“It’s the worst winter in years”, the
radio barks. Well I picked a dandy time to move back to Montreal. December. No
apartments available. Desperate, I leased a renovated 41/2 in an area I never
would have considered. I snatch up my canvass grocery bags and wade out through
the knee-deep snow, leaning against the icy wind, determined to fill my newly
There was “Joe.” Homeless and street-weathered, his face is etch-a-sketched with the crevices of a sixty-year-old Shar-Pei. This corner has been his turf for years. Nicotine-yellowed nails rattle a few coins in his styrofoam coffee cup as he cordially opens the grocery store door with a “Bienvenue.” I brush past him. I’m on a mission.
Welcome to Hochelaga-Masionneuve. A district affectionately known as “HoMa.” An area defined by the abandoned Olympic Stadium. Yes that alien ship-like structure that nearly sunk the city economically with its construction cost overruns; the cement toilet with a tower that fingers the skyline as if it’s perpetually flipping Montreal the bird.
Growing up Anglophone in suburbia, I was made aware this was a tough hood. An ardent sports fan, the crack of the bat beckoned me down to HoMa occasionally for ballgames. “Don’t speak to anyone”, my father warned. My friends and I kept our heads down, avoided eye contact, and traveled in a tightly wound pack to protect us from the local thugs certainly after our hot dog allowance. This area is rent-controlled, home to working class families, junkies, and street rabble. Windows of these tired triplexes are decorated with water-stained sheets and tinfoil squares.
I need to buy quinoa for my dinner party. Joe opens the door for me. “You’re new.” This time I stop. Joe quickly informs me which joint has the best poutine, smoked meat, and coffee. Like many Montrealers, he’s fiercely impassioned about his neighborhood. HoMa is populated with chit-chatters. I begin to pause more, to engage, and to really enjoy. My under-utilized French floods back as fast as the slush is pooling on every street corner.
Articles about HoMa impregnate the media. They're saying this area is the new trendy enclave. The main street, Promenade Ontario, receives a vain injection of cash - a cosmetic facelift with newly minted sidewalks and star-quality streetlamps. Hipsters swarm, snap up property deals, renovate, and hang their custom-sewn drapes.
Spring crash-lands none to soon for the squirrely citizens. I ditch my winter duds and skip out baring a heat-smitten grin of a snow survivor. I arrive at the grocery store only to have to open the door myself.
Joe is gone. A woman in a suit brushes by me.
A pastry shop opens. A restaurant makes the city’s coveted “Best of” list. Joe never returns. The sun kisses away the remaining blackened snow sculptures from the sidewalk leaving only a graveyard of Joe’s cigarette butts and discarded cups. I wonder if the municipality will ever clean them up. Part of me hopes they never fully do.
by Wayne Chan | May 3rd 11:55 am
My daily commute is like a small gear of mechanical time, of epicycles upon epicycles, where days turn to months and to years, and the seasons cycle through. The rhythms of time are constant, but the changes they bring are not.
by george ilsley | May 3rd 1:44 pm
The neighborhood of Broma in Vancouver (around Broadway and Main) used to have salmon streams and a temperate rainforest. Now it has hipsters.
by Brendan Harrison | Apr 12th 12:54 pm
When white supremacists moved into my neighbourhood, I was forced to reconsider what community meant to me.
by Monica Meneghetti | May 2nd 11:45 pm
Queer Banffites come in every stripe but, like other wildlife, most of us are well-camouflaged.
by Christin Geall | May 3rd 10:16 pm
In my neighborhood, houses float out to sea. They’re jacked up from their foundations, lifted onto trucks, and barged away.
by Lynne Kamm | Apr 26th 9:01 am
Returning to the city where she grew up, an urban professional is forced to move into a tough neighbourhood and realizes what she once feared is really the heart of the community.