Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rarely Tempered====== I love that line ,it describes many of our debates as a Montrealer lol

Todays Gazette story about the 50th ann of Sir Winston Churchill Pub, we had a lot of fun hitting all those bars way back when, the place was always packed in the early 70;s  Enjoy the article Cheers ! Les

It is a bittersweet anniversary for some: the Sir Winston Churchill Pub celebrates its 50th birthday this year, but, sadly, those habitués who made this Crescent St. complex a local landmark have long since passed on.
Front-row seats at the bar presided over by Margo MacGillivray were near impossible to land 20 years back. That’s because the stools were most frequently occupied by the likes of Nick Auf der Maur, Mordecai Richler and his friend/sparring partner Richard Holden, the latter’s former political comrade-turned-foil Gordon Atkinson, and radio icons George Balcan and Ted Blackman, among other local luminaries. These patrons served as a lively barometer for what was going on in the city, province, country and world. Opinions were rarely tempered and always colourful – roughly proportional to the amount of booze consumed.
There was nothing like it on the anglo bar front in town. Lunches turned into happy hours into dinners into late nights.
Some of us can still recall boulevardier/politician/journo Auf der Maur, vodka and cranberry in one hand and pen in the other, scribbling a Montreal Gazette city column on a cocktail napkin and, amid the din of the bar, calling it in and dictating it to a none-too-thrilled editor. Or author/political pundit Richler and Holden going at it, after the latter left the Equality Party to join the Parti Québécois. Or Atkinson, who remained true to the Equality cause, actually challenging Holden to a duel. Or Blackman setting new land-speed records for consumption of rum-and-Cokes before hitting the airwaves.
OK, not exactly lifestyles suited to longevity — which might explain why they are no longer with us.  But there was a spirit among this rogue’s gallery that brought much-needed fire to the city scene and that is rarely in evidence these days. Nor is Crescent St. the haven it once was, long since replaced by the action to the south and east of it.
About the only reminder of the pub’s past is Auf der Maur’s cherished Borsalino chapeau encased over the bar stool he once occupied. And, of course, the Ruelle Nick-Auf-der-Maur outside. Yet, if one were to plant oneself at one of the complex’s bars and close one’s eyes for a minute, the controlled chaos of it all comes rushing back.

Johnny Vago in 2013: Founder of the Sir Winston Churchill Pub still drops by for lunch. DARIO AYALA /MONTREAL GAZETTE FILES

The inimitable Johnny Vago, an economic adviser to the government of Fidel Castro in 1959-1960 and friend of Cuban revolutionary hero Che Guevara, founded the Sir Winston Churchill Pub. Tagged the “Father of Crescent St.” (but not in the priestly sense), and also the founder of the now-defunct Boiler Room, Don Juan’s and Casa Pedro (ask your parents), Vago, 93, – though no longer an owner – still drops by the pub for lunch.
Apart from the more famed regulars, the bar complex also served – and continues to do so – as a place for all manner of mortals to launch careers, marriages, divorces and, yes, liver conditions.
“I remember like it was almost yesterday. Nick decided we should all move from Grumpy’s to here and like the latter-day Moses he sort of was, we followed him,” says former CBC producer and Auf der  Maur crony Stephen Phizicky, over a beer at the bar. “The rest is history — and some hysteria.”
Auf der Maur was actually following his bartender of choice, MacGillivray, from Grumpy’s. She was the glue that kept this eccentric circle together and spent 37 years as mixologist/shrink at the pub. Though she officially retired a few years ago, she still shows up for the occasional Friday shift for old times’ sake.
Last week, MacGillivary, a former Miss Montreal Alouette who has also belted out the national anthem at football games at Molson Stadium, finished a homeless-outreach shift at St. Patrick’s Basilica in time to hook up with some old acquaintances at the pub.   
“The fun of working behind that bar was that everyday was different — new stories, new dramas, occasionally new faces. And laughing — I laughed every day,” says MacGillivray, over a glass of white wine on the other side of the bar.  “I looked forward to going to work every day.”
Phizicky, too, was left endlessly amused and informed by proceedings. “I’d meet Nick for lunch and there were five others meeting him as well — reporters from the London Times, New York Times or Norway Times who would check in with him to get an idea of what was going on in town, often relating to the overspending woes of the Big O.
“Nick would often be here from noon to 3,” Phizicky adds. “That’s noon to 3 a.m.!”
John Aylen, PR maven and close buddy of Richler, recalls Auf der Maur showing up at 10 in the morning for a

Mordecai Richler at Sir Winston Churchill pub in 1995. MARIE-FRANCE COALLIERMONTREAL GAZETTE FILES

press conference for Richler’s Prix Parizeau literary award. “I don’t remember the results of the press conference, but I do remember Nick drinking sangrias, which he thought to be a fine breakfast libation — because it contained some oranges.”
“The trick for me was to remember the favourite drinks of the regulars and to remember who they would want to sit beside and who they didn’t want to sit beside,” MacGillivray interjects. “There were so many other characters who stopped by, too: John Lynch-Staunton, Egan Chambers, Kevin Drummond, Michel Sarrazin, Julian De Salis, Irwin Steinberg, Renée Hunnicutt, the classy lady who was one of the guys — and they are mostly all gone, except for Phizicky, who never really drank much or smoked and started marathon cycling.
“Of course, there were those less amused with these characters and they would refer to my bar as Jurassic Park,” a grinning MacGillivray chimes.
“Yet there was still a lineup of five and six rows deep to get a drink at Margo’s bar,” says pub co-owner Jan Wilson, who has worked here for 35 years. “Those days were golden, because there wasn’t the stiff competition there is today. But we’ve adapted to the times and offer live entertainment, and we have another group of regulars today.”
Wilson has planned a series of events to commemorate the pub’s 50th anniversary: everything from alumni bartender soirées to theme parties dedicated to each of the five decades of operation to the finale event on Nov. 30, which happens to mark the birthday of club namesake/inspiration, Sir Winston Churchill.
MacGillivray also plans to pay homage of sorts. She once pledged to Richler that she would write her own personal account of the place: My Life Behind Bars.
“How appropriate a title, too,” she says. “I’ve served a life sentence here – with no chance of parole.”

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A New York Times Article about Leonard Cohen

The Parc du Portugal, where a plaque commemorates the arrival of Portuguese immigrants. CreditAlexi Hobbs for The New York Times
In the jacket copy of his 1961 poetry collection “The Spice-Box of Earth,” a 20-something Leonard Cohen wrote, “I have to keep coming back to Montreal to renew my neurotic affiliations.”
Soon, the city’s cherished son followed his inclinations toward music, and would eventually achieve global-icon status thanks to his signature talent for such pensive sentiments. The brooding vocals and philosophical lyrics of anthems like “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah” earned him nicknames like the “godfather of gloom” and the “poet laureate of pessimism.”
Somewhere along the way, though, Mr. Cohen’s hometown anxieties softened into affection. “I feel at home when I’m in Montreal — in a way that I don’t feel anywhere else,” he told an interviewer in 2006. “I don’t know what it is, but the feeling gets stronger as I get older.” Proof of that can still be found today along the streets of Montreal’s Little Portugal, which served as his hometown headquarters for the latter half of his life.
Artists and immigrants (first Jewish, later Portuguese) have shared this sliver of the greater Plateau neighborhood for close to a century. Today, locals still trade anecdotes about spotting Mr. Cohen at his favorite restaurants or having a friendly chat with him along The Main, Montreal vernacular for Boulevard St.-Laurent, the Plateau’s cultural artery.
The songwriter and poet in 1973 in Manhattan.CreditLibrado Romero/The New York Times
True to his dust-jacket proclamation, the nomadic Mr. Cohen returned to Montreal sporadically throughout his adult life, and so, until his death in November at the age of 82, if your timing was fortuitous, you might have seen him on the steps of the gray stone triplex he purchased just off The Main in the early 1970s. With his often-present laptop perched on his knees, it’s where he exchanged pleasantries with neighbors he’d known for decades or called out to acquaintances lingering in the pocket-size Parc du Portugal across Rue Vallières.
“One day he was in back of me at the bakery,” Ida Ponte, a manager at the J. Schreter apparel store on The Main, told me as she recalled her visits to another St.-Laurent staple, Les Anges Gourmets. Like many Little Portugal mainstays, Les Anges offers a cross-cultural array of goods, as renowned for its French patisserie as for its Portuguese egg custard tarts, pasteis de natas. “I didn’t know he was there and he just leans over and whispers to me, ‘You’re the only one who knows I’m wearing slippers.’”
Mr. Cohen’s preferred footwear for padding around Little Portugal — always the same Foamtreads slippers, purchased at J. Schreter — illustrated his rapport with the middle-class neighborhood that served as his Montreal home base after a childhood spent in the tonier Westmount enclave. Sotto voce and sly-humored, polite and without airs, Mr. Cohen exuded a big-hearted bonhomie for the people and for the places he loyally patronized.
Quincaillerie Azores
J. Schreter
Les Anges Gourmets
Bagel Etc.
Main Deli
Steak House
“That’s the thing that stands out more than anything else for me: He liked to wear a very comfortable slipper as a shoe,” said Steve Schreter, who now owns the business, founded by his father’s cousin. “It didn’t prevent him from walking around the street.”
In fact, little did. When in town, Mr. Cohen was a creature of habit, returning to a string of family-owned businesses found along The Main, all easily reached by foot. (“Suzanne,” his most famous example of Montreal-set songwriting, references the city’s Old Port several miles away.) His favorite locales are, as he was, Montreal institutions.
Mr. Cohen’s days routinely began with a freshly pulled espresso at Bagel Etc., a 35-year-old diner and cafe where vintage mirrors, signage and art run amok on the brick walls. You might assume the décor was inherited from the antiques shop that once occupied the southern half of Bagel Etc.’s double storefront, but as Simon Rosson, an owner, told me, “some of it’s from a funeral home.”
Beyond bagels — one or two varieties, delivered from nearby Fairmount Bagels — the breakfast-and-lunch menu builds on the appealingly scattershot feel of the place. Its famous huevos rancheros are offered alongside sweet and savory blintzes, knockwurst and pepperette, and for dessert, strudel — which, when I ordered it in December, was charmingly if incongruously accompanied by a tuft of canned whipped cream topped with a single red grape.
The Montreal triplex Leonard Cohen bought in the early 1970s and to which he returned.CreditAlexi Hobbs for The New York Times
Mr. Rosson got into the habit of opening early for Mr. Cohen when he starting working at the shop in 2001. “I was smoking my cigarette outside one morning, and he’s peeking through his window to see if I’ve actually opened the doors,” he said. “I know he’s not going to eat anything, so it doesn’t matter if I don’t have anything prepared. I can make the guy an allongé” — a tall espresso. “So I wave him down, like, ‘Leonard, just come on.’”
When he was occupying his preferred stool at the counter, television, of all things, became a favorite topic for Mr. Cohen. (Brass nameplates honoring regulars line several booths at Bagel Etc.; Mr. Cohen’s stool marker was presumably swiped by a fan years ago.)
“He was always on his laptop. He was talking about Project Free TV, this website to get free TV shows,” Mr. Rosson recalled. “He says, ‘Brother’ — always ‘brother’ or ‘friend’ — ‘have you seen “John From Cincinnati”?’” (Mr. Cohen was referring to a short-lived HBO drama starring his onetime fiancée, Rebecca De Mornay.) Ms. De Mornay, he said, had called Mr. Cohen and asked his opinion of the show. Mr. Rosson then told him, “Give me her phone number, because I want to phone her and say, ‘What the heck’s going on in this show?’” (He used a bluer expression than “heck.”)
Farther south along the boulevard, Mr. Cohen (who was a vegetarian for a few years in the 1960s) indulged his love for Montreal’s acclaimed smoked meat, or viande fumée, a local specialty made from high-fat beef brisket that’s typically salted and cured for a week before being smoked, steamed and hand-sliced to order. “I like this place because it’s open all night,” he told the now-defunct Montreal Daily News in 1988, referring to Main Deli Steak House, a scruffy Jewish deli he famously frequented (a newspaper clipping is displayed near the door). “The smoked meat tastes great, too, especially after five months on the road.”
At Bagel Etc., Leonard Cohen got his morning coffee.CreditAlexi Hobbs for The New York Times
Indeed, the menu appears tailor-made for the ravenous, after-hours crowd; you can get a jumbo hot dog or a 20-ounce “jumbo rib steak,” as well as dauntingly hearty dishes like spaghetti with smoked meat. A traditional viande fumée sandwich served on mustard-soused slices of rye, however, makes for a decadent lunch on its own.
If Mr. Cohen felt a kinship with local proprietors based on common geography and ancestry, another quality they shared was an ability to self-reinvent. When J. Schreter opened in 1928, its customers included peddlers who resold their no-frills apparel to farmers and similar clientele. When Mr. Cohen posed for a photo with the family outside the store in 1986 — “Can I come into your picture?” Mr. Schreter recalls Mr. Cohen asking as he walked by — their sign still noted “Gros et Detail” (wholesale and retail) merchandise.
Today, J. Schreter’s attractive racks of clothing, shoes and accessories come from fashion-forward brands known for classic styling, like Ben Schwartz Oxford shirts, Tom’s shoes and Herschel backpacks.
Nearby, Quincaillerie Azores, where Mr. Cohen purchased items for small home repairs (many executed free by the Pereira family, which owns the business), tells a similar story. Gabriel Pereira arrived in 1956 from the Azores archipelago off the Portuguese coast. In 1968, he opened his hardware store and began serving the construction trade.
Moishes Steakhouse, where Leonard Cohen ate regularly.CreditAlexi Hobbs for The New York Times
These days, under the management of Mr. Pereira’s five adult children, the store has become Quebec’s largest seller of roosters of Barcelos. Tour groups schedule stops at Azores to pick up the vibrantly hued, ornamental birds traditionally given in Portuguese culture as good-luck presents for weddings and housewarmings. “There used to be a lot of Portuguese families that lived here, but I would say toward the end of the ’80s, you would see less,” said Kevin Pereira, one of the second-generation owners. “The Plateau started to be pricey, more expensive. We adapted.” Housewares and gifts occupy the window displays, including fine examples of Portuguese clay pottery.
At 79-year-old Moishes Steak House, a well-known establishment where Mr. Cohen dined several nights a week, the modifications are more subtle. Graffitied canvases contrast with the sumptuous leather, velvet and brick textures of the interior, while an after-9 p.m. menu introduced about five years ago brings a younger demographic through the doors.
Moishes also boasts a back story that Mr. Cohen would have appreciated: After immigrating from Romania in the 1920s, Moishe Lighter worked at the restaurant, then called Saffrin’s, when he won it from Mr. Saffrin in a poker game in 1938.
Mr. Cohen would always arrive at Moishes with company and greet its current owner, Leonard, one of Moishe’s sons, with the same jovial if mysterious hello: “They’re never gonna get us, Leonard. They’re never gonna get us.” He would request lamb chops and a red Bordeaux. “He loved our lamb chops. He called them Silence of the Lamb chops. ‘I’ll have an order of the Silence of the Lamb chops.’ That was really his character,” Mr. Lighter said.
Quincaillerie Azores in Montreal sells an array of Portuguese pottery.CreditAlexi Hobbs for The New York Times
“We always have celebrities come in, people from everywhere; when they were in Montreal, they ended up here and still do. It was different with him. He was a Montrealer, and he was here. He lived in the neighborhood. He was just Leonard Cohen from Montreal.”

If You Go

What to read

Among several worthwhile Leonard Cohen biographies, the rock journalist Sylvie Simmons’s “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen” offers a thorough and rollicking account of the singer-songwriter’s geographic, romantic and artistic wanderings.
Mr. Cohen’s own bibliography includes two novels and a litany of poetry collections; “The Spice-Box of Earth” was written during his 20s in Montreal and solidified his status on the Canadian poetry scene.

What to do

J. Schreter, 4358 Boulevard St-Laurent; 514-845-4231; schreter.com.
Les Anges Gourmets, 4247 Boulevard St-Laurent; 514-281-6947; facebook.com/pages/Les-Anges-Gourmets/224055850938160.
Bagel Etc., 4320 Boulevard St-Laurent; 514-845-9462; facebook.com/pages/Bagel-etc/132966133418240.
Main Deli Steak House, 3864 Boulevard St-Laurent; 514-843-8126; maindelisteakhouse.com.
Quincaillerie Azores, 4299 Boulevard St-Laurent; 514-845-3543; hhazores.ca.
Moishes Steakhouse, 3961 Boulevard St-Laurent; 514-845-3509; moishes.ca.

What to see

Nearby Mount Royal Park (the mountain gave the city its name) was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and serves as a year-round recreation space for hikers, cross-country skiers and more. A sweeping view of downtown awaits those who make it to the top.
Mr. Cohen was buried at his family plot in the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery along the base of the mountain.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sounds like a great book to get. Montreal in photographs

I'll bet this would be a really interesting book, some great old photographs a lot of them we most likely would have seen or posted by now, but some new gems may be there as well. I will look into getting this book. The following appears in todays online Gazette.   Cheers ! LesF


William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody was already a legend of the American Old West when he founded the famed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West travelling show in 1883. That show spread the myth of the Wild West as Buffalo Bill toured North America and Europe.
One of his most important stops was in Montreal in August 1885. He and Sioux chief Sitting Bull posed for photos taken by Montrealer William Notman, the first internationally acclaimed Canadian photographer in the 19th century.
“Sitting Bull is looking off far away — there’s a kind of sadness in his gaze — and William F. Cody is posing, trying to look dignified,” says journalist, author and historian Jean-François Nadeau, whose recently published photography book Montrealers: A Story in Portraits (Juniper Publishing) showcases the shoot.
Jean-François Nadeau wanted to focus on everyday people in Montrealers: A Story in Portraits, “because that gives you a special feeling about what Montreal was really like.”
Jean-François Nadeau wanted to focus on everyday people in Montrealers: A Story in Portraits, “because that gives you a special feeling about what Montreal was really like.” Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette
“This is probably the most famous photo of the myth of the American Wild West, probably the most-reproduced photo of the story of the American West, and it was taken in Montreal!” says Nadeau. He adds that while “Sitting Bull was booed at other stops on this tour, in Montreal he was cheered by audiences.”
Neither Sitting Bull nor Buffalo Bill were Montrealers, of course, but their presence looms large in Nadeau’s book because, he says, “it is one of the most important photos taken in Montreal in the 19th century.”
This image of Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill is "one of the most important photos taken in Montreal in the 19th century,” according to Jean-François Nadeau.
This image of Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill is “one of the most important photos taken in Montreal in the 19th century,” according to Jean-François Nadeau. William Notman & Son / McCord Museum
The image is one of more than 400 black-and-white photographs in Montrealers: A Story in Portraits, published to coincide with Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Nadeau’s beautifully packaged commemorative book includes previously unpublished or unknown photos that depict the lives of Montrealers from the beginnings of photography until 1976. They include work by many masters of the form, such as Gaby (Gabriel Desmarais), Alain Chagnon, Yousuf Karsh, Gabor Szilasi and Notman, as well as work by lesser-known and anonymous photographers.
“Notman was the most celebrated Canadian photographer of his era,” says Nadeau. “He had over 25 studios in North America, he was well organized, his was a big business. But most early photography before the 20th century is of rich people. Photographers (then) were not interested in taking photos of people living in poor neighbourhoods and suburbs — they took photos of what their society permitted them to photograph.”
Complicating matters, Nadeau says, is that in Montreal “we are not (overly) familiar with our past. Montrealers talk a lot about it, but our knowledge isn’t very deep. We also don’t know a lot about photographers here, though we know there were a lot of pictures taken.”


Taverne de Paris, St-Denis St., 1973. From the book Montrealers: A Story in Portraits.
Taverne de Paris, St-Denis St. (1973) Alain Chagnon
So while readers will enjoy portraits of such celebrities as Mordecai Richler, poet Émile Nelligan, actress Geneviève Bujold, conductor/pianist Wilfrid Pelletier and trailblazing female impersonator Guilda, Nadeau hopes his book will also deepen Montrealers’ appreciation for their city and the working-class citizens who put Montreal on the map.
“Yes, I included pictures of well-known people like Leonard Cohen, but those photos are interesting because the photos themselves are special,” Nadeau explains. “It’s not about well-known or famous people, and I’m not interested in monuments, buildings and streets — I am much more interested in ordinary people and their lives, because that gives you a special feeling about what Montreal was really like.
“While these faces do not mirror our (contemporary) lives, you see incarnations of what you could have been, and that further roots us in our city.”
Self-portrait in mirror, Notre Dame St., Griffintown, circa 1970.
Self-portrait in mirror, Notre-Dame St., Griffintown (circa 1970). David W. Marvin / McCord Museum
Montrealers: A Story in Portraits also lovingly shines a light on little-known pioneers, such as “Mrs. Fletcher,” who opened her photo shop and studio in Old Montreal in 1841.
“She is important because she is (likely) the first woman in Canada taking pictures, taking portraits, and she’s doing it right here, at Place d’Armes,” Nadeau says. “We don’t know much about her, but we do know that from the beginning of photography in Montreal until now, there were a lot of women photographers. Unfortunately, like other women in history, their contributions have been neglected. In my book I also talk about Kéro, who was everywhere in the 1960s and 1970s, but we don’t talk about her anywhere today. She’s gone, but she was really important.”
The book’s 12 chapters each include an in-depth profile of a Montreal photographer, and photos are grouped under different themes, such as housing, work, nightlife, religion and First Nations, complete with commentary.
All photos are in black and white because, Nadeau says, “before the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York accepted a colour exhibition in 1976, black-and-white photography was considered superior. For instance, if you were a Canadian citizen at the time, you couldn’t get a colour passport photo — black-and-white photos were considered more ‘real’ than colour. Which suggests that what is real is not always the truth.
Montreal Alouettes football player, circa 1963.
Montreal Alouettes football player (circa 1963). Antoine Desilets / McCord Museum
“If you look at ads for camera companies over the past 50 years, they keep advertising that their photos look more real. But what is real and what is not real? In the 1950s the Kodachrome colour process gave you blasting red and blasting blue. At the time it was considered the best rendition of colour. We know today that’s not true. When we see a photo from that time, we know it was from the ’50s. The same will be said of our photos today. It is always a convention of our time, of what we see.”
In a world where some 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, has the value of photography been diminished?
“There will always be photos that manage to capture a moment in time and stand the test of time,” Nadeau says. “But today everybody thinks they are a photographer and can take timeless photos. People think they take good photos because they get a lot of likes on Facebook. It’s not because you post photos on Instagram that you’re a photographer — it’s the capacity to deliver your own thoughts in your photos that makes you a good photographer.
“Each photo in my book has at its core an idea, a message. People take photos today, but many have nothing to say.”

Six of Jean-François Nadeau’s favourite photos from Montrealers: A Story in Portraits

Union representative Huguette Plamondon with Montreal meat-packing employees (1956).
Union representative Huguette Plamondon with Montreal meat-packing employees (1956). Basil Zarov / Library and Archives Canada
“Basil Zarov was a well-known photographer, really into the arts, and here perfectly captures Huguette Plamondon in her daily work, so well dressed, talking with workers in a slaughterhouse. Gives you an idea of how rough Montreal could be at the time.”
Buildings slated to be demolished in Victoriatown (Goose Village) (1963).
Buildings slated to be demolished in Victoriatown (Goose Village) (1963). Jean-Paul Gill and Ludger L’Ecuyer / City of Montreal Archives
“Montreal asked two city photographers to take photos of buildings that were going to be scrapped. The photographers would number each photo with a little marker, to identify the building, snap the picture, then were off to the next place. But people were still living there. Their photos are incredible views of Montreal; (they) give you a very precise idea of what life was like at the time.”
Griffintown (1966).
Griffintown (1966). Antoine Desilets
“One of the kids is black, the other I’m not sure, and they are playing in a poor neighbourhood. We don’t see many photos of children today, because people are wary and there are laws protecting children. You can no longer just take photos of children and publish them. There were also a lot more children in the streets back then. Here, Antoine Desilets captures a simple moment. He always brings a fresh touch to his photos.”
Young boys in street (circa 1940).
Young boys in street (circa 1940). Paul-Marc Auger / McCord Museum
“People were not afraid to let their children play outside. People had large families, so it was nice to stretch outside where there was more space. Montreal was a young city. So you see kids running in the middle of the street everywhere!”
Montreal Botanical Garden (1946).
Montreal Botanical Garden (1946). Conrad Poirier / BAnQ
“Such a great shot! Conrad Poirier is working with the lines created by the light. Two young girls are walking, but all the viewer can see are the lines. Poirier’s magical touch here is all in the geometry of the photo.”
Place d’Armes (1941).
Place d’Armes (1941). Conrad Poirier / BAnQ
This was chosen as the cover image for Montrealers: A Story in Portraits. “You can say from today’s perspective that this is a bad photo — that the woman is out of focus, the focus is behind her, it’s a bit overexposed in front, and by the end it’s a fantastic photo because it gives you a sense of freshness, of speed, of Montreal at its best: Place d’Armes with streetcars and elegant, well-dressed people. It gives you a perfect feel of what Montreal is, or was. Sometimes a picture is not about capturing perfection in the details — it’s the composition, the feel, the idea behind it. This photo is Montreal.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Train on Ice,,,Really even we knew it was dumb to play on the ice

This story was first published on Jan. 12, 2003, in the Montreal Gazette.
It was one of the most bizarre rail accidents in Montreal’s history and also one of the least auspicious. Bizarre, because the rails were laid not on terra firma but on ice across the frozen St. Lawrence. And inauspicious, because the accident came on the very first day of operations that winter.
The Victoria Bridge was an undeniably magnificent response to the formidable, mile-wide barrier of the river at Montreal. Its opening in late 1859 gave shippers in the city easy rail access to the Atlantic, at Portland, Me. It almost seemed a miracle. Freight and passengers could now move between tidewater and the American midwest through central Canada even when the ice of winter shut deep-sea ships out of Montreal’s harbour for months at a stretch.
But the bridge was also a barrier in its own right. It was owned by the Grand Trunk Railway, and though other lines could use it, they had to pay for the privilege. Even then, their timetables had to cede priority to the Grand Trunk’s. Was there a way out of the dilemma, short of building a new rail bridge?
In winter, at least, there might be. For generations, Montrealers had been accustomed to laying out ice roads across the river to the South Shore communities. To and fro, the sleigh drivers would make their way, conveying firewood, occasional farm products and other loads, as well as people. They followed tracks marked by evergreen saplings set at close intervals along the way, much as snowmobile clubs mark routes for their members across frozen lakes in our own day. It was rough going, for the ice in places off Montreal often heaved up in daunting ridges and blocks, and occasional thin spots in the surface presented other dangers, but it worked. Could it work not just for sleighs but for something far heavier, a steam locomotive and a string of cars?
In January 1880, a small consortium of Grand Trunk rivals, led by the provincially owned Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway, set out to try. Thumbing their noses at the Victoria Bridge, they laid a temporary rail line across the now-thick ice to Longueuil and announced a shuttle service to the South Shore for as long as the ice was safe.


The first run was a sensation. Crowds gathered at the waterfront where a small engine and several cars, all decorated with flags and fir boughs, stood ready to go. People were invited to climb on board for the inaugural run, and many quickly did. However, a few among them found that their winter boots were no antidote for their suddenly-cold feet and just as quickly climbed back down. Holes had been cut in the ice nearby to test its thickness, and the water now bubbling up through them was an ominous sight. Nonetheless, the jaunt across the river and back came off without a hitch. The QMO&O and its allies had presented shippers with an alternate way of getting things across the river, at least for a few months.
Flushed with their success, they decided to repeat the venture the following winter. The ice railway opened for business on Jan. 5, 1881, but that very afternoon things went bad. QMO&O yard engine No. 31 pulling 17 cars from Longueuil to Hochelaga jumped the tracks and fell over on its side. The shock was enough to crack the ice, and the engine began sinking into 30 feet of water. The crew just managed to jump clear in time; the engineer lay stunned for a moment on the ice, only coming to when cold water from the widening gulf in the ice began to soak him.
Despite this setback, and as audacious as ever, the line’s operators vowed to continue. “Almost immediately afterwards,” the Gazette reported, “the work of repairing the track was commenced. … The engine will be raised at once, the Company having already received a number of offers to undertake the work.”
An experienced diving contractor from Sorel named Charles Champagne was chosen to direct the recovery. Within three days of the accident, the tracks had been rerouted and service resumed. Meanwhile, Champagne and his crew, led by a diver named Larin, set about determining that the sunken engine was in sound condition. More challenging, they also had to figure out how the engine could be levered up from the river bottom and placed on the fragile ice surrounding the hole without it or their equipment plunging back through again. Five days after the engine had gone down, however, it was on its way back up to the open air and safety.
The service across the ice continued for the rest of that winter without serious incident, prompting the QMO&O to go for a third season. However, nature failed to co-operate. January 1882 was unusually mild, and the service was late in getting under way. The unsuitable weather continued, and runs across the river often had to be suspended. It proved to be the last year for the ice railroad. The Victoria Bridge had the last laugh.