Wilensky’s Light Lunch: my favorite Montreal hole-in-the-wall.
Hello dear readers!
Since my last blog entry, I have eaten my final plate of poutine and careened in a rental truck through sheets of rain back across the border to the United States. Sadly my Fulbright experience is drawing to a close — but new adventures await us in our homeland. My husband and I are now ensconced in our second new city of the year, Providence, Rhode Island, where I will begin a PhD in American Studies at Brown University this fall! (And for those who know of it, yes, I will be participating in the Public Humanities program — it was one of the main attractions of Brown for me!)
Looking back on my time in Montreal, I’m pleased with how things unfolded. I gathered a vast trove of material on Goose Village and the history of the land. Hours and hours of oral histories. A huge stack of archival documents. Hundreds of photos. And my job this summer is to finish editing all of this into an interactive web documentary. Editing is my favorite stage of filmmaking, so I’m glad to be at this point.
Along the way I did encounter a few challenges, which I’ll mention here in the interest of helping anyone else who is starting out in digital storytelling or conducting a public history project in a foreign country. Continue reading
I’ve been turning up quite a bit of material relevant to my project on Archive.org and Google Books — including no shortage of 19th century writings on the Victoria Bridge and ship fever in Montreal.
This image is from page 65 of Hunter’s Handbook of the Victoria Bridge (1860) as found on Google Books via the University of Michigan. A previous reader — perhaps “Frederick Watson,” whose name is written on the cover in black ink — added figures of tiny people rappelling and sliding down the Black Rock monument.
What were Frederick’s motives? Perhaps he found the book to be boring — was it assigned for a college course? Was he making some sort of political statement about immigrants and the Irish Potato Famine? (Note the words “desecration” and “ship fever” are crossed out.) Or did he simply wish to practice his stick figures? They do look like they’re having fun.
Strange how digital sources can seem so inert until you come across an irreverent doodle from long ago. You’re reminded that this book is a physical object that exists somewhere, one that has traveled across time and space and has passed through many hands.
If I owned the book, I might respond with some scrawls of my own. But alas, with PDF files, the hidden and anonymous community of readers bound over years by marginalia cannot flow forward.
Establishment of the Black Rock monument in 1859. Image from the McCord Museum (Creative Commons).
History tends to be interpreted in the form of a story with a beginning, middle, and end. And so as I started to plan out my Goose Village documentary project, I created an outline laying out the area’s history in chronological order.
The shortcomings of this approach were immediately apparent. Take, for instance, the Black Rock monument. The rock relates to many periods of history and themes covered by my project, including the typhus quarantine sheds for immigrants in the 1840′s, the building of the Victoria Bridge in the 1850′s, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ annual marches in the present day. Bones from the mass grave of immigrants have been continually unearthed and reburied near the rock, “a voice arising from the old clay,” as an Irish ambassador referred to them in 1942. So the Black Rock does not belong to one moment in time, easily wedged into an outline under a single heading, but to a 150+ year period of history and memory. Continue reading
A still from today’s footage: the Farine Five Roses flour mill sign overlooking Goose Village.
Today I tested the camera equipment I’ll be using for my Goose Village documentary. Now that my fingertips have thawed, I can blog about my high-def adventures!
I studied filmmaking in college, but back then I only worked in standard definition on miniDV tapes. Now I have access to an HD camera through the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling here in Montreal. Having no experience with the fancy 1080i HD format, I wanted to make sure it would work with my video editing program.
With a tripod and camera bag heaved over my shoulder, I walked down Bridge Street to the parking lot and rubble yard where Goose Village once stood. I gathered footage from around the area, including some of the World War II memorial, which is practically all that is left of the neighborhood, plus some of the Black Rock. I shot until my fingers went numb from the cold, then I came back and whipped up a clip. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
I’m here in Montreal studying ruins, including their histories and the often-unsanctioned things that happen inside them. And since I took a radio production workshop that tasked me with recording ambient sounds from somewhere out in the world, I decided to head down to the old, abandoned Wellington Tunnel with my audio recorder. Continue reading
Peppers at the Jean Talon Market. Photo by Tim Giebel. Used under Creative Commons license.
Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, the zenith of the harvest season here. And so it seems appropriate to write about my favorite place in Montreal thus far: the Jean Talon Market.
Jean Talon is the largest open-air market in North America, and it happens to be two blocks from my apartment.
I go almost every day, and the scene is always one of novelty. Each stall displays its own wonderland of food, most of it produced by farmers in the Quebec countryside. Eggplants and colorful peppers gleam in the sun. Infinite wheels of soft cheese sit behind glass at the fromagerie. There are hearty cuts of meat. Barrels of apples. Garlic hanging in bunches. Steamy spiced sausages and savory lunch crepes. Continue reading
Ruins in Gatineau Park, Quebec. Photo by Michael Alexander, used under Creative Commons license.
I am excited to say that I have been awarded a research grant through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program! My husband-elect (Erik) and I will be living in Montreal from September 2012 through May 2013.
Entitled “Ruins of Quebec: History and Memory,” my Fulbright project will be a study of abandoned places and collective memory. How do ruins function as unofficial, ephemeral monuments to the past?
While I have not selected the exact ruins to study yet, a few possibilities include the ruins of a prison, a railway shop, a grain silo, several churches, and a malting plant. I will carry out archival research on the history of each place and conduct oral history interviews with people whose lives have intersected with the sites in various ways.
The project is in part a public history endeavor involving the creation of a digital exhibit about the ruins and their histories. I hope to encourage people to go out and view the sites in person, perhaps through self-guided walking tours in public areas, a letterboxing trail, or geocaching. I’ll also be writing a paper on collective memory in Quebec as it relates to vestiges of the past embedded in the built environment.
The project will be supervised by Dr. Steven High, a historian and the director of the Centre for Oral History & Digital Storytelling at Concordia University. Dr. High’s book Corporate Wasteland: The Landscape and Memory of Deindustrialization explores the abandonment of factories, the significance of industrial ruins in different communities in Canada and the United States, and the attraction of abandoned factories for thrill-seeking urban explorers.
At some point I will post about why I decided to study ruins (short version: I first got interested in history as an urban explorer, plus I worked in a stabilized ruin for a while as a tour guide) and the various things that influenced the project design. But for now: hurrah! I’m beyond thrilled that I have the opportunity to do this.