The much-reported arrival of a microbrewery on Verdun’s Wellington St. is an historic event in the borough’s storied existence as a semi-dry neighbourhood. But it never would have happened if not for Verdun’s rapidly changing demographics.
As the director of the Société de développement commercial Wellington, Billy Walsh has been working hard to attract businesses like the Benelux brewpub to Wellington St., the borough’s main commercial area. The SDC Wellington’s purpose is to respond to increasing demands for a diversity of local enterprise by supporting the establishment of new and interesting businesses.
In the seven years Walsh has lived in Verdun, he’s seen the neighbourhood morph into a refuge for former Plateau denizens looking for cheap(er) condos to call home, as well as higher-end goods and services to sink their disposable income into — and he doesn’t think it’s a bad thing at all.
“It’s not bad to gentrify. It’s just the way it’s [often] done that’s bad,” Walsh says. “We want to find a good balance.”
As one of the city’s oldest communities, the area counts families who have called Verdun home for generations among its residents. To develop the neighbourhood without keeping them in mind would be irresponsible, Walsh says — after all, they’re part of what makes the borough unique. Instead, Walsh is focusing his energies on making sure Wellington St. has something for every local resident, both old and new.
“It has to be inclusive,” Walsh says.
The southwestern borough has had a reputation as a bastion of vice and poverty for years, and however misguided that notion may be, Walsh says the SDC Wellington is working to combat this dated perception of what is fast becoming a vibrant, young and green community. “We need to change the mentality about Verdun,” Walsh says.
The Verdun chapter of the 2010 Montreal master plan made mention of the need to develop Wellington St. to better serve its new clientele, and according to Walsh, borough councillor Ann Guy and several other borough employees, the microbrewery simply responds to a long-standing demand for a place to have a pint.
Local development commissioner Alain Laroche says the borough was careful to use “microbrewery” and not “bar” in the zoning bylaw amended this past July. The phrasing meant only a craft beer producer — in this case, Benelux — could open up shop.
The new zoning stipulations not only work to limit the number of drinking establishments, but also to provide a service to the area’s younger and newer inhabitants the older ones wouldn’t necessarily be interested in.
For local butcher shop owner and former Verdun resident Paul Ouellette, the brewpub is a positive symbol of the community’s gentrification. “It’s for the people who buy the condos,” says Ouellette, who first moved to the area in 1974, and opened Viandes McCormack at the corner of de l’Église and Bannantyne streets a decade ago. He says having a brewpub in the neighbourhood will help foster a greater sense of community, particularly among new residents, by giving them a place to socialize.
The brewpub, though, is just one of many new small businesses opening on Wellington St. and its environs to accommodate the influx of new homeowners. More local activities and events, like the SDC Wellington’s urban sugar shack, are meant to give new and old members more opportunities to come together as a community.
“When you’re in Verdun, you feel you’re part of a village,” Walsh says.