The Vanishing of an Urban Village: Research in Progress

A 1907 map showing Goose Village.  The neighborhood was to the east of the train tracks, between Mill Street and the St. Lawrence River. (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

A 1907 map showing Goose Village. The neighborhood was to the east of the train tracks, between Mill Street and the St. Lawrence River. (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

When I arrived in Montreal, my main challenge was to decide on a site to study for my Fulbright project.  I was looking for a place that had been somehow abandoned but that remained alive in peoples’ memory.  A many-layered place, perhaps one that had experienced radical physical and social changes from pre-colonial times to the present.

In my wanderings, I visited a local history museum, the Centre d’Histoire de Montréal.  There I encountered the Quartiers Disparus exhibition on Montreal neighborhoods lost to urban renewal projects between 1950 and 1975.  These included the Red Light, Faubourg à m’Lasse, and Goose Village.  The exhibition featured interviews with former residents as well as urban planners, weaving together different perspectives on the communities to explore what happened to them and why. 

Quartiers Disparus ranked among the best local history exhibits I had ever seen, and it touched directly on my research topic.  But those neighborhoods’ stories had now already been told, or so I thought.  So I kept casting about, looking for a different area to explore.

Finally, I met with my project supervisor, Steven High, who suggested taking another look at Goose Village.  I combed through some newspaper archives, old maps, and archival photos, and I soon realized that the demolition of the neighborhood in 1964 was only one point in the long and varied history of these twenty-odd acres of land.

Goose Village children, about 1910. (McCord Museum)

Goose Village children, about 1910. (McCord Museum)

Today Goose Village is a parking lot and industrial brownfield, but over the centuries, social, cultural, and economic processes have repeatedly transformed its urban landscape.  Common land where people hunted geese gave way to quarantine sheds where Irish immigrants died by the thousands; the working class neighborhood of Goose Village evolved, isolated from the rest of the city by railroad lines and industrial sites; the entire neighborhood fell victim to urban renewal, demolished to make way for an Expo 67 stadium; and the stadium itself lasted little more than a decade.

Few vestiges of the geese, neighborhood, or stadium remain today, but a sliver of social life perseveres.  For one thing, the former Goose Village fire station is now a glass arts studio.  History continues in this isolated pocket of the city.

Railroad tracks to nowhere near Goose Village.

Railroad tracks to nowhere near Goose Village.

I got in touch with the Centre d’Histoire, explaining that I hoped to build on their work.  In response, not only did the museum staff give me access to all the raw materials they had gathered on Goose Village for their exhibition, but they offered to link to my work from their web site!  The public/digital history aspect of my project will complement the museum’s exhibit and Goose Village walking tour.  I’m really, really excited to be working in tandem with this local organization.

So, for the rest of the year, I will focus on creating two things:

  1. An article on the history, geography, and collective memory of the area once known as Goose Village.  This will be a macro-history in terms of time but micro-history in terms of place. 
  2. A multimedia, web-based public history project incorporating the many different histories of Goose Village.  I’m envisioning this as a documentary created using Korsakow, an open-source program that that allows for interactivity and non-linear storytelling in web videos.

So there you have it!  My project is underway.  Onward into the new year!

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One response to “The Vanishing of an Urban Village: Research in Progress

  1. Pingback: On Finding Stick Figures Drawn in My Historical Sources | wunderplatz

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