Walk a few minutes east from Saint-Michel metro and you’ll find yourself in one of Montreal’s most recent ethnic neighbourhoods: the Petit Maghreb, a 15-block strip of North African businesses along Jean Talon Street between St. Michel and Pie IX boulevards.
Nearly half of Montreal’s 63,000 immigrants from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia arrived here after 2001. They’re quickly making their presence felt. Last spring, a group of Jean Talon St. business owners announced their intention to create a “Petit Maghreb” business district along the lines of Little Italy and Chinatown.
It seems that this would be the first such neighbourhood in North America, which probably isn’t surprising if you consider that Montreal is the only city on the continent with a significant maghrebin population. (In Toronto, for instance, there are just 665 immigrants from Algeria, compared to 26,825 in Montreal.) Its promoters insist that it will be a “positive affirmation of multiculturalism.”
Curious to check out Montreal’s little bit of North Africa for myself, I took the metro to Saint-Michel in November and wandered down Jean Talon. The comparisons to Little Italy or Chinatown are a bit premature: Little Maghreb is still in its infancy. There are plenty of cafés, bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, mosques and community centres, but the street is low-slung and a bit sleepy, and not quite as intensely commercial as you’d expect.
I did notice a lot of terraces, though, so it’s probably a lot more happening in the summer. It will be interesting to watch Little Maghreb’s evolution as its merchants attempt to transform it into a city-wide destination.
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