June 19th, 2007

The United Neighbourhoods of Mile End

Posted in Asia Pacific, Canada, Europe, History by Christopher DeWolf

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Mile End underground station. Photo by Nicobobinus

There are at least three Mile Ends around the world: one in Montreal, one in London and one in Adelaide. All three share some intriguing similarities. As their name would suggest, they are all located fairly close to the centre of their respective cities: Montreal’s Mile End is about three miles north of Place d’Armes, London’s is nearly four miles east of Charing Cross and Adelaide’s is about two miles west of Victoria Square. But what else do they share? Is there some secret Mile End connection between two former colonies and Mother England?

Maybe. Each one began life as a suburb only to evolve into a decidedly inner-city sort of neighbourhood. Each is culturally diverse. Most importantly, though, each of these neighbourhoods were named for perfectly logical local reasons—but it seems clear that their names are all directly related.

To understand the origin of Mile End, you must first turn to the British capital, home to what is, undeniably, the ur-Mile End. Here, the neighbourhood took its name at least seven centuries ago from a milestone marking the spot one mile east of Aldgate, the eastern entrance into the walled City of London. In 1381, this area played host to a peasant’s revolt. Four hundred years later, at the end of the eighteenth century, it had become the Mile End New Town, a bona fide suburb of Georgian London.

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Mile End Road, London. Photo by Sushipal

According to the 1957 Survey of London, development of Mile End began in 1680, “but building was slow and spasmodic, and was apparently carried out to a large extent by jobbing builders with limited resources.” The suburb grew haphazardly until the late nineteenth century, when its last remaining pockets of open space were filled in. Much of its growth was commercial and industrial as well as residential so that, by the early twentieth century, it was the kind of working-class industrial neighbourhood typical of London’s East End. A “model housing estate” was built as early as 1845 and, by the 1930s, new public housing was being constructed around the neighbourhood. Heavy damages inflicted by World War II led the way for even more housing estates in the postwar years.

Today, Mile End maintains a reputation as a somewhat dodgy neighbourhood. Still, it has its charms. “Mile End may not be Chelsea, but it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of most of London—plenty of well kept parks, canals and wide open spaces–and all just five minutes into Bank [station],” wrote “Mile End fan” on a real estate message board.

Incidentally, Mile End is home to the Green Bridge, an overpass topped with vegetation that links the two halves of Mile End Park over the busy Mile End Road.

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Row of triplexes in Montreal’s Mile End

Montreal’s Mile End was also a bit sketchy back in the 1970s and 80s. Unlike its counterpart in London, though, it has gentrified rapidly, becoming home to an eclectic mix of residents that range from old immigrants, university students, single professionals, middle-class families and recent newcomers from South Asia. I’ve written a lot about Mile End in the past—it even has its own category—and this neighbourhood never ceases to amaze me. Its history is as layered as one of the honey-drenched baklava sold on Park Avenue.

One of the greatest Mile End mysteries, however, is the origin of its name. According to a surprisingly substantial, well-sourced Wikipedia entry, the first appearance of the name Mile End can be found on early nineteenth century maps that attribute it to the area surrounding the intersection of what is now known as St. Laurent Boulevard and Mount Royal Avenue. At that time, Mount Royal was known as the Mile End Road and the area was home to a Mile End hotel and tavern as early as 1815.

The name Mile End might have been applied to this area because it exists exactly one mile north of Sherbrooke Street, the northern edge of urban development in early nineteenth century Montreal. Surely, though, the rapid growth of London’s Mile End during the same time period—which also coincided with high rates of British immigration to Montreal—contributed to the spread of its name around the world.

In 1876, the focus of activity in Mile End shifted north when a new railway cut through the district. A new village, known as St-Louis-du-Mile-End, arose near the new Mile End Station built at the corner of what is now St. Laurent and Bernard. It was incorporated in 1878 with a population of 1,319. Electric tramway service arrived in 1893 and, by 1910, the town’s population had exploded to more than 37,000 (including, it should be noted, everything up to Jean Talon Street).

Around this time, the name Mile End disappeared from Montreal’s official lexicon, but not from the local language. It was restored to official use in the 1980s with the establishment of the Mile End municipal electoral district and the opening of the Mile End Library on Park Avenue. Today, the name Mile End has attained a certain cachet as the neighbourhood has become the focus of Montreal’s independent music scene.

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Victorian cottage in Mile End, Adelaide. Photo by FAB@Australia

The most remote and least assuming Mile End appears to be a quiet Victorian suburb in Adelaide, just outside the city’s central business district. Wikipedia informs us that it earned its name in 1860 due to its location one mile from the city’s boundaries.

According to an Australian real estate website, Mile End is home to just over 9,000 people. 33 percent of its inhabitants are immigrants, including 9 percent who were born in Greece, 5 percent in Italy, 4 percent in the UK and 1 percent in Vietnam. Almost a quarter of the population is Orthodox Christians, indicating perhaps that—like its counterpart in Montreal—this is one of Adelaide’s Greek neighbourhoods. About 64 percent of people in Mile End live in detached houses; 22 percent live in rowhouses and 11 percent live in apartments. Housing prices in Mile End are a bit higher than the regional average, suggesting gentrification.

Of the three Mile Ends, Adelaide’s is the least exposed, maybe because it is located in a city is itself under the radar, even for people in Australia. Maybe it’s because it is a fairly unremarkable suburb. Who knows? If only some Australian Mile Ender could write in to tell me about his or her neighbourhood—then we could complete the family portrait.


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8 comments

  1. Kate McDonnell says:

    One of the puzzles about Montreal’s Mile End is that we actually do have a street by that name – but it’s in that weird little enclave north of Jean-Talon and west of the Main, which by no stretch has ever been considered part of the neighbourhood of the same name.

    June 19th, 2007 at 11:28 am

  2. slutsky says:

    Pulp have a great song about Mile-End; I think it was on the Trainspotting soundtrack?

    Lyrics:

    We didn’t have no where to live, / we didn’t have nowhere to go
    ’til someone said / “I know this place off Burditt Road.”
    It was on the fifteenth floor, / it had a board across the door.
    It took an hour / to pry it off and get inside. / It smelt as if someone had died;
    the living-room was full of flies, / the kitchen sink was blocked,
    the bathroom sink not there at all. / Ooh, / it’s a mess alright, / yes it’s
    Mile End. / And now we’re living in the sky! / I’d never thought I’d live so
    high, / just like Heaven / (if it didn’t look like Hell.)
    The lift is always full of piss, / the fifth floor landing smells of fish
    (not just on Friday, / every single other day.)
    Below the kids come out tonight, / they kick a ball and have a fight
    and maybe shoot somebody if they lose at pool.
    Ooh, / it’s a mess alright, / yes it’s / Mile End.
    [mumbled mutterings... you love it...]
    Oo-ooh / Nobody wants to be your friend
    ’cause you’re not from round here, / ooh / as if that was
    something to be proud about. / The pearly king of the Isle of Dogs
    feels up children in the bogs. / Down by the playing fields,
    someone sets a car on fire I guess you have to go right down
    before you understand just how, / how low,
    how low a human being can go. / Ooh, / it’s a mess alright, / yes it’s
    Mile End. / (don’t do that! Leave it out!) / Bababa…
    Lalala…

    June 19th, 2007 at 4:14 pm

  3. Christopher DeWolf says:

    Actually, Kate, that area was historically part of Mile End. The name used to apply to everything between Mount Royal and Jean Talon — about the same boundaries as the city of St. Louis. When it was annexed to the city, St. Louis was chopped in half and the section below the CPR tracks became Laurier district. After that the Mile End name only stuck south of the tracks.

    June 19th, 2007 at 5:26 pm

  4. Kate McDonnell says:

    Spiffy.

    Mile End (street) is just north of Jean=Talon, though, in the little sliver of industrial streets south of the park (Marconi, Alexandra and so on). I have photos from that area which I will be posting soon.

    June 19th, 2007 at 6:33 pm

  5. slutsky says:

    Yeah I remember doing a double-take when I first saw the Mile-End street sign… it’s such an undistinguished little industrial side street…

    June 21st, 2007 at 12:44 pm

  6. Ciara Minahan says:

    Im glad the Pulp song Mile End got a mention. If you ever heard it, you would know how well it describes the gritty rustic edgy vibe that is Londons east end.

    “Nobody wants to be your friend ’cause you’re not from round here… yes its mile end”. That edge of the world feeling exists here, in a huge city with dark corners, where you can get lost in a hundrum meaningless way of life. This part of london gives home to the underworld in the shadows of many mile end tower blocks. It so perfectly fits the trainspotting soundtrack!

    March 25th, 2008 at 6:19 pm

  7. Jackie Cook says:

    Yes I unashamedly confess: I live in Mile End, South Australia – in a house very like the one on your site – although mine is an ex-corner shop; very common still as housing stock in this zone. It was previously a Greek delicatessen – and also at once time the Italian Communist Party headquarters for Adelaide, before descending into student housing, and a late 1990s series of (mild) gentrifications, as you surmised – still a pretty authentic neighbourhood though. Adelaideans tended to leave it to last in terms of gentrifying the ‘dress circle” suburbs: those first out of the city, through the half-mile-wide band of park which surrounds the whole CBD. Mile End – which actually has some of the best and most interesting large villas – was left till last becuase it was in the transport corridor: over the railway lines and the major North-South highway, and under the flightpath of the airport, which in Adelaide is still right in the city: only 10 minutes from the CBD. But the suburb itself is very quiet: full of old houses, neat Italian gardens, and elderly Greek and Italian neighbours, who still process their own olives, grow grapes or raise quail in the back garden. (I grow apricots, lemons and two kinds of grapes…)

    My street – named after a race horse: also ikonically Oz – proudly posesses two Rosella Tomato Sauce painted street ads from the 1930s; one of the nation’s favourite advertising signs and a product right up there with vegemite…
    So what can I tell you about Mile End? Still very Greek and Italian, although these days also Chinese and Somalian; has the best Greek cakeshop in Adelaide; a wonderful Asian supermarket, fanatstic wood-fired Italian bakery; most of the houses are stome and red-brick villas, inside, Baltic pine floors or deep red jarrah (Australian native timber)- and we have cellars: mine is slate lined, has vast wooden pillars and is large enough to live in – it adds a major room to my 5 roomed villa – and I keep my wine collection in it, since Adelaide is blessed by being an hour or so from the famous Barossa valley, plus 3 or 4 other great Australian wine districts. Under the radar we might well be: mate, we prefer it that way!

    Would you like photos?

    Jac

    September 5th, 2008 at 2:02 am

  8. Kevin Cohalan says:

    The city of Glasgow, Scotland, also has a Mile End district.

    March 14th, 2011 at 10:14 am