Earlier this month I accompanied my friends on a nostalgic walk through NDG, the sprawling west end neighbourhood in which they used to live. Developed in the early twentieth century on some of Montreal’s most fertile land—the famed Montreal Melon once grew there—NDG was for the first part of its history a fairly humdrum suburb home to middle-class WASPs and British immigrants who had moved up from working-class Verdun.
Things changed in the 1970s when many long-time residents left for the suburbs or moved away from Montreal altogether. Some streets fell on hard times, NDG’s population became more varied and the whole area began to take on a more interesting, eclectic character. Sherbrooke Street West, a long commercial artery that runs along the south side of the neighbourhood, is where NDG is revealed in all its bizarre glory, a meeting ground for well-adjusted families, oddball layabouts and members of various different ethnic communities, especially Jamaicans, Koreans and Persians. The shops along the street are remarkably diverse: D.A.D.’s sells takeaway Indian food alongside Montreal-style bagels; Nearly New Books/Livres Presque ’9′ unites two languages with one bad pun; a video store with no apparent name, tucked away discreetly on the first floor of an apartment building, rents nothing but VHS copies of Korean television dramas.
When my friends lived in NDG they were fascinated by one of those odd shops on Sherbrooke: an ice cream parlour at the corner of Harvard. Brightly decorated, with an old-style bar inside, it featured a large banner that advertised 24 flavours of soft serve. But it was never open. Once, when my friends spotted some people working inside, they knocked on the door and asked if they could buy some ice cream. “No,” they were told.
Going home, they speculated that the shop was actually a front for organized crime. It certainly wouldn’t be far-fetched; Sherbrooke certainly has its share of shady businesses. The truth, however, is far less interesting. Several years ago, the ice cream shop’s owners began distributing the syrups used to flavour the soft serve. When that turned out to be far more profitable than selling ice cream, they rented an office and used the shop to store boxes of syrup. The decor is still intact, soft serve machines ready on guard, but no ice cream has been served there in years. It’s a ghost ice creamery, in other words. In NDG, that somehow seems appropriate.
Tags: Business, Exploring the City, Montreal, NDG