February 14th, 2011

Porte ouverte vers le froid

Posted in Canada, Fiction by Daniel Corbeil

Porte ouverte vers le froid, Outremont

C’est l’hivers, dans un Montréal de vent et de glace. Les fenêtres qui craquent, les portes qui claquent.

D’un souffle brusque, les carreaux qui vascillent maladroitement, menaçant d’éclater. Et par bourrasque, cette folle poudrerie qui vient s’agglutiner sur ma terrasse, au troisième niveau d’une sombre demeure outremontoise.

On attend que le ciel termine sa colère et puis, lorsque le calme renaît, j’ouvre lentement cette vieille porte qui me protège de toi.

Je te retrouve, jouant dans la neige, comme à tes six ans. Une boule de glace et quelques branches qui fouettent le ciel, et voilà un maladroit bonhomme, qui demain se dispersera. Comme une poupée qui prend le large, dans cette barque au large mat.

Et je t’entend crier, dans cet infini destin. Bruit sourd de tes pensées lourdes, enterrées par cet hivers qui efface les rires, comme ces pas dans la neige, et ces sourires dans la nuit.

C’est ainsi que l’hivers t’a vu partir, vers un destin qu’on ne connait pas.

Le passant et la neige, Outremont


December 14th, 2009

A Hasidic Exodus from Park Avenue?

Posted in Canada, Demographics, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Hasidic Jewish procession

The Montreal Gazette reported this weekend that the Hasidic community in Outremont and Mile End is suffering from a housing shortage. In 2002, there were about 4,200 Hasidim in the neighbourhood; today there are more than 6,000. Rising property values mean that many new Hasidic families are finding themselves priced out of their own Montreal heartland. Apparently, the hunt is on to find a new neighbourhood with suitable and affordable housing.

If the Hasidic community does move on, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a Jewish community has come and gone. The entire swath of city from Chinatown right up to Little Italy is littered with former synagogues that were abandoned when the original Jewish community moved west. But it wouldn’t be a good thing if the Hasidim leave.

First of all, a Hasidic exodus would be a disaster for Park Avenue’s economy. Hasidic Jews make up more than 25 percent of Outremont’s population, and even they have their own Yiddish bookstores and kosher eateries, they still rely on non-Hasidic businesses for everything else, like drugs, hardware, stationery and fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of those shops are on Park Avenue; imagine the impact if they lost a quarter of their business.


July 20th, 2008

Walking Outremont’s Parks

Posted in Canada, Heritage and Preservation, History by Christopher DeWolf


On a warm day—or, even better, on a warm night—I like to walk through Outremont. It’s one of Montreal’s most picturesque boroughs, with streets as orderly and genteel as many of its inhabitants. Like Westmount, Outremont was conceived almost from the beginning as an enclave of the well-to-do. Building codes mandated large setbacks, abundant greenery and the use of high-quality building materials in order to keep housing costs high. Architectural features perceived as unsightly and working-class, like outdoor staircases, were banned.

One happy consequence of all this was that Outremont ended up with a collection of gorgeous city parks unrivalled by any other part of Montreal. The park system was conceived when Outremont boomed in the 1910s. In response to this massive spurt of growth, the town council embarked on a campaign to green the burgeoning suburb, investing $5,415 in tree planting and $14,456 in their maintenance, at a time when the average annual salary of a civil servant was just $1,000. Under the guidance of the engineer Émile Lacroix, landscape architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne and the horticulturalist Thomas Barnes, eight parks were built between 1920 and 1930.

Touring these parks is a great way to see Outremont. Since I live on Park Avenue, I usually start my walk from the east, heading down Bernard Street to St. Viateur Park, behind the Cinq Saisons supermarket and the York Apartments. Despite its small size, this is a particularly pleasant park, with some tennis courts, a wide, meandering stream and a white stucco pavilion facing a lagoon. During the day, you will often find kids from the adjacent high school hanging out; at night, when the orangey-yellow light of its interior lights are reflected on the lagoon, the pavilion is sometimes taken over by waltzing middle-aged couples.