MONTREAL - Ask 10 Montrealers where Griffintown is and chances are you’ll get 10 vastly different answers.
It’s an oft-forgotten place, though historians insist its rich past merits just as much attention as its far glitzier Old Montreal counterpart.
Now, a German theatre collective has made it its mission to introduce Montrealers to Canada’s first industrial district in a truly innovative way.
Forget about old-fashioned guided tours and stuffy museums, Turbo Pascal’s “Talking the walk in Griffintown” offers a decidedly different approach: a one-on-one theatrical journey, where six local actors take turns winding a spectator through streets, across parks and over ruins.
Claude Maufette stood on the corner of Ottawa and Queen Sts. Tuesday night, unsure of what to expect as he waited for a performer to usher him through an area he knew little about.
“Everyone is talking about Griffintown, I don’t really know what it is,” he said. “I don’t really know about the history. I’m excited to discover more.”
A mysterious young woman with piercing blue eyes and a short black wig soon appeared and whisked him away.
Fresh from her own exploration, Juliette Patterson, a local activist striving to preserve Griffintown’s heritage, beamed as she praised the masterminds behind the project.
“Even though I know the neighbourhood really well, I was just delighted by the experience of discovering the place anew, really as if I had never been there before,” said Patterson. “All of a sudden, I just saw the city in a different way.”
The tour sheds light on a once-bustling neighbourhood. Longtime residents like to tell stories of a time when O’Connells and Dowlings lived around the corner and everyone gathered at St. Ann’s parish for Sunday service.
The glorious greystone church has since been razed and a neighbourhood once home to more than 30,000 Irish immigrants is now inhabited by only a few hundred people. Vacant lots have become desolate relics of the area’s flourishing past.
“Ah, a parking lot, that must mean we’ve arrived,” an actress tells a participant. “Griffintown is mostly parking lots. Ten thousand spots in all.”
Another stop along the tour is the home of Judith Bauer, a woman hailed by many as Griffintown’s unofficial mayor.
“Before I started looking at the neighbourhood in the period leading up to when I moved here (in 2004), I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the history,” she said.
She has since more than made up for it, fervently fighting to protect that history. She’s co-founded the Committee for the Sustainable Redevelopment of Griffintown, challenged politicians and developers at public consultations and organized events to introduce Montrealers to this unique neighbourhood.
“We spend so much of our time going from A to B and not really paying attention to what’s in between,” Bauer said. “I think anything that makes people have a closer look at where they live is wonderful.”
That’s precisely what Mechtild Manus, director of Montreal’s Goethe Institut, a German cultural centre, set out to achieve.
She discovered the avant-gardist Berlin-based Turbo Pascal two years ago and immediately dreamed of exporting their novel theatrical city tours to Montreal.
They chatted back and forth and finally met last February in a lively Berlin bar. Two hours and a few bottles of French wine later, “Talking the Walk in Griffintown” was born.
“I’m the one who suggested Griffintown,” Manus said. “I think it’s a real treasure Montreal has with all the history. History of the industrial past of Montreal, history of the various groups of immigrants who came to Canada.”
Eva Plischke, a member of Turbo Pascal, was instantly intrigued by this tiny neighbourhood where space and time intersect in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers.
“When walking around in Griffintown, you always have fragments of different times,” she said. “There are so many plans about the future and you can talk a lot about the past, but at the moment, it’s kind of in transition.”
She and her partner Veit Merkle didn’t get to see much of Montreal. They hopped off the plane and came straight to Griffintown, knocking on doors and chatting with residents, history buffs and condo developers to dig up anything they could about this unusual place.
“We did a lot of research, walked around, interviewed people,” Merkle said. “From this we developed the text, which is now showing Griffintown through different levels. By the stories (the actors) tell, the audience has a chance to get a new view of the city map, see places where they maybe haven’t been, hear stories they might not know.”
The result is a deeply intimate and reflective journey through history, corruption and emotions. As they discover Griffintown’s unpolished story and soul, participants are escorted through layers of tension, excitement and nostalgia.
“You learn to trust the process,” Patterson said. “It’s like going on a roller-coaster: you have to trust that the thing’s not going to break.”
If you’d like to go for a ride, call 438-998-0930 or purchase a ticket ($25) at Transit Kitchen on the Palais des Congrès main floor from 10 a.m. to noon, or at the Darling Foundry from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The one-hour walk will be happening Thursday and Friday night from 5:50 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Make sure to bring comfortable shoes and an open mind.............Oh well everyone has to make a buck, However my guess is you would have seen more 'character actors' in Griffintown many moons ago,.....as well as some 'bad actors too'.....but nevertheless they were all 'real characters' Anyway a walk thorugh the old Griff would be interesting I would think...........and there worse things than getting to see that gal in the pictures legs..................hahahahah HF&RV