Shelter is a weekly Montreal Gazette series that peeks into the lives of ordinary apartment-dwelling Montrealers.
I was surprised when I came in. It’s not a typical Montreal duplex layout. The front is what I expected, but the back is very open-concept, with no walls between the kitchen and the living room.
Marie-Louis Letendre: Well, what happened is that (the back) is a new extension and the basement is new, too. Where the kitchen is now, that used to be a bedroom. The renovations started about seven years ago and they’ve continued ever since.
So it’s been …
Letendre: A constant thing. Now, my mom, (who lives upstairs,) is doing the upstairs as well. Because renovations cost a lot, we got the basement and the extensions done seven years ago and now we’re doing the entire front of the house.
You have a big backyard.
Letendre: Yeah. Outside used to be all concrete with ridiculous amounts of grapes. They were wine grapes, so you couldn’t eat them. We didn’t really make wine, so they kept spreading until we did the renovations. We had to have the entire yard dug up to build the basement.
So I guess it was a 4 1/2 when you first moved in.
Letendre: Yeah. Now it’s a 7 1/2. We doubled the apartment in size. It looks infinitely nicer. It’ll be nice when it’s done, but I was joking with the contractor, I said: “What happens when it’s done? Do we start again?” And he said, “Probably.” The renovations never completely end. There’s always something that needs to be done.
How long have you lived here?
Letendre: Since Grade 3. About 12 years. I lived here with my mom, my brother and many foreign exchange students. We constantly had students staying here and renting out one of the two front bedrooms. I kind of got used to random people in my house all the time.
But now your mom is living upstairs and you have three roommates.
Letendre: She’s in the process of moving upstairs. I really like it. It’s comfortable because I don’t have to go through the process of actually moving and relocating and creating a new home.
That’s an unusual arrangement. Is it ever odd living with roommates in your childhood home?
Letendre: My friends are here and living in my space and making it their own. But I guess because we always had people coming and going, it just feels really natural, really casual.
Whose idea was it for your mom to move upstairs?
Letendre: I think it might have been mine. What happened is that my brother moved out and it just became a lot of space for my mom. The place upstairs is a 4 1/2. I decided that I wanted to move out and when I said that, she was, like, “Well, if you’re moving out, I don’t want to stay here in this big place by myself, so I’m going to move upstairs.” By law, the only way you can take over an (occupied) dwelling is if the landlord moves in. So that’s how the tenant upstairs left. My mom said, “Instead of finding your own place, why don’t you just stay here?” It’s significantly less rent.
How long ago was this?
Letendre: We talked about it awhile ago because we had to give the tenant upstairs at least six months notice. So I think we started talking about it last summer when I came back from being away for three months. I think that’s when my mom really realized that this was a lot of space for her.
Who lived here before you? The rooms you haven’t renovated have pretty kitschy features, like the patterned linoleum floor and the sparkly stuff on the ceiling.
Letendre: It was a Portuguese family. They actually moved a couple of houses down, so they still live on the same block. There was a lot of linoleum, a lot of tile, a lot of sparkly ceilings and chandeliers. I remember the first time I came into the house, because I was living in a big house in the West Island before. I walked into the bathroom and there was a bidet. I just didn’t know what it was for. I think the bathroom also had a chandelier.
What was it like moving from the West Island to Waverly St.? It must have been a big change for a kid.
Letendre: Well, my dad still lives in the West Island, so I used to go there on weekends. I think the biggest change was the (lack of) greenery. I didn’t ride my bike or play sports as much. But moving downtown was a lot of fun. My mom hated the West Island. She grew up in London, so she really hated the suburbs. When we moved back downtown, we were constantly doing things, going to activities and events. It was really exciting.
Has the neighbourhood changed a lot since you first moved here?
Letendre: It’s been a really drastic change. It’s been out with the old, traditional cultures or something to that effect. Couples have moved into duplexes, bought them out and turned them into (single-family) homes. It’s become a little more homogenous.
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Occupants: Marie-Louise Letendre, a 21-year-old communications student at Concordia University; and three roommates, all 21
Size: A five-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms, an open-concept kitchen and living room, a finished basement, a front garden and a backyard
Location: The ground floor of 1910 duplex on the north end of Waverly St. in Mile End
Rent: $1,100 per month
Been there: Since 1995
Tags: Housing, Montreal