I have always been intrigued by Montreal architecture, and when I was last there, in September, on the Endless O'Briens Book Tour I went around taking photos of buildings and streets which I admired. Of course in that September light the whole place looked "beautiful"; like a (somewhat banal) movie of itself. In one of his Montreal short stories, the author Clark Blaise has a character thinking, as he's driving on a hideous road in the sprawl of northern Montreal exurbs, that Montreal can also be a heartbreakingly ugly city, one of the ugliest. And that is undeniably true, especially in, say, March. But there's also no denying its radiant power as a built place, as a vibrant & changing town with a sure sense of itself. Montreal has always possessed its own urban style. The town Montreal may remind you of most is not Paris (the only thing they have in common is the French language, sort of; the argots of Montrealais and Parisien are the same language, but only just) but Brooklyn, another mostly 19th century sprawling industrial town: row houses, neighbourhoods, industrial zones, churches. Of course Brooklyn has Manhattan across the river, which makes a difference. One o the wonderful things about Montreal compared to any other city in the world counting as major is how easy it is to leave. Cross the bridges to the south shore and in fifteen minutes you're driving past cornfields. Head north, and in forty five minutes you're into bear and moose country.
Above, rue de la Commune. Actually this part of town is much more like Dublin along the quays, or bits of Liverpool, than anywhere else. Like them it was mostly built as a 19th century trading/industrial city within the British Empire.
Most Montreal houses are joined by at least one wall with their neighbours, which makes for more efficient heating, and this city has wickedly cold Januarys.
The Victorian city:
Montreal has a pretty strong modernist moment in the 1960s; I.M. Pei's Place Ville Marie is one of the important buildings of that era. Most of what was built in the Seventies and Eighties was, by comparison, unfortunate.
Centre-ville, seen from Westmount Summit:
Street, lower Outremont neighbourhood:
The fromagerie, ave. Bernard, Outremont:
P'tit dejeuner, ave Bernard, Outremont:
Yikes, I went to kindergarden here: Notre Dame de Sion, attached to the lycee Marie-de-France.
The Hart house on Cote St-Antoine: I believe that Hart was elected to the Legislative Assembly from Trois-Rivières in the 1840s and was the first Jew to be elected to a legislature in the British Empire and then after a struggle, and a reelection, finally permitted take his seat .
More Westmount houses:
The Westmount novel genre is a bit thin. Two that immediately come to mind are Leonard Cohen's The Favourite Game. And Gwethalyn Graham's Earth and High Heaven. And of course there is always The O'Briens.
- Brooklin, Maine, United States
- We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at www.peterbehrens.org I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.