The Case for Greektown

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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.

Why does a street’s revitalization have to be tied to an ethnic identity?

The fact is that Park Ave. is Greek-dominant. People argue that perhaps the Orthodox Jewish community won’t be happy with it, but what I’ve heard from them is that whatever’s good for us is good for them. … As far as I understand, the plan is to name the area the Agora hellenique. The agora meant “meeting place” in ancient times, somewhere you could do all your shopping but share political ideas, which is a tremendous concept for what we’re trying to achieve. Mile End, and the Plateau in general, is one of the most politically vibrant communities in the city. I think it’s fitting.

There are more than 100 cultural groups in Montreal. What if each wants its own street?

We’re a vibrant community, a law-abiding community, we’ve given a lot more than we’ve taken from Quebec culture and Canadian culture. If any community offers as much as the Greek community has offered Montreal over the past 100 years, let them have what they want. The Italians have given a lot, the Chinese have given a lot, and they’ve been given their proper respect.

This interview was originally published in the Montreal Gazette on June 14, 2008.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday June 16 2008at 01:06 pm , filed under Canada, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “The Case for Greektown”

  • Patrick Donovan says:

    I still think Montreal needs to make an official “Little Portugal” on the Main.