I can’t remember what was there before Weijia. Another depanneur, sure, but obviously not a remarkable one. I’m not even sure it had a sign. But then, a couple of years ago, a friendly, middle-aged couple from the northern Chinese province of Shandong bought the depanneur and mounted a large vinyl banner that clearly announced both the store’s vocation and the ethnic origin of its owners. Neither of the couple can speak French or English; instead, they speak a mangled hybrid, so that when you buy a bottle of beer they are likely to say, “Bonjour! Two dollar! Merci!”
Dépanneur Weijia is located on Park Avenue in Mile End, between a laundromat and a vacant building that onced housed Marko’s Textiles. (The story of Marko, which involves a shooting death, flags and a mysterious fire, can read here.) Although it has a Chinese name and sign, there is nothing particularly Chinese about what is sold at Weijia, just a run-of-the-mill assortment of newspapers, snacks, soft drinks, beer and cigarettes.
Intentionally or not, however, Weijia is part of a neighbourhood trend. As new Chinese immigrants buy Mile End’s depanneurs, they are giving them distinctly Chinese names: Zi Yuan, for instance, or Xin Ying. This appears to be a break from the tradition of maintaining old or generic names. Of course, every Montrealer knows that a depanneur’s name is hardly important. Some stores don’t even bother to display them, or even to mount a sign—the Molson placards in the windows will suffice.
Perhaps, then, giving their dépanneur a name like Weijia was a way for an immigrant couple to claim a bit of the Park Avenue landscape for themselves. That certainly seemed the case last summer, when the neighbourhood was experiencing a bout of World Cup fever and flags from around the world were paraded around Montreal. China’s team didn’t even qualify for the cup, but that didn’t stop Weijia’s owners from mounting a small People’s Republic flag on their door, five yellow stars shining in the summer sun.
Tags: Business, Depanneurs, Identity, Migration, Mile End, Montreal, Park Avenue, Signs