Photo by Matias Garabedian
I lived in Old Montreal, for over 10 years, until I was given the boot when my building was bought out.
After a year in court I took a settlement and moved temporarily to my poker-friend’s apartment in Verdun. Originally the plan was to head towards Concordia ghetto, somewhere between Guy and Atwater. It would have been close to my office but also inside the P.A./Adonis food zone.
But I just couldn’t get myself to leave.
Verdun just felt right and in no time it got under my skin. My room was facing a gorgeous church. East-European barbers at Beardlington would offer me whiskey and play jazz and the ladies from the Serge Daoust dry cleaner on De L’Eglise dance in the morning. Well and Bistro Piquillo served a colourful out-of-a-foodie’s-dream brunch and Station W was a perfect place to work or study. And then, of course, there was Sweet Lee’s, a colourful rustic bakery, with massive variety of freshly made soft and crispy croissants and the famous, sweet and sour, “Cranberry White Chocolate” cookie.
I used to think of Verdun as a suburb. It wasn’t.
Originally a working-class neighbourhood, largely Québécois and part multicultural, Verdun was becoming an urban melting pot of alternative lifestyles. A greener and quieter Montreal with larger apartments, fresh air, artisanal shops and 12 min from downtown by metro.
I ended up signing an apartment on Galt and moved in on Oct 1st.
Turns out that only few years ago the situation was very different. Verdun was a ghost town on nights and weekends. Taverns, night clubs and cabarets had been banned since 1965, and alcohol sales were restricted to restaurants with liquor licences.
Thankfully, prohibition ended in 2013; Benelux opened a micro-brewery and Verdun started to look like the new Plateau.
A reinvigorated Wellington commercial corridor quickly became a popular area for the creative community, young professionals, the LGBT movement and Concordia University students.
In the same time, filmmaker Claude Demers, rented an apartment in Verdun for three months to regain a feel for his childhood neighbourhood as he directed “Where I’m From” (D’où je viens). The movie that explores his young years in the working class of Verdun premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam.
It captures colorful local characters, including a priest and a couple of fishermen who hunt geese on the banks of the St. Lawrence. It explores Verdun’s story of resistance, emancipation and the fight against poverty as well as the role that the Saint Lawrence River is playing in his imaginative life of its residents.
Today, with its parks, new stores and restaurants it’s one of the best places in Quebec, if not the Canada, to start a post university life.
After testing water conditions all throughout 2018 the city of Montreal just authorised a sandy beach with public swimming in the St. Lawrence River, behind Auditorium de Verdun. It should be open to public in summer 2019 and it will definitely bring even more life to the area.
Verdun features an array of bustling restaurants and cultural venues, while keeping its small community feel. The fear that the neighbourhood is going to succumb to rampant growth and gentrification is presently unfounded. For now, and likely some time to come, it’s an absolutely awesome and exciting place to live.
Depending on the occasion, Verdun’s Main street can serve as an urban sugar shack or lumberjack party. It also hosts a free outdoor festival that showcases traditional Quebecois culture and gastronomy, as well as live music and workshops.
Kids take part in wood-sculpting activities and artisanal paper-making activities, or gather around the tales and legends narrated by storyteller Louis Mercier.