My friend recently picked up a copy of the book “Picture this! Posters of Social Movements in Québec (1966-2007)“. While leafing through the pages of posters from various social causes and movements from over the last few decades, the above image caught my attention. The hand-drawn poster, with what are presumably St-Norbert residents at one side of the block of typical downtown row of houses with it’s massive human fist punching a back-hoe, a cop, and what appears to be perhaps politicians, lawyers, developers, landlords, or any combination of greedy, powerful people looking to demolish the block and put its residents on the streets. The resident’s sign beckons readers to take their right to housing and the caption at the bottom declares an occupation and a “squat-in”. The poster is credited to the Comité de citoyens de St-Norbert.
Most of the posters in the book provide no follow-up as to how successful the campaigns were or what kind of effect they had on society as a whole. It is left up to the reader to decipher, based on current conditions, what kinds of successes and failures activists of the past endured, or what fights are still being waged today. For example, posters in the book demanding better rent control may have eventually led to the very tenant-friendly regulations of the current Régie du logement and we know the results of the book’s posters from both the “oui” and “non” sides in regards to the question of independence of Quebec. The St-Norbert poster is different, however. A few pages into the book, this poster appears:
Sadly, the fight to save St-Norbert failed and activists, promising to remember and continue the fight, staged a demonstration at the site of the demolition ten years after.
When I first saw the posters, I had no idea where St-Norbert was, which is excusable, the street being a narrow quiet residential street only a few blocks long. It feels more like an alley for Ontario and Sherbrooke between St-Laurent and Hôtel de Ville than an actual street.
The first poster says that the plan was to demolish the houses and turn the block into a surface parking lot. This may well have been the case for many years but it appears that the block has recently been rebuilt with luxury condos which look to have been built sometime in the last few years:
I was curious, what happened to rue St-Norbert? Why was the block demolished? What kind of opposition did the demolitions face and what tactics were used by residents and housing activists to try to save it? To look for an answer, I turned to newspaper coverage from the day of the protest in 1985 and around the days of the demolition ten years prior in 1975. Sadly, looking through microfilms from The Montreal Star, The Gazette, Le Devoir, and La Presse, I failed to come up with much information. Perhaps I could have searched through the weeks and months leading up to the demolition in the 1975 archives but, I haven’t the time nor the ambition. What I did come up with was a photo from the September 25th edition of Le Devoir in 1975 showing the devastation of the demolition with a pole covered in posters in the foreground. The caption reads “Rue Saint-Norbert nature morte à la façon montréalaise avec stèle et souvenirs des chambres de bois…”
La Press in 1985, the day after the protest, ran the headline “Montréal n’a pas tenu ses promesses rue Saint-Norbert”. The article briefly describes how the block was just one of many casualties of the Drapeau-era demolitions and alludes to large demonstrations, arrests, and court injunctions ten years prior. Not much more detail is given.
Finally, although it is not related to St-Norbert directly, I was amused to find this cartoon in The Gazette from 1975.
So, having come up with very little about what happened concerning this small piece of Montreal history during the months and days leading up to September 25th, 1975, I turn to SpacingMontreal readers to give any insight as to what happened. Anyone who was around at the time, do you remember what happened? Was there a squat? What happened at the demonstrations and why the arrests? What was on this lot before the newly built condos? Anything that can be shared would help satisfy my curiosity and give us a bit of insight concerning urban development during those turbulent years under Mayor Drapeau.