I had completely forgotten about John Allison’s great photos of Montreal in the early 1980s (in both colour and black-and-white) until Kate McDonnell reminded me of them with a post on her Montreal City blog yesterday.
You know how much I love photos from recent decades. These are now exception. Not only are they exceptionally thoughful and well-composed, Allison focused on many of the urban details that define the essence of a place at any given time. While the landscape we seen in his photo is fundamentally unchanged, it’s the details—the detritus of human life, like signs and posters and advertisements—that are remarkably different.
This is one of my favourite photos because it inadvertently reveals so much about Montreal in the 1980s. Not only do these posters promote a long-gone local band, they refer to Café Campus’ original location next to the Université de Montréal, which was the inspiration for its name. (It moved to Prince Arthur in the early 1990s.)
Also note how the address is rendered as 3315 Reine-Marie. I’ve never actually heard anyone call Queen Mary by that name today.
The buildings in this photo remain today; even some of the shops and signs are unchanged. But check out 4040 St. Laurent, the loft building that kick-started the Main’s rebirth as a creative hub in the 1980s. Before it was painted blue-green, there was a fantastic old wall sign for “Helen Harper Sweaters,” which itself appeared to be painted over an even older advertisement. Can anyone make out what’s written underneath?
Finally, I love this shot of Place des Arts, taken during a labour rally, because I had no idea that it was originally landscaped with grass and shrubs. I have to say I enjoy its current configuration a lot more; the steps are a great gathering space, perfect for people-watching, while the layout in the 1980s seemed like a particularly sad, suburban attempt at a park.