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
[Note: Apologies for neglecting my blog! I wrote the below post in April but somehow forgot to actually finish and post it. So here you go: a bit of time travel back to early spring, when the sap ran and snow covered the ground. More updates on my Fulbright project to follow!]
It’s maple syrup harvest season in Quebec — the time of year to visit sugar shacks!
Here’s a song by Quebecois singer La Bolduc to listen to while you read this post. (Not about sugar shacks, but somehow it captures the mood.)
I first learned of the sugar shack (cabane à sucre) tradition from The Tin Flute, a 1945 novel by Gabrielle Roy. The Lacasse family, ground down by poverty in Great Depression-era Montreal, decides to visit relatives in the countryside while “the sap is running.” On hearing that phrase, the mother, Rose-Anna, goes into a rural childhood reverie: Continue reading
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
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
Aerial view of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec. Photo by Susana Ferreira Machado. Used under Creative Commons license.
Today I would like to share an example of a creative Quebec history project that has really inspired me: Asbestos, PQ: A Graphic Novel. It draws together history, art, and sounds to illustrate the relationship between the town of Asbestos, Quebec and its chrystotile asbestos mine, which is the world’s largest.
I first heard about Asbestos in a class on the history of Quebec that I audited this past semester. We read a chapter from Jessica Van Horssen’s dissertation on the dynamics of asbestos mining in the town and its environmental impact at local and global levels. Then we looked at the graphic novel version that she created in collaboration with her friend, artist Radha-Prema McAllister. Though the two works are very different in terms of the level of detail they offer, the complexity and importance of the story comes through in both. 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
Montreal’s Lachine Canal in autumn. Photo by Artur Staszewski on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.
I spent my first few days here figuring out How Canada Works, as least as far as the mundane details of life go. Now I’m pretty well settled in. Spending loonies & toonies as appropriate. Asking for cheese in “gramme” units (and in ever-improving French!). Riding the metro like any regular person who knows how the card readers work.
Then there have been more complex things to take in, like the political landscape. 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.