Spacing Montreal is pleased to present this column exploring Montreal’s literary landscape, written by Gregory McCormick, Director of Programming for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.
There’s a kind of permanence to downtowns that isn’t real. The heavy stone buildings, the skyscrapers, the motion and grime of certain corners. And it’s that way with the downtown areas of most cities. But downtowns, like cities generally, have a slow and steady kind of transitory existence and they change over several generations.
This is what struck me when I read a collection of Mavis Gallant stories called Montreal Stories. Gallant, who will be 90 in August, has lived most of her adult life in Paris, but the stories she writes about her younger life in Montreal are definitely from a bygone era.
‘[Mac’s] out in Vancouver now. It’s a big change from Montreal.’
‘He’ll crawl back here one day, probably sooner than he thinks,’ said Mr. Fenton. Something had made him cranky, perhaps the talk about souls. ‘I consider it a privilege to live in Montreal. I was born on Crescent and that’s where I intend to die. Unless there’s another war. Then it’s a toss-up.’
‘Crescent’s a fine street,’ said the doctor. ‘Nice houses, nice stores.’ He paused and let the compliment sink in, a way of making peace. ‘He’s buying a place. Property’s cheap out there [in Vancouver].’
‘It’s a long way off,’ said Mr. Fenton. ‘They can’t get people to go and live there. That’s why everything’s so cheap.’
‘Not being married, he doesn’t need a lot of room,’ the doctor said. ‘It’s just a bungalow, two rooms and a kitchen. He can eat in the kitchen. It’s a nice area. A lot of gardens.’
‘Sure, there are stores on Crescent now, but they’re high quality,’ said Mr. Fenton. ‘I could sell the house for a hell of a lot more than my father ever paid. Louise wants me to. She can’t get used to having a dress shop next door. She wants a lawn and a yard and a lot of space in between the houses.’
‘Mac’s got a fair-sized garden. That won’t break his neck. Out there, there’s no winter. You stick something in the ground, it grows.’
‘My father hung on to the house all through the Depression,’ said Mr. Fenton. ‘It’ll take a lot more than a couple of store windows to chase me away.’
While it’s certainly true that Montrealers in general prefer our city to Vancouver, it’s almost laughable to think now that once that western city was considered so cheap because no one wanted to live there. It’s also clear, given the nature of Crescent Street today, that Mr. Fenton ultimately was chased away from the street where he was born and raised. There must be at least some residential housing there (though it must be extremely limited and very loud!) but that area is most certainly an extension of the downtown core now and one that we don’t associate with residential living.