by Emma Renaud
It’s my third year here in Montréal and as time passes, I am realizing just how vibrant the city’s history is. We all know of neighbourhoods such as the McGill Ghetto, the Plateau, the Vieux-Port, etc. But how well do you know the past of all those little streets you walk by everyday? How conscious are you of the work that has been put into maintaining Montréal the lively city that it is?
I live off Avenue du Parc and realized not too long ago that a group of people were selling vegetables between Prince-Arthur and Sainte-Famille every Thursday. There was a banner behind them that read ‘Milton-Parc Community’. This meant that there was an entire community working on making my neighbourhood and its surroundings a better place. I then caught sight of a few boards explaining a brief history of some of Montréal’s streets. They made me aware that (considering the beautiful architecture around the Plateau and the McGill Ghetto) there must be an interesting story behind these Victorian-style buildings.
I just had to type what the banner said into Google to come across the Milton-Parc Community’s (MPC) website. The MPC is a housing cooperative network that was founded in December of 1987. Even before the MPC was formally established, however, people from around the neighbourhood had already been gathering, in hopes of preserving the historical significance of the Milton-Parc neighbourhood. Since the 1960s, activists have been fighting to protect the Victorian greystone homes that we see from Rue Université to Saint-Laurent from demolishment.
The neighbourhood that many of us McGillians walk through today was developed during the 19th century for bourgeois families, with the Hôtel-Dieu hospital serving as a crux. Where the land wasn’t used for hospital needs, greystone houses were constructed starting on Sainte-Famille, from Sherbrooke, and all the way up to the hospital. Later on, during the mid-60s, an entire ‘demolish to rebuild’ movement was initiated. Almost all of the homes on Hutchinson, des Pins, Sainte-Famille and Milton were bought up by a group of land developers. These people were interested in modernizing everything, putting up highrises and turning the local area into an extension of Downtown Montréal. Almost immediately, the Milton-Parc community reacted by signing petitions to stop the demolitions, protesting in the streets and organizing street festivals. They even collaborated with students from the McGill School of Architecture to keep the highrises away, eventually succeeding in keeping the neighbourhood the way that it was.
Knowing that hundreds of people from all over Montréal have put in the effort to preserve the city’s rich cultural history will hopefully spark a realization of just how beautiful and significant these houses truly are. As early as the 70s, McGill students have worked on our campus grounds and surrounding neighbourhoods - not only for the well-being of their peers, but also for the various Montrealers who have lived here for generations. This is also a reminder of the fact that, as McGillians, our Montréal experience shouldn’t stop at our cyclical routines of school-library-home, etc. It’s important to experience and enjoy as much as we can of what the city has to offer.
From murals on every façade and street corner to the magnificent architecture of the buildings themselves, the city itself is a museum. Not only has it been able to conserve its historic monuments, but new generations have also been able to modernize it while being mindful of Montréal’s deep and colourful history. We are so lucky to be living in a city filled with art and have the ability to come across stimulating works all over Montréal. For example, even the murals we see on St-Laurent and surrounding avenues are renovated each year during the Mural Festival. In a way, these artifacts serve a similar purpose to the MPC, making Montreal a more avant-garde, innovative and culturally-enriched place.
By reading more on the street I live on and the history of its surrounding areas I am able to feel a little closer to Montréal - this relationship is one that will surely keep growing. If you ever find yourself walking around town or just doing your usual journey to school and stumble upon one of these little boards, I highly encourage you to stop and read it. You’ll be able to remember what it said every time you walk on that street and think, I know you.