On my snowy walk from Hampstead to Snowdon today, I stopped to check in on one of my favourite urban oddities. The only sign of its existence is a non-descript staircase located at 5257 Queen Mary, in between a drycleaner and a Chinese restaurant. Climb up the stairs and you’ll enter a small second-floor courtyard containing a few shops and an apartment building entrance. There’s a tailor, a driving school and a Korean hair salon; a couple of other retail spaces seem as if they’ve been converted into apartments.
According to the city’s property records, this courtyard belongs to a building that was built in 1929. At the time, Snowdon was just beginning to emerge as a middle-class suburb; by the 1940s, it had become especially popular with Jewish families, who were moving west from the Main. Around World War II, Snowdon became a retail hub that drew people from across the west end to the shops on Queen Mary Road and Décarie Boulevard. The Snowdon Theatre, an art moderne landmark on Décarie, was built in 1937; it was joined in 1947 by a Reitman’s department store, at the corner of Queen Mary and Décarie.
Unfortunately, Snowdon’s history is woefully underdocumented. An ex-Montrealer in Ottawa recently wrote a book on mid-century life in the neighbourhood, but it is self-published and I have yet to get my hands on a copy. (I would offer the title, but I can’t seem to find mention of it anywhere.) It would appear that the origin of the strange second-storey courtyard on Queen Mary Road is not the only mystery about Snowdon. I’d like to know more about this part of town. Do you live in Snowdon? Did you grow up there? Share your stories!