Clark Street below St. Joseph Boulevard
In the lane between St. Laurent and Clark, near Mount Royal
Clark Street below St. Joseph Boulevard
In the lane between St. Laurent and Clark, near Mount Royal
This morning, my friends—all of them Spain supporters, except for one, who kept quiet—decided to watch today’s Euro Cup final between Spain and Germany at the Club Español de Quebec, the unofficial hub of Montreal’s Spanish immigrant community. We arrived early, at noon, to secure a table and have lunch, but it was already packed. By the time the game actually started the building was crammed full beyond capacity, the noise of the crowd deafening.
By the 85th minute of the game it became clear that Spain would win; they had scored a goal early on and Germany seemed incapable of holding onto the ball. When the game finally ended, after 95 minutes of play, the crowd poured outside onto the Main, cheering and waving flags. Police were on hand to keep people out of traffic, but it was useless: after letting a few final cars through, they closed the street completely, and Spanish supporters flooded the pavement.
Montreal doesn’t have as many Spaniards as it does Italians or Greeks, so the street party wasn’t quite as raucous as when Italy won the World Cup in 2006 or when Greece won the Euro Cup in 2004, but it was still exhilarating to stand in the middle of St. Laurent surrounded by so many happy people. Passersby stopped to watch, take pictures or wade into the ecstatic crowd; up and down the street, people leaned out of windows to watch the celebration. (Incidentally, I had never realized that the Clube Portugal de Montreal is right across the street from the Club Español — amusing coincidence or a case of wry Iberian humour?)
Not too long ago, a friend proclaimed Toronto and Montreal to be the best places in the world to watch international soccer championships: it doesn’t matter who wins, there will always be people celebrating in the streets.
I’m not sure what I was expecting. The Bowery is one of those New York streets that have been mythologized and made famous by American pop culture; although it is less well-known than some other Manhattan arteries, its name still evokes sleazy bars, flophouses and the kind of grit and disorder that was associated with New York in the 1970s and 80s. The reality, of course, is quite different: for most of its length, the Bowery is a broad, low-slung and surprisingly quiet street. The north end of the street is increasingly populated by luxury condominium developments; in the south it gradually dissolves into the Chinatown confusion of grocery stores, street vendors and competing signs. In between is a string of home lighting businesses. I’m not sure if they emerged recently or if they’re a remnant of the old Bowery, destined to be gobbled up by gentrification or an expanding Chinatown.
Small temple on Peel Street, Central
For all the glitz of its office towers and the sheer triumph of its gargantuan housing estates, Hong Kong is still inextricably linked to the ocean that surrounds it. Fresh fish is a staple of Cantonese cuisine and, throughout Hong Kong, dozens of villages and neighbourhoods still rely on the fishery. The Aberdeen Harbour is one such area, populated by dozens of people who live on boats, making their living as fishers or as proprietors of floating seafood restaurants. If you walk along the Aberdeen promenade, you’ll pass by gangways leading to the boats, each one guarded by a metal door similar to what you would find in front of most houses or apartment buildings.
It wasn’t hard for Tristan Verboven to decide which country to support in the 2008 Euro Cup soccer championship.
“Both my parents are Dutch and I’m a Dutch citizen, too,” the Montrealer said last week while sipping juice in a Park Ave. café. “I guess the idea of nationalism is kind of stupid because you can’t decide which country (you are from), but people in this neighbourhood are really proud, and they put out a lot of flags, so I decided to be a part of it.”
That’s why Verboven, who lives in Mile End, decided to fly a Dutch flag from his fourth-floor balcony.
“When I was tying it to the balcony some guy walking past looked up and shouted: ‘You’re gonna lose!’ I guess there’s a little part of it where you just want to be the one that stands out from the crowd.”
In Montreal, every important athletic, political and cultural event seems to inspire a fit of flag-waving. When the Canadiens make the playoffs – as Montrealers experienced this spring – flags bearing the Habs logo flutter from apartment windows and cars. In June, a sudden explosion of the fleur-de-lys welcomes St. Jean Baptiste Day.
Also this month, Montrealers have embraced soccer fever. In neighbourhoods across the city, this year’s Euro Cup has inspired the enthusiastic flag-waving from fans of every competing nation. Some are more visible than others, by virtue of Montreal’s ethnic mix – French, Italian, Greek and Portuguese flags are particularly well-represented – but the tournament also gives fans of other countries a chance to show their colours.
Verboven said his show of support is sort of like joining a conversation. “My flag is almost like a protest: ‘There’s actually Dutch people here!’ I’m putting my voice out in the crowd.”
Midnight Espresso Cafe on Cuba Street in Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington has more cafes per capita than Manhattan. At least that is what I was told numerous times by New Zealanders when I mentioned my impending trip to their nation’s capital. Upon arriving in late April, I discovered that the coffee houses of Wellington are indeed plentiful and quite cool, offering a great assortment of coffee and some absolutely delicious cafe fare. Some of Wellington’s best cafes are located along the city’s peculiarly named Cuba Street in the Cuba Quarter.
Cuba Street, and Cuba Mall in particular, is the hangout for many of Wellington’s university and college aged residents. The Cuba Mall refers to two pedestrianized blocks of Cuba Street, between Manners Mall and Ghuznee Street. In addition to numerous cafes, Cuba Street is also home to trendy clothing stores, record shops, small art galleries, ethnic restaurants, and a gay bar, each catering predominantly to an eclectic mix of students from the nearby Te Aro campus of Victoria University, and of course tourists.
Cuba street gets its name from a ship which arrived from Britain in 1840 carrying with it some of New Zealand’s early settlers. Despite it’s British roots, many Cuban flags are visible along the street and there is even a cafe called ‘Fidel’s Cafe’ who’s decor pays homage to the Cuban dictator. The oddity of this Cuban connection in New Zealand’s capital city gives the neighbourhood an intriguing, almost altruistic feel. The area is clearly the epicentre of Wellington’s counter-culture, where, local establishments, the cafes in particular, have cultivated a vibrancy not usually found in a city of its size.
Today, Montreal Island tends to exist in opposition to everything around it. “On-island” is code for diversity, cosmopolitanism, multilingualism, urbanity. “Off-island” means suburban, homogeneous, unilingual. Those are gross stereotypes, obviously, and while there is a grain of truth to them, they ignore the more complicated reality of metropolitan Montreal. They also ignore just how vast the Île de Montréal really is: 55 kilometres long and, at its widest point, more than 15 kilometres across. This is no Manhattan: all of the extremes of Greater Montreal are found right on the island itself.
The above map dates back to 1760, when the British first conquered Montreal. At that point, it was a lush and sparsely-populated isle, home to nine tiny villages and one cloistered town, Ville-Marie, that would soon evolve into the modern-day city. For the inhabitants of Ville-Marie the island must have seemed enormous, a vast land surrounded on all sides by equally vast bodies of water. I think this is reflected in many ways by the map, which exaggerates many of Montreal’s geographical features: Mount Royal is made to look about twice the size it actually is and it is particularly generous in its rendition of the islands in the Rivière des Milles-Îles.
Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Montreal set out to conquer its geography, a process that has culminated in the rather tame landscape we inhabit today. Numerous streams and small rivers were covered, not to mention the entirety of Lake St. Pierre, and an entirely new island was created in the middle of the St. Lawrence. None of this compares to the massive landfill projects that transformed Boston from a virtual island to a rather chunky peninsula, but it’s still pretty remarkable nonetheless.
Beach in Cartierville, on the Rivière des Prairies, around 1910
Nathalie Collard has a column in today’s La Presse lamenting the lack of access Montrealers have to their waterways. “Les Montréalais habitent une île, mais n’ont pratiquement pas accès à l’eau. C’est aberrant,” she writes. It’s true: despite being surrounded by water, including a variety of lakes, basins, channels, rapids and one of North America’s great rivers, Montreal is one of the least water-accessible cities I know. Whatever local instinct we once had to head to the water has been quashed by pollution, industry and highways.
Things are changing, of course. The re-opening of the Lachine Canal has done a lot to reinvigorate the area around it, even if its success as an functioning waterway is limited (the number have boaters on the canal has declined every year since 2001). The demolition of the Bonaventure Expressway, which will start next year, has the potential to transform the neglected Peel Basin into a real gathering place for Montrealers. And, despite all of the waterfront that is rendered accessible in the central part of the city, there are still plenty of gorgeous river- and lakeside parks in more outlying parts of the city, not to mention St. Helen’s Island.
But what really gets to me is the lack of beaches in Montreal. Before World War II, there were more than 20 across the island; now there are just two, one at Cap St-Jacques on the West Island and the other on Notre-Dame. (The latter, which has an entrance fee of $7, fronts an artificial lagoon.) The water in most parts of the St. Lawrence is actually clean enough to swim in without danger — surfers do it all the time at the standing wave behind Habitat ’67 — and I think that Montrealers would feel far more of a connection to their city’s waterways if only they were allowed to swim in them.
I think it’s time to recreate some of Montreal’s old beaches. Last year, when I wandered around Pointe Claire Village on the West Island, I came across a pleasant natural beach right next to a large waterfront park. It was fenced off. Why not open it up to the public? I admit I’m pretty ignorant of the ecological implications of turning it into a recreational beach, which would involve adding sand or fine gravel to the shoreline, but there must be some way to make it more accessible. Same goes for some of the parks along the Back River, many of which meet the water with concrete walls and fences.
Lisbon is an unexpectedly quiet place. It is unexpected because, stereotypically at least, large Latin cities are supposed to be brash, chaotic and teeming with life. Rome certainly has perfected the art of chaos and Madrid is nothing if not lively, but Lisbon is comparatively reserved, almost secretive. As you wander up and down its many hills, you keep thinking that maybe it’s an off day—maybe everyone has gone away for the weekend—but I have a feeling that Lisbon is always like that: always slow, always melancholy, a city of fado and saudades. This is something that Lisbonites seem to cherish: when my friend Rossana visited the city last year, she came across a piece of graffiti stencilled on a wall. “Tourists: Cherish the Portuguese silence or go to Spain,” it read.
Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s attempt to rename Park Avenue two years ago was a turning point in the street’s history. When that controversy emerged, a number of the street’s Greek merchants were already asking the city to create a Hellenic Quarter similar to Little Italy or Chinatown. The city spent $15,000 on a feasibility study that suggests emphasizing Park Ave.’s Greek-yet-multicultural character could be a boon to business. This spring, the city invested $50,000 in new banners, benches, garbage cans and bike racks there. The city says it will announce the next phase of the quarter’s development in two weeks. Chris Karidogiannis, executive secretary of the Park Ave. Merchants’ Association, is one of the project’s main proponents.
What is the Hellenic Quarter concept?
The idea started in the early ’90s, but it didn’t really develop until the past couple of years. We were trying to find a way to re-imagine Park Ave. commercially. We were looking for a way to bypass certain negative things the city has done that have really damaged the viability of our businesses – like the bus lanes, high property taxes and, most recently, exorbitant parking meter rates. Like it or not, this past generation of Park Ave. has been very Greek. It hasn’t always been Greek, but for the past 30 years it’s been known as the Greek area, and we thought that we should officialize it and create something a little more touristy, like Petite Italie or Chinatown.
What would this entail?
We’ve been working closely on developing a concept that’s similar to Little Italy. Fortunately for the merchants there, they had a mayor that was really into the concept, Pierre Bourque, and who invested $9 million into it. Now you cannot even rent a spot there and business has gone up 50 per cent over the last eight years.
What do you think of the city’s efforts for Park Ave.?
The city spent $20,000 on 32 new banners. They’re visible but discreet at the same time. I know the city wants the project to happen but they don’t want to ruffle any feathers at all. As you can see, on the banners there’s an Asian child with a Greek flag right under her. They’re trying to show the multiculturalism of the area, the roots of which are Greek. That’s what I think they’re trying to accomplish, anyway.
Park Ave. is Greek, but it’s also very multicultural. Why should one of its communities be privileged over others?
Little Italy is as Italian as Park Ave. is Greek – not a lot of Italians still live in that area but a majority of businesses and properties are still owned by them. We’ve been working on this for four years and we haven’t had anyone who has come up with another idea or who has said that they don’t want it because it’s Greek. We want this to be a gift to the Hellenic community in general, but hopefully it will benefit the businesses, as well. We were worried about the scale of the project at first, since it goes from Van Horne down to Mount Royal, but then we visited the Danforth in Toronto (that city’s Greektown centres around Danforth Ave.) and it’s just as wide and just as long and it’s 10 times as busy. There’s unlimited potential.