Total Pageviews

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Goodbye Montreal

Montreal 2012
I left Montreal, the city I grew up in, around 1970. I had kicked around the city for about 5-6 years after high school and just didn’t see any future there. I couldn’t see working my way up in some staid company getting crappy pay sitting year after year at a desk as a clerk. Retail sucked and was boring. Waiting tables was a dead end and construction was a bit too rigorous for my liking. I eventually ended up on the west coast.

I was aware of the politics in Quebec. The FLQ and RIN stuff. The Separatistes. I saw some of the marches and riots on Sherbrooke Street. It seemed like a temporary kind of deal back then that would sort itself out in due time. Being of English background didn’t seem to be a problem. We were all over the place on the island of Montreal and just across the river. N.D.G., Hampstead, Montreal West, Westmount, The Town of Mount Royal, Cote de Neige, Cote St. Luc, Verdun, Snowden, Lachine, Dorval, Pointe Claire, Beaconsfield, St. Anne de Bellevue, St. Lambert, Greenfield Park, Rosemere and Ste. Therese.
I was gone when the War Measures Act was implemented by Trudeau and when Bill 101 became law a number of years later.
Like a lot of other English speaking people who had grown up in Montreal I tried to figure out what had so many French people pissed off. Was it because “the Anglos” controlled a lot of the commerce in Montreal?  Was it because the French simply outnumbered the English? Was it the threat of losing their culture? Was it that the Anglos were afforded more opportunities than the French?
Most of us Anglos didn’t live on Belvedere Road in Westmount. Most of us were middle class. There were even poor areas in Montreal like Griffintown and Goose Village where some English speaking people lived.
A popular theory that many English speaking people considered back in the day was that the reason a lot of French people didn’t do that well in life was because of the Catholic Church and the seigneurial system that promoted large families in rural areas. A farm simply couldn’t support all those kids once they became adults, and in order to survive, they migrated to larger cities like Montreal and often had a minimal education which left them in dead end manual jobs. Growing up in NDG, the guys that delivered the milk or drove the snow blowers were always French.
It is interesting to note that Quebec is now one of the least religious areas in Canada. Many French Canadians have become disillusioned with the Catholic church.
I never got the cultural stuff. Long after Tommy Hunter had disappeared from the CBC French Canadian TV variety shows were still humming along. Andy Kim wasn’t much of a threat to Robert Charlebois.
Politics in Quebec always seemed like a fatherly kind of thing. Maurice Duplessis, Cameleon Houde, Jean Drapeau, and Rene Levesque all seemed like egocentrics to me. Pauline Marois, although a woman, appears to be another egocentric. Drives a Porche and used to live in a chateau?
Bill 101 was the kicker though. It smacked of apartheid. Of trying to expunge a community that had historically been a large part of Montreal. Was the French Canadian culture that delicate that store signs and street signs had to be in French only? It is sad really.
Where would Bombardier, The Cirque de Soleil, Quebecor. Agropur, or a number of professional hockey players be today if they insisted on a French only policy?
Well that’s my 2 cents worth.


In the latter part of June of this year we spent about a week in Quebec. I wanted to see the places or what was left of them that I remembered from years ago. I hadn’t visited Montreal in about 18 years. I had forgotten all about how Montreal can be so hot and humid in the summer.
We drove down the 401 and got on the 2 and 20 and found a motel in Pointe Claire. I picked up some take out smoked meat sandwiches at Chenoy’s. As always, delicious. I placed my order and was given a slip to take to the cashier. There was a bit of a discussion between two of the staff and my order was also entered into a book. Only in Montreal could buying take out seem so complicated. It seemed like the management didn’t have a lot of trust in their employees.
The next morning we took a bit of a tour around Pointe Claire. We drove along Lakeshore Road and stopped at a large mansion that overlooked Lake St. Louis. My parents swam in this part of the St.Lawrence River in the 1930s. It took a few minutes to find my bearings but I found the house my parents had retired to in Valois. What was once a bright sunny lot was now darkened by matured trees.
Stewart House, Pointe Claire.
My parents old house in Valois.
We continued on into Montreal and I took the Montreal West cut off. We stopped off at a local patisserie for a cup of java and had a chat with a tattooed waitress on her break at an outside table next to us. We were feeling the funk.
I got lost for about 10 minutes in amongst some high rise apartment buildings near Cavendish Boulevard. I got my bearings and we made our way through N.D.G. to Harvard Avenue and the house I grew up in. As luck would have it we were given a tour of the old home by a very pleasant lady from France. We also visited my old grade school and high school.
Harvard Avenue
We walked around the neighbourhood. I spotted the Monkland Tennis Club where the best players from Austrailia, including Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, once played some exhibition matches in the early 1960s. We walked by the apartment building at the corner of Marcil and Monkland Avenue where I spent the first few years of my life. Over the years Monkland Avenue has become yuppified. Sidewalk cafes and Subways have replaced Chinese laundries and novelty stores.

Apartment building on Monkland Ave. where I spent the first 4 years of my life.

Monkland Tennis Club.
We drove around Hampstead for a while. I spotted the park with the pond where we ice skated in the winter 5 decades ago. I remembered the Friday night dances at Hampstead School. I also recalled caddying at the Hampstead Golf Course that disappeared in the early 1960s. Back in the day, Hampstead was an upper middle class area and the unwritten rule was that WASPs didn’t sell their houses to Jewish people. Today Hampstead is something like 85% Jewish, even the mayor. I once had a girlfriend for a short while who lived in Hampstead. I was her guest once at a dance at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. We did the bunny hop from one large room to another.
We thought about checking out the Orange Julep but the Decarie Expressway was crammed. We drove by St. Joseph’s Oratory and cut down Cote de Neige past Forest Hill Avenue where I once had an apartment and past another apartment building where my grandparents once lived. I took a right along Sherbrooke and cut off on Atwater.
Just below St. Catherine Street and off of Atwater we found Weredale House (The Boys Home of Montreal) where I spent two unhappy years from 1961 to 1963. The home has been closed since the late 1970s. I’m not sure what purpose the building serves today but it had security and I wasn’t keen about pushing the envelope in trying to get inside.
Weredale House
We drove back to N.D.G. to meet an ex Weredale boy at the Monkland Tavern. I remembered the place as being frequented by old drunks and 10 cent draft beer. Times had changed. The chalkboard showed mac and cheese for 24 bucks. We had a pleasant chat for an hour or so and headed back to our motel in Pointe Claire.
Monkland Taverne.
The next day we hung around the motel in the morning and met a long lost nephew at a brasserie close by. I had never met him before. He turned out to be a really nice guy. I had to take a pass on ordering a large pitcher of beer. I can’t manage that anymore never mind at lunchtime.
There were a couple of heavy set middle aged dudes sitting at a table near to us with back up beers at the ready. Their waitress spent a lot of her time chatting with them. In my mind I was trying to decide whether they were heavy equipment guys or criminal types. Who knows? One thing is for sure, nobody in the brasserie seemed in any hurry to get back to work and the place was packed.
We spent most of the afternoon down around the McGill student ghetto area. We passed Montreal High School where my mother was a student in the early 1930s. We saw the updated building at the top of University Street that was once a frat house that I lived at and rented out rooms back in the summer of 68. It took a while but we found The Yellow Door coffeehouse that was the home to many aspiring folksingers in the 1960s. Actually, all we found was the sign. No posters about upcoming events. Nada. The door wasn’t even yellow.
Frat house on University Street
Yellow Door coffee house.
We drove west along Sherbrooke Street and pulled into a parking lot by Victoria Hall where my grandfather produced a number of plays and musicals over 50 years ago. I remember when I was about 7 years of age and seeing Jack and the Beanstalk there. I almost believed that there was another world at the top of the beanstalk. They used to have the audience sing “Hail, hail the gang’s all here” which my grandfather changed to “hell, hell the gang’s all here” and I joined in. Very risqué!
Victoria Hall, Westmount.
We found our way up to upper Westmount. Someone has a yard right next to the dome of St. Joseph’s oratory. Who knew? We stopped and had a gander from the Westmount Lookout.
Westmount Lookout.
I decided that it might be fun to find a pizza joint on Cote St. Luc Road that I had fond memories of. Mama Mia Pizzeria. It was obvious when we spotted the place that it isn’t what it once was. Back in the day a guy with a white chef’s hat would toss the pizza dough in the air. A large pizza was about 3 feet wide. There was no such thing as goat cheese or even pineapple on pizzas, just the choices of pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, green peppers and perhaps some anchovies. You could pull the mozzarella cheese about 12” and the crust was slightly blackened on the bottom as were the tips of the pepperoni slices.
The restaurant now had fake marble walls. I told our waiter that I hadn’t been inside the place in close to 50 years. He said he had heard people say that a lot. After that he pretty well ignored us other than bringing us our food. They only make 10 inch pizzas these days and they aren’t anything to write home about. Grovelling seems to be an art form in some restaurants In Quebec and we couldn’t help noticing the waiter bowing and scraping to his regular Jewish clientele. He even resorted to dragging his kid out from the back which didn’t seem to get him any points. We left a tip and never heard a good night from him or a thanks for coming out. All in all it was a waste of time.
Mama Mia Pizzeria.
The next morning we headed up to the Laurentians. I missed the cut off near the Decarie junction and we ended up in eastside Montreal. It took quite a while to get back on the right track. Eventually we made it to St. Sauveur where I had spent some time in my later teens. It was clear that St. Sauveur had become a bonifide tourist trap. We strolled along the main thoroughfare, had a coffee, and I waited outside while Linda wandered in and out of a number of shops.
Old drinking places like the Inn and Nadeau’s were gone. It looked like they had been replaced by a newer building that had been a bank and was now for lease. I wanted to see if I could find what was left of Nymark’s Lodge where I had worked for a few months one winter in the mid 1960s. We asked some kids walking along a road if they knew where it was and one of them gave us the wrong directions and it took me only a few minutes to figure out that I had been lied to. We drove past them after I reversed our course and they looked a bit frightened when I thanked them for wasting our time.
Where the old weekend drinking joint The Inn once stood.
 As we were driving towards where I thought Nymark’s was I noticed two small wooden churches by the roadside. It dawned on me that the older of the two buildings was where I once slept off a hangover in the loft only to be awakened by the Sunday morning flock coming to attend services.
We parked the car and wandered over to the two small chapels. The door was open in the newer building and a church meeting was in progress. English was being spoken. It kind of seemed clandestine. The leader asked if they could help me and after I told them my little story one of the flock got a key and let us into the older building. It turned out that the older building had been built by Victor Nymark himself.
View from the loft where I once slept.

I knew that Nymark’s Lodge was just down the road. At least it once was. A local told us that it had burned down years before and a gated mansion now sat where the old lodge once was. I tried the intercom at the gate and what seemed to be the hired help pretty well told me to buzz off.
We drove up to St Agathe. I didn’t have any particular plan of where we were going. We learned that the Grey Rocks Inn near Mont Tremblant had been closed for a number of years due to some tax dispute with the local government. We found a very reasonable motel with a pool close by that is owned by an Asian family. It turned out that the owner is a marine biologist by trade. Go figure!
The following day we headed back to Montreal but not before stopping off in St. Eustache where Linda had figured out that her long deceased father had some relatives. They own some apple orchards but unfortunately there was nobody home when we dropped by. We had an interesting conversation with  their elderly next door neighbour.
Linda's distant relatives farm in St. Eustache.
We made it to downtown Montreal around noon and parked our car up the street from the old Montreal Forum on Atwater Street. My plan was to walk down St. Catherine Street to around University Street and see if we could soak in the atmosphere of the big city. It was hotter than hell out and we had a lot of walking ahead of us.
The Forum had been turned into some kind of shopping mall and the only reminder of what once was is some sort of thing imbedded in the sidewalk with the Montreal Canadiens hockey logo. It felt kind of strange sitting outside the Forum building drinking a latte from Tim Horton’s. (Tim was a long time Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman.)
Outside old Montreal Forum building.
About all I recognized on our walk along St. Catherine Street were a few churches and the remnants of Olgilvy’s, Simpson’s, Eaton’s and Morgan’s. The sidewalks were very crowded. I couldn’t spot one familiar restaurant. Theatres like the Capital, The Princess, The Palace and Loews were all gone. We took a little walk up Crescent Street and I took a look inside the Winston Churchill Pub. The place was cavernous. It appears like they have expanded and expanded over the years. The sunglasses on the forehead crowd were basking on the outside balconies in the sun.
Winston Churchill Pub
We went over to the Place Ville Marie. The building was designed by I.M. Pei and was a concept of William Zeckendorf’s. I remember an old story about the PVM. Apparently Mr. Zeckendorf ran out of money shortly after the hole where the building was dug and went to the St. James club and begged for some financing and ended up out of the picture.
Place Ville Marie
We ventured into Montreal’s underground shopping malls and found our way to Central Station. I spent about a year and half working on the trains in the late 1960s. I also remembered working at the Maison Danoise (The Danish House) in the mall for a month or two before being canned. We took a few pictures of Mary Queen of the World’s Cathedral and the statues at the top of it. Then we went over to Windsor Station where the C.P.R. used to have its head office. The train station had long been shut down and all that was left was a giant room with a few bronze statues.
Central Station
Windsor Station
We decided to take de Maisoneuve (formerly Burnside) back to our car. I noticed that the road didn’t go underneath the building where the CKGM radio station used to be anymore. CKGM was where Pat Burns and Joe Pine used to taunt  French speaking Montrealers. I remember when all the disk jockeys had their pictures in a big picture window except Pat Burns who had a silhouette.
We passed the Concordia University building. I went there for a bit at night when it was called Sir George Williams University. Initially Sir George was part of the Y.M.C.A. I remembered the school being “occupied” and the student riots of 1968.
Concordia-formerly Sir George Williams University
By the time we got back to our car we were exhausted. We phoned my nephew in St. Therese and spent the night at his place. I had never really spent any time in this community. We enjoyed my nephew and his wife’s hospitality and shared some steaks with them on their deck by their pool. The next morning we went for a walk down by the river.
With nephew Gary in St. Therese
Around lunchtime we headed off to the Eastern Townships and upstate New York and Vermont. On our way back through Quebec we decided not to stop again in Montreal. I had seen pretty well what I wanted. We never went to Old Montreal. It never had much meaning for me. I remembered once when I was about 20, trying to get into a nightclub in Old Montreal and some guy telling me through a peephole that I couldn’t come in. That kind of sealed it for me.
I have no bitterness about how things have changed over the years in Montreal. It isn’t my home. I am proud to say it is where I grew up. They were fascinating times. You would have to look long and hard to find anyone who left years ago having deep regrets about leaving. At this stage of my life it is all about the memories.
The drive-in restaurants like The Bonfire and Miss Montreal on Decarie Boulevard.
Ben’s Delicatessen and the strange people in there at 2:00 a.m. The photos on the walls.
The Shrine Circus every year in May at the Montreal Forum and 27 clowns getting out of a small car.
The woolen Montreal Canadiens hockey sweaters that kids wore playing street hockey that the snow stuck to.
Skates hanging off of the end of hockey sticks and the snow falling by streetlights as we made our way home from the rink at Hampstead Park at night.
Watching the Raftsmen at the Café Andre.
The Friday night fights outside of the Hampstead Hop.
Delivery the Montreal Gazette in the dark.
Being fired from a company for pocketing a bus ticket and later finding out the same company  (J.P. Porter & Sons) was being sued for price fixing and collusion in the dredging of Montreal harbour.
Knowing that a few of the kids I went to school with had fathers who were gangsters.
Getting a knockwurst on rye for 35 cents at Dunn’s.
Being arrested for underage drinking at the Café Andre and downstairs at The Berkley hotel.
My first office job that paid all of 40 bucks a week.
The time I was fired from Canadian Refractories because I misrepresented the classes I was taking at night at Sir George Williams. Stay away from sales I was told. I ended up spending most of my adult life in sales.
Bringing bottles back to the grocery store in the McGill ghetto so I could make a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.
Walking down the road from my parent’s place in Valois and hitchhiking across Canada.
Discovering that French girls were far more sexually active than English girls.
The first time I ever got drunk behind West Hill High School after consuming a couple of Labatt 50s.

I will continue to write stories about my experiences as a young guy growing up in Montreal but visiting the city again is hardly likely. That door has closed.

Some random photos of Montreal.....

Mary Queen of the World and Queen Elizabeth Hotel

Rooftop party time in the sun.






  1. thanks for the 'virtual visit' back to Montreal.
    I too left in the 70's & have lived in Victoria ever since. I prefer to think of the Montreal I once knew from stories and photos,despite several trips back over the years I still think it is just not the same place today.,Perhaps somethings are,but very little as I see it. That's why looking back through photos & stories like yours is just as good (perhaps better,since you paid for the
    I managed a site on MSN groups,then the Multiply network,and just wound it down after 10 years.
    The site was Verdun Connections and we had a ton of photos & stories & videos,all of which I may fire up again when I find a new suitable group setting.
    I saw this link to your site via Coolopolis a blog I link to my blogsite. have a visit if you like, I have just exported from Multiply a lot of the old posts which still need editing,but have a look if you like anyway. Blogger doesn't support importing of my videos or photos,so it will take me some time to repost all the stuff I had.
    Cheers ! - LesF
    ps: Montreal is a great place to 'be from'& that allows us to lay claim to being a 'Montrealer' for life gives us the right to critique it

  2. This was interesting.

    I myself half grew-up in Notre-Dame-de-Grâces (I spent every week-end at my aunt’s who lived on Brodeur avenue and Girouard (just south of Monkland) — the est of the week was spent in Rosemont, and much of it was in school, so I did not really roam the streets there as I did during the week-end; I remember the Monkland Tavern as my first ever girlfriend lived in the high-rise on Old-Orchard, and would have fun looking at the drunk men walking out on all fours… But I disgress.

    You clearly show that you are a genuine english by being totally clueless about the french, despite growing-up in the second largest city in the world; the english, being the most imperialistic people in History, are not really accustomed to understanding other cultures, as they are in the habit of imperially dominating them, so you guys are culturally unable to understand other cultures and stand clueless amongst what they do, without ever being able to understand their motivation.

    So let me clue-you up a little bit.

    You state that Québec is the least religious place in North-America. There is a good reason for that, and you guys are the culprit.

    Back in 1867, Confederation rewarded the roman scatholic church with the biggest plumb they could ever hope getting: total control over the education of the french people, from the cradle to the university (for those who could go there) as a reward for not backing up the Patriotes during the rebellion 30 years before.

    In the meanwhile, protestant traders, entrepreneur and industrialists have remarked that devout scatholics will never go into business, because scatholics are told that making money is sinful and by being rich, one would be guaranteed a warm spot by the devil for eternity.

    So the english shed their (rightful, I must say) visceral hatred for the scatholic church, since it effectively prevented the whole french population from competing with them in business, leaving the economic field wide open for them, hence the complete control over education given to the scatholic church in the 1867 British North-America Act Constitution.

    A little side-anecdote regarding the entry of Québec in Confederation: back in 1867, only rich landowners were allowed to vote, and voting was not secret: you signed your name in a register in the column of whom you were voting for. So, Macdonald and Cartier were, at first, brewing-up a referendum to get Québec get into the Canadian Confederation.

    Given it’s big reward coming-up, it was no surprise that the scatholic church stated that they would excomuniate anyone who would vote “NO”.

    And back them, excommunication was a big deal; look-up the story of Joseph Guibord, a printer who was excomunicated for being a member of the Canadian Institute. When he died, his funeral party had to be protected by an army escort because of the violent opposition of the clergy, and the plot of land he was buried in was desacralized by cardinal Bourget. Guibord’s memory is honoured in current Gilford street.

    But despite that, it was clear that the referendum would fail to gather enough “YES” votes, so at the last minute, the referendum was nixed, and the matter was then put in the hands of the legislature, where it passed by a single vote.


  3. (cont.)

    So, you see, if 50%+1 is enough to get into Canada, 50%+1 is good enough to leave it. Well, enough side-anecdote and let’s go back to the subject.

    So, Confederation threw the french into the grips of the scatholic church, who then endeavoured to keep us mostly ignorant and into subservient roles in Society, while the english controlled the Economy and reaped most of the profits.

    When television arrived on the scene, we slowly started to stop listening to the priests, and when Expo-67 arrived and we were exposed to the world, this was the catalyst that made us dump the scatholic church to the garbage heap of History. This is why our swear words are almost all religious words, because for us, religion is the worst thing that can be; it was used to enslave us to the english: as soon as we dumped religion, our standard of life increased tenfold and we got to have our own class of entrepreneurs that gradually started to take control of OUR Economy, launching bold businesses that no stodgy english entrepreneur could ever dream of achieving; let’s think of Bombardier, who in 40 years went from snowmobiles to being the third largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, and the largest train manufacturer in the world.

    Now, let’s talk about law 101.

    It’s not “anti-english”. It’s pro-french.

    No englishman has ever had the slightest human right taken away by it.

    Law 101’s sole goal is to make sure that immigrants to Québec become french.

    Because they used to become english; in fact, immigrants were the principal weapon used by the english to minorize the french, even in Québec.

    For example, back in the 1950’s, italian immigrants to Québec were told by the canadian embassy that they should speak english. When they arrived here, they saw that the english ran the show, and that the french were basically “white niggers”. Not wanting their children to be white niggers, the sent them to english schools, insuring that they would not integrate at all with the french.

    Back in NDG, my aunt’s neighbour were italians, with which we had the usual french-vs-english battles. For me, it was clear in my mind that the italians were the ennemy, because they were english.

    Then, 20 years ago, I got to hang with italian diplomats posted to Montréal. I realized that italian culture was virtually undistinguishable from french culture (except that words ended with “i” or “o”…). So the “ennemies” of my childhood were in reality much closer to us than the english will ever be, yet the english have managed to make italians the ennemies of the french!

    This is why the multiculturalism policy is an utter failure; it’s just yet another colonial ploy to divide-and-rule. Divide the population in little ghettoes squabbling amongst each other to better dominate them.

    In addition, it was telling immigrants that the french were just another group of immigrants, rather than the actual founders of Canada.

    It’s not for nothing that the french are assimilationist: we want everyone to become french, so everyone can equally benefit from life in Québec instead of being relegated to a little ghetto.

    There. Now I hope you’ll go to bed tonight a little bit better educated…

    1. Just for the record. I don't dislike French people. I had a number of French girlfriends and other French friends when I was living in Montreal.
      Some French people may have resented the fact that a lot of the bigger companies in Montreal were owned and run by wealthy English speaking people. The fact still remains that a lot of those English entrepreneurs had a lot do do with the building of the city.
      If anything the resentment should have been about class struggle.
      Instead, what came about was the separatist stuff and the average English speaking person feeling unwanted by the majority.
      Bill 101 was unnessessary and was like a payback to anyone with an English background. Montreal lost a lot of good people over the years.
      You may be happy that a lot of history has been erased but that doesn't mean English speaking people never had a lot to do with the growth of Montreal.
      Your letter didn't educate me. Sorry pal.

    2. PS:....An English speaking friend I grew up with in N.D.G. became the general manager of the Bombardier company you speak of.