even bilingual ones.  In the 1970s, Anglos did not call it av du Parc.  But Anne also uses the English names for nearly everything else in the city.  Bleury Street.  The Oratory.  Mount Royal.  Old Montréal.  And of course Anne would, all my cousins who are Anne’s age, who still live in Montréal, use the Anglo names.  The only other locale in Montréal that gets called by its French name by Anne is the bishop’s cathedral downtown, Marie-Reigne-du-Monde.  Being the Montréal purist and historian, I find these kinds of misnomers distracting.  Perhaps it’s because Anne is caught between these various Montréals, perhaps it’s because she came of age in the late 1970s and the 1980s, when we fought about all of this, what to call things, what language we must speak and so on.  And maybe it’s because Montréal is just here in passing, it’s where Anne is from.  Soon, we are in Phnom Penh with her, sifting through the aftermath of Pol Pot’s psychotic reign.

But Echlin’s problems with nomenclature in Montréal really only speak to the general day-to-day issues on the street there.  What you call av du Parc (OK, I admit, I’m an Anglophone who tends to use the French names) reflects a lot on who you are, where you’re from in the city, what your politics are.  The same is true of Saint-Viateur, Mary Queen of the World, the Oratory and so on and so forth.  And it is exactly this nature of the divided city I adore about my hometown.  And I have to admit, I kind of miss it.

The Strange Anglo Fascination with Québécois Anti-Semitism

December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am a reader.  I read pretty much anything, fiction and non-fiction.  As I have argued for approximately forever, reading, and especially, literature, is what keeps me sane.  So I read.  It’s also the end of the semester, so what I read devolves in many ways from lofty literature to murder-mysteries.  I would argue, though, that a good murder-mystery is full of the basic questions of humanity, right down to the endless push/pull of good v. evil.  I came to this conclusion when someone once tried to convince me that Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment was, at the core, a murder-mystery.

So, it is that I came to find myself reading the third in John Farrow’s so-far excellent series of murder mysteries set in my home town, Montréal, and featuring the crusty old detective, Émile Cinq-Mars.  The third novel, however, centres around Cinq-Mars’ early career in the late 60s/early 70s.  And Farrow, who is really the esteemed Canadian novelist, Trevor Ferguson, took the opportunity to write an epic, historical novel.  It’s also massively overambitious and falls under its own weight oftentimes in the first half of the book.  The novel opens on the night of the Richard Riot in Montréal, 17 March 1955, with the theft of the Cartier Dagger, a relic of Jacques Cartier’s arrival at Hochelaga in the 16th century.  The dagger, made of stone and gifted to Cartier by Donnacona, the chief of Stadacona, which is today’s Québec City, has been central to the development of Canada.  It has ended up in the hands of Samuel de Champlain, Étienne Brulé, Paul de Chomedy, sieur de Maisonneuve, Dollard des Ormeux, Médard Chouart des Groselliers, Pierre Esprit Radisson, and so on.  But it has ended up in the hands of the Sun Life Assurance Company, the very simple of les maudits Anglais in mid-20th century Montréal.  Worse for the québécois, Sun Life has lent it to that mandarin of ‘les maudits anglais,” Clarence Campbell, president of the National Hockey League, and the man responsible for the lengthy suspension to Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.  Clearly, Farrow subscribes to the theory that the Quiet Revolution really began in March 1955 (I do not agree with this one bit, thank you very much).

Farrow then takes us through the history of the dagger, from Cartier until it ends up in the hands of  Campbell, to its theft on St. Patrick’s Day 1955.  And from there, we move through the next sixteen years, through the Quiet Revolution, Trudeaumania, and the FLQ, as Cinq-Mars finally solves the mystery of the theft of the Cartier Dagger in 1971 (which was also the year that an unknown goalie came out of nowhere to backstop the Habs to the Stanley Cup).

All throughout the story, Farrow, in true Anglo-Montréal style, is obsessed with franco-québécois anti-semitism.  This is especially the case from the late 19th century onwards.  We are brought into the shadowy underworld of the Order of Jacques Cartier, a secret society hell-bent on defending French, Catholic Québec against les Anglais and the Jews.  Characters real and fictive are in the Order, including legendary Montréal Mayor Camillien Houde, and Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, and others.  And then there’s the Nazi on the run after the Second World War, Jacques Dugé de Bernonville.  We also meet Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his nemesis, René Levésque.

Outed as anti-semites are the usual characters: Maurice Duplessis, Abbé Lionel Groulx, Houde, Laurin, and, obviously, de Bernonville.  Also, Henri Bourassa and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine.  And so on and so forth.  And, ok, fair enough, they WERE anti-semites (though I’m not sure you can call Bourassa and Lafontaine that).  Québec, and Montréal in particular, was the home of Adrien Arcand, the self-proclaimed fuhrer of Canada.  These are disgusting, dirty men.

But all throughout the novel, only French Canadian anti-semitism matters.  This reminds me of a listserv of policy wonks, academics, and journalists I’ve been a member of for a decade-and-a-half.  Years ago, we had one member who liked to rail against the sovereigntists in Québec, accusing them of being vile anti-semites (sometimes he was right).  But, whenever evidence of wider Canadian anti-semitism was pointed out, he dismissed it out of hand.  In his mind, only the French are anti-semites (to the point where he often pointed to the Affair Dreyfus in late 19th century France as proof the québécois are anti-semites to the core).

I am not suggesting that anti-semitism should not be called out for what it is: racism.  It must and should be.  But whenever we get this reactionary Anglophone obsession with Franco-québécois anti-semitism, I get uncomfortable.  This is a bad case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Anti-semitism has been prevalent in Canada since the get go, in both official languages.  The first Jew to be elected to public office in the entire British Empire was Ezekiel Hart, elected to the Lower Canadian legislature in 1807.  But he was ejected from the House almost immediately upon taking his seat because he was Jewish.  The objections to Hart taking his oath of office on the Jewish Bible (which was standard practice in the court system for Jews) were led the Attorney-General, Jonathan Sewell.  But the people of Trois-Rivières returned him to office nonetheless.  He was again refused his seat. Opposition came from both sides of the linguistic divide in Lower Canada, and you will surely note Sewell is not a French name.  Lower Canada, however, was the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to emancipate Jews, in 1833.  The leader of the House, and the Parti patriote? Louis-Joseph Papineau.

At any rate, this isn’t a defence of the franco-québécois record on anti-semitism. It’s not good.  But it is to point out that Anglo Canada isn’t exactly pristine.  Irving Abella and and Harold Troper’s book, None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948 makes that point clear.  Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s immigration chief, Frederick Blair, made sure that Jews fleeing Nazi Germany weren’t allowed into Canada.  Jews had been coming to Canada since the late 19th century, and there, they met an anti-semitic response, whether it was Montréal, Toronto, or Winnipeg. Even one of our great Canadian heroes, Lester Bowles Pearson, Nobel Prize-winner for inventing UN Peacekeepers and Prime Minister from 1965-7, was an anti-semite, at least as a young man before the Second World War.

And anti-semitism has remained a problem in Canada ever since.  While anti-semitism is relatively rare in Canada, B’Nai Brith estimates that, in 2010, upwards of 475 incidents of anti-semitism happened in Toronto alone.

So clearly Canadian anti-semitism isn’t a uniquely franco-québécois matter.  Indeed, one of the few Anglos to feature in Farrow’s book, Sir Herbert Holt, was himself somewhat of an anti-semite himself.  And I am left feeling rather uncomfortable with this strange Anglo Québec fascination with the anti-semitism of francophone québécois, especially when it’s presented out of the context of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  This was a period of pretty much worldwide anti-semitism.  It was “in fashion,” so to speak, in the Euro-North American world, from actual pogroms in Russia to the Affaire Dreyfus, to the US and Canada refusing to accept refugees from Nazi Germany thirty years later.

Why We Need Feminism

December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week was the 23rd anniversary of the Montréal Massacre.  On 6 December 1989, a deranged man wandered into the École Polytechnique de Montréal, the engineering school of the Université de Montréal.  After clearing the men from a classroom, he opened fire.  He killed six women and injured three more before leaving the classroom and wandering the halls, where he wounded three more before he made a failed attempt to enter a locked classroom, wounding another woman in the hallway, before killing a support worker in her office.  Upon reaching the cafeteria, he continued shooting.  By the time he turned the gun on himself twenty minutes later, he had killed fourteen women, as well as wounding another thirteen, as well as one man.

I was 16 at the time, still in high school, at the other end of the country, in Vancouver.  I remember coming home from school and being glued to the TV that night, shocked, amazed, dismayed, and depressed this could happen.  Not that it could happen in Canada.  Of course it could.  But that it could happen.  Period.  This deranged man shot and killed these women because he hated feminists.  To this day, 23 years and 5 days later, I refuse to utter his name.

But I know his name. It’s seared into my memory.  This is true for pretty much all Canadians old enough to be cognisant of the massacre in 1989.  But we don’t necessarily know the dead women’s names.  There are:

  • Geneviève Bergeron, 21, civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22, mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21, chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick, 29, materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière, 25, budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair, 23, materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier, 28, mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard, 21, materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte, 20, materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, nursing student

Each year, as we get further and further away from 6 December, we forget the importance of the event just a little bit more.  And each year we get further and further away from 6 December, we lose the shock and dismay we felt that day.

That same week, there was a meme on Twitter, We Need Feminism because.  One of the images that came through my timeline struck me.

542999_200584493411003_2052673512_nHer words say it all.  And so I thought back to my frosh week in 1991 at Carleton University in Ottawa.  We were taught that “No Means No.” Full stop. Period. No does not mean “maybe later,” or “not now,” or “maybe.”  It means “NO.”  Very simple.  That phrase was beaten into our heads, not even two full years since the Massacre.

But reading the words in this image, I realised I haven’t heard the phrase “No Means No” in a long time.  At least a decade.  And I spend a lot of time on university campuses.  In fact, I have been on a college or university campus every academic year since my first year undergrad in 1991-2 every year except two in the late 90s.

And now, apparently young women are taught to avoid being raped.  Men are not taught not to rape.  One would think that teaching “No Means No” would have benefited the women at Amherst College who were raped. One would think that all young women on all university campuses would benefit.  As would all young men.  “No means no” taught us to respect words.  And we all, men and women, need that respect.

Certainly, I would much prefer to live in a world where sexual assault and rape did not occur.  But I don’t see that happening, unfortunately.  But I would also much prefer it if universities did their part and taught young men and women that No means no.  That simple.  Three little words.

And for that reason, we need feminism.

Montréal’s Anglo Mayor: Dr. JJ Guerin

November 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

So Montréal got itself a new mayor today, Michael Applebaum.  He wasn’t democratically elected, but given the sudden resignation of the scandal-plagued Gérald Tremblay on 5 November, he has to be an improvement.   The big woopedy-do about Applebaum is that he’s Anglophone (he’s also the metropole’s very first Jewish mayor).  Montréal hasn’t had an Anglo mayor since 1910, when James John Guerin sat in the mayor’s chair.

Guerin, despite the last name, was Irish Catholic.  He was also a central player in one of the most vicious election campaigns in Canadian history.  In 1917, at the height of the First World War, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden called an election over the issue of conscription.  Borden had invited the Liberal Party, under Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister of Canada, 1896-1911), into his government to form a Union government for Canada for the duration of the war.  Laurier, however, could not countenance conscription nor could his Québec powerbase.  He refused.  Borden called an election for 17 December.

By 1917, voluntary enlistments into the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was pretty much drying up.  The war had been going on for three years.  And the Great War was little more than a killing field.  Mechanised warfare wreaked havoc on the soldiers.  Casualty rates were enormous.  Canada, with a population of little more than 7 million, lost 65,000 men, with another 150,000 wounded.  Many of those who were wounded and survived were never the same again.  They lost their eyesight, their hearing, limbs; their lungs were destroyed by the Germans’ poisonous gas; they were shell-shocked.  It wasn’t just in Canada that enlistments were drying up by 1917, the same was true in England, Scotland, and Wales.  Thus, conscription was needed to compel young Canadian men to fight.  Conscription was made palpable in the rest of Canada, in part, due to exemptions.  The most famous case was that of farmboys, whose labour was needed on the farms of the Prairies (and Ontario). (Not that Borden kept this promise).  But, in Québec, nationalists failed to see why Canada should be wrapped up in an imperialist war that had nothing to do with Canada’s interests.  Indeed, Henri Bourassa, the most influential nationalist leader of the day, and founding editor of Le Devoir, argued in that paper’s pages

Le Canada aurait pu intervenir comme nation, lié a l’Angleterre par des attaches politiquées, et à la France par des motifs de sentiment et d’intérêt, sans compromettre en rien son état politique…[and that Canada had] aucune sort d’obligation morale ou légale de participer à la guerre et tenir compte des conditions particulières, des intérêts vitaux qu’il doit sauvegarder comme pays d’Amérique avant lier sont à celui des nations d’Europe.

Bourassa wasn’t entirely correct, Canada did have a legal obligation to participate.  Britain still controlled Canada’s foreign affairs, and would continue to do so until the Statute of Westminster in 1931.  Thus, when Britain went to war, Canada went to war.

At any rate, the Liberal Party of Canada split over conscription in 1917.  Most Liberals outside of Québec took Borden up on his offer; most Liberals in Québec stood behind Laurier.  The outcome of the election was a foregone conclusion, of course.  But that didn’t stop the Bordenites from engaging in some skeezy politics.  They enfranchised women who had sons or husbands in the military, calculating that they would vote for the Bordenites.  They gerrymandered ridings to ensure the best possible outcome for the Unionists.

One of the gerrymandered ridings was St. Ann’s, in Montréal’s west end.  Prior to the 1917 election, the riding was comprised of Griffintown, Little Burgundy, and Pointe-Saint-Charles, a working-class industrial slum.  The sitting member was Charles J. Doherty, a Conservative and the Minister of Justice in Borden’s government.  He was initially election to represent St. Ann’s in 1917.  He was also Irish-Catholic, so, in essence, the Irish of Griffintown (and Pointe-Saint-Charles) had elected one of their own.  Again. St. Ann’s was one of those ridings where the outcome was not a foregone conclusion.  It could just as easily go Liberal.  Thus, the gerrymander.  Conservative, non-Irish, neighbourhoods including the western part of Pointe-Saint-Charles and all of Verdun, were added to the riding.

The Irish were an issue in 1917 because of the effect of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin on the Irish diaspora.  The 1916 Rising, and the brutality of the British response, served to radicalise the Irish, both in Ireland and the diaspora, including and perhaps especially, Griffintown.  Griffintown was home of the most radical republican Irish nationalists in Canada in the 1910s, mostly centred on the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH).  Thus, for the Bordenites, it was essential that Doherty, who was responsible for conscription, be protected at all costs.  Hence, the gerrymander.

Borden was opposed in the riding by two Liberals at the outset.  Daniel Gallery, the former Liberal member (and city councillor) for St. Ann’s, as well as Dr. J.J. Guerin, a long-time city councillor and former mayor of Montréal.  Gallery, though, ultimately lost the Liberal Party’s endorsement and was left to run as an independent against the Liberal Guerin and the Conservative Doherty.  The election was vicious in Griffintown.  Goon squads intimidated followers of all three candidates.  All three were heckled mercilessly on the campaign trail.  Threats were made.

Doherty won the election handily.  Indeed, he won with the largest margin of his career.  But he also won in large part due to the gerrymander.  In Griffintown, the heart of St. Ann’s, Guerin walked away with the vote, outpolling Doherty by an almost 2-1 margin.  Gallery, despite a long career in service of Griffintown, was never a credible candidate.  He spent most of his time denying that the Unionists were paying him to split the Liberal vote with Guerin.  He garnered fewer than 1000 votes.  Guerin may have lost the election, but he won Griffintown.  And he eventually succeeded in representing St. Ann’s in Parliament; he was elected the Liberal member in the 1925 election and held the seat until his death five years later.

Le Reigne Elizabeth

October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Queen Elizabeth Hotel on blvd. René-Lévesque has fascinated me ever since I was a kid.  Structurally and aesthetically, it is one of the ugliest buildings in the downtown core of Montréal.  Built in a neo-brutalist style usually reserved for university campuses, the Queen Elizabeth is nonetheless the swishest hotel in Montréal.  It is also the largest hotel in Montréal and Québec, with over 1,000 rooms.  The other thing that has fascinated me since the mid-70s is the name of the hotel.  How does a hotel in the middle of Montréal, the metropole of Québec, end up being named after the Queen?  Better yet, what’s with the incongruity of the name in French, Le Reigne Elizabeth, with the masculine article there before the feminine monarch?

When the hotel was first proposed back in 1952, there was an upsurge of love for the monarch in English Canada.  Queen Elizabeth II had just ascended the throne, and around the former British Empire, people were gaga over the queen, somewhat like people are currently in a tizzy over the former Kate Middleton.  However, the 1950s also saw the rumblings that led to the eruption of the Quiet Revolution in Québec in 1960.  There was an upsurge of québécois nationalism in the city and province as well.  Indeed, nationalists argued that the Canadian National Railways should name the new hotel after the founder of Montréal, Paul de Chomedy, sieur de Maisonneuve.  Nonsense, responded the CNR’s president, Donald Gordon: Canada is a Commonwealth nation, and the head of the Commonwealth is Queen Elizabeth II.  Since he was the one building the hotel, he won the debate.

As for the masculine article in the hotel’s French name, well, it turns out that refers to the implied ‘hotel’ in the name, and hotel is masculine. There you have it.

The Queen Elizabeth Hotel, of course, has lived up to its reputation.  The Queen herself has rested her head on its pillows four times, and her son, Prince Charles, has also visited.  The NHL entry draft was held there pretty much every year until 1979.  But, of course, the most famous event to have occurred in the Queen Elizabeth is the “bed-in” of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 26 May-2 June 1969.  Lennon and Ono had been denied entry to the United States, because Lennon had a cannabis conviction from 1968.  A bed-in was planned for New York City.  So now the plan had to be changed, and so Lennon and Ono bedded down in the Queen Elizabeth for their second Bed In for Peace (the first had been in Amsterdam 25-31 March).  During the Montreal bed-in, the anthem “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded by André Perry.

On Living in a Gentrifying Neighbourhood, Pt. IV

June 17, 2012 § 3 Comments

Yesterday, during Bloomsday, I presented The Point a 1978 documentary on Pointe-Saint-Charles directed by Robert Duncan and produced by William Weintraub.  The film presents a very depressing picture of a very depressed neighbourhood in the late 1970s: a picture of unemployment, alcoholism, violence, and dislocation.  The graduating class of James Lyng Catholic High School faced a bleak future in 1978, unilingual and unskilled.

I then presented a bit of context to the film, both the historical time period in which the film, and by whom (Anglos in the late 1970s, between the election of the Parti québécois as the provincial government in 1976 and the First Referendum on Québec sovereignty in 1980).  In shot, a very volatile period in Montréal’s and Québec’s history.  I also pointed out that the Pointe was more than just some sad sack inner-city slum, pointing to such things as the Clinique communitaire de Pointe-Saint-Charles and other examples of neighbourhood organisation and resistance (i.e.: the very things that I love the Pointe for).  I felt it was important to demonstrate to the audience that a poor, dislocated neighbourhood with rampant unemployment during the years of deindustrialisation was more than just that, it was a community (this is something I have learned in studying Griffintown, especially from talking to former Griffintowners).

I then moved on to discuss gentrification here in the Pointe.  I am of two minds on it.  On the one hand, the Pointe is not Griffintown, the condo developers and gentrifying tenement owners do not have to start from scratch.  There is a very strong community here already. On the other hand, the community that exists here only works when those of us who are interlopers get involved, and understand what already exists here and how precious that is.

I have posted before in this series “On Living in a Gentrifying Neighbourhood,” (here, here, and here) my experiences and impressions as I look around the Pointe, both good and bad.

But tonight, sitting on my front stoop, talking on the phone (because it’s about the only place I can get a continuous signal in my flat), the entire process of gentrification was brought home to me in blatant fashion.  A young woman, in her early 20s, and pregnant, is looking for a place to live.  The flat upstairs is for rent, so I talked to her, told her about it, how big it was, etc.  It was apparent that she is a single mother-to-be, as she used the singular in referring to her needs for a flat.  She looked sad and defeated, because the flats around here cost too much for her to afford.  As she turned to go, she said “It looks like they just want to push all the poor people out of the Pointe.”

What can you say to that?  Especially when you’re one of the guilty.  It is a simple fact that rents are going up in the Pointe, both because former rental units are being bought up and converted into single-family homes, and because landlords are realising they can make a lot more money if they renovate and gentrify their flats.  And so where does that leave this woman?  A quick search of Craigslist for flats in the Pointe reveals the same thing, they’re getting expensive.  And so where do those who can’t afford to live here go?

I don’t have the answer for that one.

Filming Griffintown

June 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Two months ago, I posted this about film-maker Scott MacLeod‘s fundraising attempts for a documentary on Griffintown.  I’m happy to report he raised enough money and all systems are go.  Today, I will be meeting up with Scott and his crew for a bit of filming before Ireland takes on Croatia in its first match of Euro 2012.  I am slated to discuss the destruction of Griffintown in the 20th century, due to both bureaucratic inertia on the part of Hôtel de Ville, and depopulation due to deindustrialisation in Griffintown.  Of course, all the Lachine Canal-side neighbourhoods of Montréal experienced deindustrialisation, but Pointe-Saint-Charles, Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri, Côte-Saint-Paul and the like didn’t become ghost towns like the Griff.  The difference?  A combination of local populations resisting deindustrialisation and depopulation (the Pointe, in particular, was home to a radical, populist resistance), as well as political support.  Griffintown got none of that.  The city abandoned Griffintown, left it to die.

Fast-forward 50 years and now there is nothing the Ville de Montréal loves more than Griffintown.  You can practically see the dollar signs in Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s eyes whenever someone mentions the word “Griffintown.”  All the city can see is the tax dollars that will come in from all the condo dwellers there once Devimco and a handful of other developers are done with the neighbourhood.  Did I say neighbourhood?  Oops, sorry.  To me, neighbourhood means a form of community, there is common cause amongst neighbours.  In some cases, this is organic, in other cases, communities can be planned to encourage neighbourliness.  The re-jigged Griffintown, however, is not one of those.  No parks, no schools.  None of that.  Can’t have that, that’d steal space from condos!

So we are going to get a district of high rise condominiums, populated by harried, busy urban dwellers with no real, organic chances for community living, unless they seize the chances themselves.  Maybe they’ll become the condo dwellers here in the Pointe, many of whom have joined the casseroles protests, such as they exist in the Pointe, and have joined the community gardens, and have joined the old populist community organisations of the Pointe?  Or maybe they won’t.  I’m not optimistic, because the Pointe already had this community-based model when the condos went up and when we gentrifiers moved into remodelled tenements.  The Griff has none of that.

But don’t tell Gerald Tremblay.  Actually, go ahead, he’s not listening anyway.

Adding to the Wasteland of Griffintown

April 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

I have taken to going through Griffintown on my morning run of late, in part because it gives me a chance to keep an eye on the redevelopment there.  I come up from the Lachine Canal to de la Montagne, to Ottawa, over to Peel and then down Wellington back down to the Canal, which gives me a quick tour through the heart of old Griffintown, past the old ruins of St. Ann’s Church, by the recently sold Horse Palace, past the Merciers’ old home and Fire Station No. 3.

A condo tower is going up at the corner of de la Montagne and Ottawa, there is work going on around the Horse Palace, there is a new condo bloc at the corner of Ottawa and Murray.  And another development is underway on the northeastern corner of Peel and Wellington.  And then, of course, across Wellington, between Young and Shannon is Devimco’s massive construction site.  Buildings have come down and holes have been dug for Devimco.

And Devimco has moved its condo sales office.  It was once located up the block on the eastern side of Peel near Ottawa, but now it sits proudly, if not somewhat barrenly, on the southeastern corner of Peel and Wellington.  I did find myself wondering if the sales people are still promising potential buyers that the CNR would move its railway, as the viaduct is across the very narrow Smith street from the site of Devimco’s condo towers.

At any rate, the old sales office is now just another wasteland on Griffintown’s landscape, yet another lot of urban refuse, but this time created by the very company which proposes to rejuvenate and renovate the Griff.  Ironic, I thought.

In Griffintown/Dans L’Griff

April 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

In Griffintown/Dans L’Griff will be a documentary about Griffintown, made by my friend, film-maker G. Scott MacLeod.  Scott’s most recent film, a short entitled The Saga of Murdo MacLeod has been received rapturously by Montrealers at its various showings around town, most recently at Ciné-Gael, Montréal’s Irish film series, which is celebrating its 20th season this year.

Scott is proposing to do a short documentary on Griffintown through the eyes of Claude and Lyse Mercier, amongst the last generation of Griffintowners.  Claude and Lyse, as you might guess by their names, are NOT Irish! Shock! Indeed, they are French Canadian, a voice that has long been lost in the stories and memories of the Griff (as my forthcoming book, The House of the Irish: History, Memory and Diaspora in Griffintown, Montreal, will tell you).  Almost all the attention on the Griff’s history has been focused on the working-class Irish Catholics, leaving out the other residents there: French Canadians and Anglo-Protestants, and Scott’s about to address this lacuna.

Scott and I have had a lot of conversation about Griffintown, over Thai food and as we’ve wondered the streets of the neighbourhood both of us are so hell-bent on preserving the memory of.  And while books are great (especially mine!), a documentary, graphic evidence of what once was, is a brilliant addition to the growing corpus of Griffintown memories.

The trailer for the film is below, but I urge you to click on this link, which will take you to Scott’s indiegogo page, where he is attempting to raise money to help with the costs of film-making.  Any amount will help, but Scott is offering 3 levels of support.  20$ gets you a thank you in the end credits and a copy of the DVD, 100$ gets you into the end credits and a DVD, and 1000$ makes you a producer, and you also get a copy of the DVD.

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