A Winter’s Day on Victoria Avenue


It was a cold winter night during the holiday season. We were sitting alone in a cavernous, dimly-lit and poorly-heated Indian restaurant. Suddenly, as we were eating, a band of boisterous South Asian men dressed in scarlet Santa Claus uniforms burst into the restaurant, banging drums. They marched towards the restaurant owners, chattering excitedly, brandishing pamphlets. After speaking to the owners for a second, they caught sight of us sitting meekly in the corner, munching quietly on naan and aloo gobi. We stared at them. They stared back. After conferring quietly amongst themselves for a minute, one of the men, holding a pamphlet, came towards us and shyly deposited it on our table. He smiled, turned away and the group left the restaurant just as they entered, shouting and thumping their drums.

We opened the pamphlet: it was written entirely in Tamil.

Such is life on Victoria Avenue, a street on the western edge of Côte-des-Neiges whose inhabitants are, for the most part, immigrants from any number of countries. The most recent figures, drawn from the 2001 census, show that the largest groups come from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Morocco, but together they account for only a quarter of Victoria Avenue’s residents. This is a neighbourhood of midcentury apartment blocks, duplexes and redbrick housing projects, a quintessential jumping-off point for new immigrants. Eventually, most of them depart for other parts of Montreal, but while they are here, they all share Victoria Avenue, a homely street where Tamil fishmongers sidle up to Jewish bookstores in a procession of kitschy 1950s commercial architecture.






This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday January 21 2007at 12:01 am , filed under Canada, Demographics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

6 Responses to “A Winter’s Day on Victoria Avenue”

  • Siqi says:

    Aww, that’s a beautiful city moment in the first paragraph.

    Just wondering, what’s the population turn-over like? Does any of the recent immigrants decide to stay and take roots here?

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Hard to say, since I haven’t taken a good look at any population figures over time. But my guess would be that, although there is an inevitable dispersal as a community becomes more established, the diversity of housing in CDN allows for immigrants to become more established without leaving the area.

  • Christopher Szabla says:

    Chris- is this where the majority of Tamil-speakers in Montreal congregate. You mentioned Sri Lankans, but what about Indians from Tamil Nadu, or, especially, francophone Indians from Pondicherry?

  • Patrick Donovan says:

    This is hilarious. I was in South India around Christmastime a few years ago, and parades of drumming Tamils in santa claus costumes at restaurants were a daily occurence. They were usually asking for money for charity. Glad to know that the tradition has been imported closer to home.

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Strangely, this was the only time I’ve seen Tamil Santa Clauses asking for donations, but this holiday season there was a band of Filipinos who went from store to store, restaurant to restaurant asking for donations for some charity. They would all crowd into the business while one of them played guitar and the others circulated asking for money. They really got around—I encountered them downtown, in Mile End and in CDN. Three times in a week!

    Chris, I believe the majority of Tamils live in Côte-des-Neiges and Park Extension. I have no idea about the specific geographic breakdown of the Tamil community, though. Although there might be immigrants here from Pondicherry, I haven’t heard of any French-speaking Indians in Montreal.

  • Greg says:

    Christopher!j’adore tes photos!!!:)