Welcome to Mile End


Mile End feels like Sesame Street. It has the right combination of rusty cornices, a welcoming atmosphere and multiethnic groups of children playing in the street, although big yellow birds and blue cookie monsters are lamentably absent.

You’ll find Mile End in Montreal, nestled between the slopes of Mount Royal to the southwest and the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks to the north. Its 23,965 residents eat, sleep and curse the crooked floors in a motley array of triplexes, duplexes and apartment buildings, all with little gardens and those quintessential spiral staircases. Quintessential, really, is the key word here. Mile End embodies most of what’s best about Montreal: the effortless mix of languages, the whimsical architecture, the easygoingness and the sense that sitting in a leafy terrasse on St. Viateur Street is more important than whatever mundane task you’re neglecting.

But Mile End is also a good neighbourhood, period. Its diversity, pedestrian-oriented scale, fine mix of housing and commerce, and innovative architecture all come together to create a model environment. People here can easily live without a car—indeed, the Plateau Mont-Royal borough, of which Mile End is a part, has one of the lowest car-ownership rates in Canada—and there’s no shortage of locally owned businesses. So what’s behind it all?


Park Avenue, a main artery running through Mile End


Bernard Street on a late autumn afternoon


Park Avenue is where Mile Enders go for everyday amenities, such as grocery stores, hardware stores and pharmacies

Mile End was born as a little hamlet huddled around the church of Saint-Enfant-Jésus, near the present-day corner of Laurier Street and St. Laurent Boulevard, about a mile north of what was then the Montreal city limit. Incorporated in 1878 as the village of St. Louis du Mile End, the town blossomed; in 1895, it became the City of St. Louis, with a population of about four thousand. Stretching from Mont Royal Avenue in the south all the way up to Jean Talon Street in the north, St. Louis billed itself as the best town on Montreal Island, an over-the-mountain oasis of clean air and cheap housing.

Development in St. Louis occurred at a furious pace. Heavily influenced by the City Beautiful movement, the town required each building to have a setback of about three metres to make room for tidy little gardens. Streets were built wider than in Montreal, a tree program was established and bathrooms were required in each apartment. Elegant streets like Park Avenue and St. Joseph Boulevard were developed, the latter boasting gorgeous greystone houses and a tree-lined median that would eventually stretch well into Montreal’s east end. By the spring of 1909, when burgeoning St. Louis was annexed into Montreal, the little hamlet had become Quebec’s third largest city, with 37,000 inhabitants.

Over the next fifty years, Mile End became Montreal’s most Jewish neighbourhood, as thousands of Jews, who had fled pogroms and poverty in Eastern Europe, migrated north along St. Laurent Boulevard from the older Jewish ghetto downtown. If you’ve read any Mordecai Richler, you’re probably already familiar with Mile End: the renowned author lived in the 5600 block of St. Urbain, just above St. Viateur, and many of his stories are set in the neighbourhood. Wilensky’s, the neighbourhood hangout described in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, still serves hand-pumped sodas and mystery-meat Specials at the corner of Clark and Fairmount.

By the end of the 1950s, though, most of the Jews had left for western suburbs like Snowdon and Côte St. Luc. They were replaced by a virtual potpourri of immigrants: ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews, Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards and other Eastern and Southern Europeans.


Greeks from across Montreal flocked to Park Avenue, the community’s traditional heart, to celebrate Greece’s victory in the 2004 Euro Cup soccer tournament


Every summer, St. Viateur Street plays host to the Processione di San Marziale



The western half of Outremont and eastern edge of Mile End are home to some 8,000 Hasidic Jews, representing nearly a third of the area’s population and a majority on a number of streets. The Hasidim share Park Avenue with other Mile Enders, and kosher grocers, butchers, fishmongers and restaurants can be found there


The Church of St. Michael and St. Anthony rises above Mile End. Built in the Byzantine style by Irish parishioners and decorated by the “Michaelangelo of Montreal,” Guido Nincheri, it now serves a Polish congregation

To firm up my grasp of Mile End history, I sought out Susan Bronson, a professor of architecture at the Université de Montréal and the founder of Mile End Memories, an organization dedicated to the neighbourhood’s history and heritage. Over coffee and juice at a café on Villeneuve Street, the affable Ms. Bronson let me in on a few bits of local history.

It turns out that, ironically, Mordecai Richler’s old stomping grounds were once pretty WASPy. In 1911, some 34 percent of Mile End residents were anglophone, compared to a mere 4 percent in 1891. Neighbouring Outremont—now a bastion of the francophone elite—was also heavily anglo in those days. Faced with the influx of Jews in the 1910s and ’20s, however, many anglos fled. Protestant churches were converted to synagogues, and Jews, unwelcome in the Catholic system, attended Protestant schools. In some schools, like at Bancroft School on St. Urbain, the student body was more than 90 percent Jewish in the decades before World War II. On streets like St. Urbain and Esplanade, the number of Gentiles probably could have been counted on a single hand; Bronson’s own research concludes that around 75 percent of all property owners and renters in lower Mile End were Jewish.

Still, even in its most ethnically homogenous days, Mile End was a diverse place. “It was very common to have doctors and lawyers next door to labourers,” says Bronson. Prestigious streets like St. Joseph were only a few minutes’ walk from more ramshackle ones like Clark or Casgrain. In fact, the very fabric of Mile End encouraged diversity. Triplexes, Mile End’s most common form of housing, provided a perfect opportunity for new immigrants to gain a foothold in Montreal. Immigrants, Bronson tells me half-jokingly, “seem to live here for three generations”—one for each floor of the triplex. “Triplexes were a way to add to the family revenue,” she explains. When Greeks and Portuguese arrived in the 1950s, they often rented apartments in triplexes owned by Jews. As the Jewish community moved away, the newcomers were able to buy the triplexes and put down their own roots in the neighbourhood.

By the dawn of the 1980s, however, Mile End was run down, suffering from the urban neglect afflicting cities across the continent. Two decades earlier, Mayor Jean Drapeau’s administration had ripped out the leafy median and turned St. Joseph Boulevard into a car-choked thoroughfare. Park Avenue had acquired an air of faded grandeur as it too was assaulted by legions of cars and trucks. When Bronson first moved to the neighbourhood in 1980, you could rent a seven-room apartment for $130 a month. “The number of fires was amazing,” she says. Most were arsons.

But things began to change: in a familiar turn of events, artists and students were attracted by the ethnic diversity and the fantastic architecture, setting off a long period of gentrification. In some ways, the triplex phenomenon that encouraged Mile End’s role as a stepping stone for immigrants has also contributed to its ongoing embourgeoisement: the grandchildren of immigrants can make a pretty penny by selling their family’s triplex to a condo developer, so they leave the neighbourhood and buy a house in the suburbs.

But there’s an upside to gentrification, too. As buildings are renovated, more attention is being given to the neighbourhood’s architectural heritage. In an odd twist, many of the gentrifiers are actually immigrants, albeit well-off ones. Transplants from France make up nearly a third of all new immigrants to Mile End and 14 percent of all immigrants, the same proportion as people born in Portugal. Many of the university students who settle in the neighbourhood come from a wide range of ethnic and national origins — Montreal is home to more than 20,000 foreign students, after all. The multitude of businesses in Mile End — there are six retail streets — adds another dynamic to the neighbourhood’s diversity. Even as trendy bars and cafés proliferate, new immigrant-owned businesses have opened, including Tamil and Pakistani greengrocers on Park Avenue and the only Mauritanian restaurant outside of Africa (La Khaïma on Fairmount Avenue). Recently, most of Mile End’s dépanneurs have been bought by Chinese immigrants.


A dépanneur (corner store) on Fairmount Avenue


Buskers make use of one of many terraces on St. Viateur Street


Mile End is home to Montreal’s two most famous bagel shops, both of which are open around the clock. On St. Viateur Street, bagels are carried back and forth between the main shop and an overflow shop


The Italian sports café Open Da Night, known officially as Café Olimpico, is a Mile End landmark that has been open since 1972

Mile End’s success as a neighbourhood comes from its history. Each wave of residents has left its own unique mark on the neighbourhood: the Portuguese, for instance, taught Mile Enders the value of a well-maintained garden and adorned their triplexes with tiles depicting Catholic saints. Park Avenue remains a sort of downtown for Montreal Greeks, even if most of them moved away years ago. And the Hasidic community continues to thrive; little boys with yarmulkes pedal their tricycles furiously down the sidewalk, braided hair blowing in the wind. It will take care and attention from residents and from the city for Mile End to retain the qualities that make it such a great neighbourhood.

Another version of this article was published in Maisonneuve on June 18, 2004.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday January 01 2007at 10:01 pm , filed under Architecture, Canada, Heritage and Preservation, History, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

47 Responses to “Welcome to Mile End”

  • Christopher Szabla says:

    is this an advertisement?

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    No, it’s an introduction. I plan to post more on Mile End, including interviews with various people in the neighbourhood and some stuff on more specific aspects of its history. I promise it won’t all have the same celebratory tone as this article.

  • aj says:

    I love the irony in the current Google ad at the bottom of the story, a promotion for “lakeside acreage homesite” exurban sprawl in Texas…

    Chris D, in the context of Momus’ arguments about “fobo”, i.e. faux-bohemians – rich kids slumming it and driving up rents – do you think this applies to Mile-End?

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    I have no idea. Sounds a bit unlikely, but maybe that’s just because I’ve never met anyone that could be described like that. I’m not really part of the Mile End hipster scene but I can honestly say there doesn’t seem to be a lot of money going around, considering the lack of gimmicky retail, etc. that might appeal to trust fund babies.

  • I’m surprised by the large number of French immigrants. It does seem like Saint-Joseph and nearby Bernard in Outremont have Parisienne influences though.

    So, the Greeks left Mile-End and settled in Laval (Chomedy) and Park Ex. The Jews left for Cote-St-Luc, and Hamstead, etc. What about the Portuguese? Have they largely remained in Mile-End or do they have other, more suburban enclaves?

    From my observations, the Portuguese in Toronto and Hamilton still live, for the most part, in the neighbourhoods they originally settled in while the Italians for instance have long since suburbanized. It’s interesting if this is the same in Montreal.

    Thanks for sharing Mile-End with the world. It’s a special place!

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Well, Montreal’s big Portuguese neighbourhood has always been the western Plateau, centered along such streets as Duluth, Rachel and St. Laurent. The community’s presence in Mile End is more residential — although there are a lot of Portuguese families around (you can tell by the religious tiles they place near their front doors), there are only a handful of Portuguese businesses in the neighbourhood.

    In any case, I actually don’t know much about the Portuguese community.

  • Linda Sendecki says:

    Thank you for that wonderful history lesson. I lived right across the street from the house in your first picture. That is on Jeanne Mance and Bernard. I was born in that house in 1950 and my Dad grew up in that house at 5810 Jeanne Mance. We had a rabinical college right across the street and alway enjoyed living among our Jewish neighbors. I alsays loved that neighborhood and always felt it was a very special place. It is also a very special place to my two brothers. Thanks again.

  • Siqi Zhu says:

    No gimmicky retails? So like, there aren’t any spirituality specialists or American Apparel? I also haven’t seen any bongo players in any of the pictures. Miles End seems like a very sensible place; with the great architecture this is a winning combination.

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Well, of course there’s some gimmicky retail, but no American Apparel yet. They’ve saturated all of the other neighbourhoods (there’s three on Ste. Catherine Street) but haven’t invaded Mile End.

    A Toronto equivalent to Mile End would probably be Kensington Market.

  • Linda Sendecki says:

    was I wrong in my first comment. The more I look at the picture I am starting to doubt myself because of the thickness of the floor of the balcony. Was that in deed on the corner of Jeanne Mance and Bernard.

  • Linda Sendecki says:

    One more question I promise. The picture that states “Park Ave” main artery through Mile End. What is that tall building. Thanks.

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Linda, the first photo is Fairmount and Clark, just above Wilensky’s. The third photo, however — the one with the little kid in a red coat — is the corner of Jeanne Mance and Bernard.

    The tall building you’re asking about is called the Park Avenue Building and it’s located at the corner of Park and Van Horne. It’s an industrial loft building.

  • Justin Bur says:

    Very interesting article, fabulous photos.

    You’re right that Mile End was first settled around the church of Saint-Enfant-Jésus, but the name was in use at least forty years earlier. It originally referred to what is now the intersection of Saint-Laurent and Mont-Royal, a very old crossroads and the first one north of the city limits. More details in Wikipedia under “Mile End (Montreal)”.

  • urbanmkr says:

    Interesting article, and I like the photos. Just a comment on a comment – I don’t think the Greeks left Mile-End to go to Parc-Ex. Parc-Ex is not a destination neighbourhood (yet, anyway), it’s more of a transition neighbourhood, a first stop for immigrants until they can find somewhere better. So the Greeks in Parc-Ex settled there on arrival. It’s how Mile-End used to be – as you say, Mile-End is becoming more of a destination than a transition neighbourhood.
    There are also quite a number of US immigrants living in Mile-End. It’s hard to tell from census data whether these are Vietnam draft-dodgers, Silicone Valley refugees come to work at Ubisoft, or Hassidic Jews who have come in from New York.

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Most of them are probably American-born Hassidic Jews. The rest probably can’t be lumped into any particular group.

    As for Park Extension, I don’t think it’s a transition point between Mile End and somewhere else—Greeks settled in Park Ex at the same time they settled in Mile End. I also suspect that many of the Greeks who still live there (about 1/3 of the neighbourhood’s population) are property owners who live in duplexes or in the bungalow belt in the north end of the neighbourhood. They certainly don’t live in the apartment buildings where new immigrants reside.

  • bobr says:

    Nice article! What are the borders of Mile End within the Plateau?

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Bobr, the boundaries of the Mile End municipal electoral district are Hutchison Street to the west; the CPR tracks to the north; Mount Royal Avenue to the south; and St. Denis Street to the east.

    In terms of what most people consider to be Mile End, however, the neighbourhood is shaped more like this:

    ====CPR Tracks======
    | …………………………….S
    =MT. ROYAL==

  • That map is pretty cool! Although when I lived in Mile-End (St-Viateur and Jeanne Mance) everything east of the Main seemed foreign to me and south of Laurier felt Plateauish – definitely a different vibe. Even just west of Park seemed wannabe Outremont, although I loved that the physical distinction between Mile-End (old Ville de Montreal / Ville d’Outremont municipal boundary) was so strikingly evident.

    So, my Mile-End (keep in mind my naive Ontario perspective on the world) consisted of the blocks north of Laurier up to the CP tracks, between Park Ave and St-Laurent. The Main Street of Mile-End, for actual residents seemed like St-Viateur between Park and St-Laurent, although Park Ave clearly had more activity – it just felt a bit more like a thoroughfare.

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    That’s definitely the core of Mile End. South of Laurier is a transition zone. But really, in the grand scheme of things, Mile End and the western Plateau (that is to say west of St. Denis) are both the same neighbourhood. They have share architecture, culture and history. The real divide on the Plateau is St. Denis—everything east of there is very distinct from the areas around St. Laurent or Park.

  • Glenn Freeman says:


    Nice pics. Used to live at 211 Fairmount from 1983-1990, just above that depanneur! If you can, please send me (or put up) more pics of that area, I would deeply appreciate it, as I now live in Europe, and don’t know when I’ll get back there.



  • […] Installing work for Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at Art Basel Unlimited, and moving my house over to the Mile-End district of Montreal.  I’ve also been doing a serious amount of work updating the I-TASC website after the […]

  • Tom says:

    hey Chris,

    Great article. Makes me not want to move away.

    your upstairs neighbour,


  • French Panic says:


    Excellent photos, and excellent description of the neighbourhood. I also thought urbanmkr’s comment about Park Ex being “a first stop for immigrants until they can find somewhere better” was fun-neee, as myself and your upstairs neighbour Tom just helped move our non-immigrant friends (on Moving Day, bien sur) into the home they just purchased in Park Ex.

    I’m not a fan of labels (oooh, this neighbourhood is being gentrified, this one is for transtitioning immigrants, this one is for yuppies, this is for gangstas…) and you done Mile End good!

  • […] the spirit of highlighting new stores in Mile End, here’s the word on the Hanneman Design/EcoDarling store on Villeneuve that opened this […]

  • KC says:

    Note that the Hasid photo caption that reads “The western half of Outremont and eastern edge of Mile End…” should read “The eastern half of Outremont and western edge of Mile End…”.

  • Adèle McKay says:

    I really enjoyed your article on Mile End, and great photography! I’m coming to Montreal this weekend for a conference, and will be trying to find my Grandmaman’s apartment on Park Avenue, where she lived in the 1920’s.
    I just found her little address book, where it was noted. My grandmother just loved Montreal, and her life there in the 20’s sounded so romantic~
    I was born in Montreal also, but grew up in St. Jean -sur-Richelieu, and now live in the Gatineau Hills, Quebec.

  • Adam says:

    Maybe I missed it, but how does rent compare to the rest of the Montreal area?

  • David Miles says:

    I have been in Mile End for a week, doing some research for an exhibition at articule gallery on Fairmount. The exhibition will take place in May 2009, and for this i am looking for local stories, things that have happened to people who have lived here. It could have been years ago or just yesterday. I love this neighbourhood, having been walking up and down it all week delivering flyers for the project. Looking forward to coming back in May. For more info go to http://www.articule.org, thanks, David

  • Former Esplanader says:

    Ah, you make me so homesick. I used to live on Esplanade and still miss it. Nothing else has ever felt like “home”

  • Ewald Friesen says:

    I enjoyed reading this article very much. Just moved to Mile End from Winnipeg and am one of the those university students mentioned in your article. I am wondering, are there any local publications in the hood?

  • Hi Ewald, are you referring to community newspapers or magazines/books/etc. that just happen to be published in Mile End?

    Le Point d’Outremont covers both Outremont and Mile End news, although (as its name suggests) it leans more heavily towards the west side of Hutchison Street. There’s also another paper called L’Express d’Outremont, but it doesn’t have much Mile End content.

    If I’m not mistaken, there’s a number of zines that are produced in Mile End. You can pick them up at some of the record shops, bookstores, cafes and clothing stores around the area.

  • […] I hit every time I go to Montreal. In the basement of a warehouse, just off the beaten path in the Mile End, lies a store where your very dreams come true! Jeans Jeans Jeans is a beacon of hope in our dark […]

  • Ewald Friesen says:

    thanks for the information, see you in the neighbourhood!

  • Nathalie Connor says:

    Hello Mr. De Wolf!
    I have just discovered that my grandfather emigrated to Mile End! I wonder if you could solve a mystery for me… His address was 3312 Bernard (at Park) in 1924. I wonder what that would translate to now?
    Thanks to your photos and great description of the neighbourhood, I wonder why he moved to East Broughton! Many thanks!
    Nathalie Connor

  • mikeymike says:

    I’m not sure how 3312 B could be at Parc… unless they used to start numbering from the edge of the island (either west or east?) and then changed it to starting from the Main?

    Do you have any other information? Pictures or businesses in prox?

    Mile End is a wonderful place. Though it’s gettin’ kinda pricey…

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  • agata says:

    I must say I really enjoyed reading your article. I`ve only very recently discovered Mile- End. At first I was taken aback by this unwelcoming atmosphere,and then slowly but surely I started to appreciate it. It definitely is a very unique part of Montreal, it doesn`t have all the glamour of the downtown district,but instead its richness tends towards a cultural diversity and a great variety of exotic merchants.I`m looking forward to going there in the summer,because I`m sure its far more charming.

  • […] The ethnic makeup of Mile End is incredibly diverse, and has experienced many cultural waves throughout the century. The area has substantial, Jewish (home of the late but great author, Mordecai Richler), Italian (home of Montreal’s largest public market Jean-Talon Market), Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese and French-expat communities. Its 23,965 residents eat, sleep and curse the crooked floors in a motley array of triplexes, duplexes and apartment buildings, all with little gardens and those quintessential spiral staircases. Quintessential, really, is the key word here. Mile End embodies most of what’s best about Montreal: the effortless mix of languages, the whimsical architecture, the easygoingness and the sense that sitting in a leafy terrasse on St. Viateur Street is more important than whatever mundane task you’re neglecting. Urbanphoto.net […]

  • Nice, we have a mile end in London as well, which is a bit more …Indian…

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  • John Kordis says:

    I Lived On Jeanne Mance Street In The 1950s. I Had A Great Chilhood Growing Up With The Jewish People Around This District…Played Street Hockey…Just Had Fun. Went To St Michaels Church, Luke Callaham School, Played Football In Outremont Park. Went Skating In The Frozen Pond.Everyone Should Live In A Nice District Like Outremont And St Viateur Area….It Was Nice Seeing It In Person Last Summer…..John…..

  • Michael Brown says:

    Thanks for the wonderful stroll down memory lane. I grew up on Saint Urban and St Viateur in the early sixties. Times were great, I have the fondest memories of Mile End.Park Aveue was my favorite stomping ground with the International YMCA, Rialto Hall, Lambrakis’s pool hall and the movie theater providing me endless fun. Winter in Saint Viateur Park was a gas.The reataurants in the area were wonderful !!! Ben’s Deli was my favorite eatery.

  • Ray Leshynski says:

    I grew up at 5706 Jeanne Mance St in the mid to late 40’s. After WW II, the area attracted many immigrants from Europe who were called DPs for “Displaced Persons” which added to the diversity of the area. It had a large Jewish population – Richstone Bakery on Bernard was outstanding for fresh daily made Jewish Rye and Vienna Rolls. I learned to ice skate at Outremont Park which provided public ice skating in the evenings under the lights with music playing in the background. Many great memories of Mile End which I will cherish forever.

  • Thanks for your comment, Ray. Just curious: what did you call the area back then?

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  • Rolande says:

    I have read this article from end to end. I was born and raised in Montreal on the 3rd floor of a house, we never owned a car. We walked. I now live in Northern Ontario and love coming to Montreal, where I loved living and working after I finished high school. I never knew about what you wrote about, but I did know there the neighborhood was. Now when I come “home”, I visit all the places I haven’t seen in many years. it is so refresing to see such a neighborhood, and all the different people of different color and speech and religion. It does make Montreal a great cosmopolitan city. Thank you for teaching me lots I didn’t know about from my home town.