A Walk Through the Bairro Português

Jane Jacobs died five years ago and fans of cities and the celebrated, iconclastic urbanist have been remembering her contribution with walks through neighborhoods around the world since 2007.

This coming weekend, May 7 and 8, enthusiastic city lovers in more than 150 cities around the world, from Toronto to São Paulo, will lead Jane’s Walks. The free tours are given by volunteers who love their cities, and want to share their secrets and pleasures. Check out the website for a walk near you.

The above picture of the Parc du Portugal in Montreal’s Plateau district, which was saved from urban renewal by Portuguese immigrants who restored the small houses in the working class area with love, sweat and community financing. It will be the starting point for the walk I’ll be leading, beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday (in English) and Sunday (in French).

Each bench in the park is decorated with ceramic tiles by Quebec artists of Portuguese origin. The first bench sits on the east side of the Main, near Bagg Street. It commemorates Dom Diniz (1261-1325), the poet monarch of the young kingdom which had just shaken off several centuries of Muslim rule.

From there the series passes through the centuries as it follows St. Lawrence north. Portugal’s bard Luís de Camões (c 1524-1580) is represented with “E se mais mondo houverá, lá chegara”–“if there were another world, they would have found it.” Fitting words from the author of an epic about how the Portuguese led Europeans in the exploration of the world.

António Vieira (1608-1697), a Jesuit priest, the grandson of an African woman and considered one of the greatest stylist of the Portuguese language, is featured as is Eça de Queiros (1845-1900) who spent time in Montreal as a diplomat. “Montreal is a little city that one would like to display on a shelf, It doesn’t have streets, but a succession of gardens, and that enchants me,” Eça de Queiros wrote.

The Azorean poet Antero de Quental (1842-18910) as well as the enigmatic 20th century literary cult figure Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) have their benches also. So does Nobel prize-winner José Saramago (1922-2010) whose words resonate with many people in Quebec: “Today a language that does not defend itself, dies.”.

“A people that reads will never be a people of slaves,” reads the last bench, honoring António Lobo Antunes (1942-) It is found next to the Parc du Portugal, a little square set aside by the city of Montreal in the late 19th century. It got its present name in 1975 at a time when the Portuguese had put their stamp on the neighborhood.

Jane Jacobs apparently never visited the Plateau, but she certainly would have appreciated its diversity, mixed use and “liveliness,” that term she used so frequently to describe the advantages of urban life.

Two azulejos — Portuguese ceramic tiles — by Montreal artist Joseph Branco are among the dozen that grace the granite benches commemorating great Portuguese writers


Parc du Portugal. Photo by Christopher DeWolf

Mary Soderstrom is the author of Making Waves: The Continuing Portuguese Adventure as well as The Walkable City: From Haussmann’s Boulevards to Jane Jacobs’ Streets and Beyond, both from Véhicule Press.

Crossposted from Spacing Montreal.

This entry was written by Mary Soderstrom , posted on Friday May 06 2011at 12:05 am , filed under Art and Design, Canada, Heritage and Preservation, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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