When I met Santropol owner Garth Gilker to talk about the café’s impact on the urban landscape, I ended up with more stories than I had bargained for. Before I left, Gilker dashed up to his third-floor apartment and brought down three editions of the “Montreal People’s Yellow Pages,” a guide-book to free-wheelin underground of 1970s Montreal that he and his friends had published in the 1970s under the banner of egg publishing. Although the books aren’t dated, this 1973 Montreal Gazette article reviews the second edition.
Each book offers an alphabetic listing of local “attractions” – from Abortions to Zoos – interspersed with short stories, trippy ’70s doodles and hand-drawn maps of the downtown neighbourhoods.
Under the “drugs” section, visitors were informed that the staples in Montreal are hash in the winter and grass in the summer, given a list of reliable pickup-spots and a price guide, and encouraged to “be free.”
“Out-of-towners find it incredible how almost arrogantly Montrealers parade their dope habits. In clubs, on the streets, and especially at concerts (even in the staid and bejewelled Place des Arts) you can get very high just breathing there!” the authors added.
In the “Street Sleeping” section, the authors recommend the “spacious, private monastery lawn” located on the north side of Sherbrooke between St-Matthew and Atwater.
There are also sections dedicated to Chess Clubs, Leather, Headshops, Hitchhiking, and even Horse Riding, as well as a rather extensive Waterbeds section.
None of that is as surprising as the fact that so few of the cafés, restaurants, and boutiques are familiar to this Montrealer 35 years later. Only a few hold-overs like the Yellow Door, Cheap Thrills, and Cock n Bulls are still on the scene. Where’s the “Gay dance party” at 57 Prince-Arthur E? Or the indoor children’s park at 3597 St-Urbain street? Or the Karma Coffee House whose ad read “Together is when the where meets the what.”
Oh, for a glimpse of the city where my parents once met for coffee dates at Santropol. Incidentally, I wonder whether the internet will leave our children such entertaining gems to dig up in the future?