Montréal’s Extremities

When we think of Montréal, we usually think of its core neighbourhoods, the downtown, its place at the heart of the metropolitan region. But Montréal is obviously a lot more than that. Among other things, it’s a ribbon of surrounding boroughs and towns, which—in their aspirations, lifestyle and appearance—more closely resemble the suburbs or the country than the Plateau. Five Montrealers from these outlying areas each take a different angle to talk about life far from the centre.

Photos: Nicolas Dufour-Laperrière

Riverdale High School, Pierrefonds.


Julien Lefort-Favreau
Julien Lefort-Favreau grew up in Pierrefonds when it was still a town and not a borough of Montréal. He teaches French literature at the Université de Sherbrooke, where he is the Banting postdoctoral researcher, and at Queen’s University in Kingston. He has been a member of Liberté Magazine’s editorial board since 2012.

The value of time is entirely relative. Writer Pierre Bergounioux explained that technological progress does not spread over a given area at an even speed. In the Limousin region of his childhood, the modernization of the 1950s remained an abstract idea—no television or cutting-edge machinery marred his landscape. The sociologist Fernand Dumont essentially said the same thing: attending boarding school in Québec City at the beginning of the Second World War, he had no clue how a telephone worked until he was 17. At home in Montmorency, there just weren’t any. A voyage across physical space often equals a trip through time. Dumont compared this double travel to a kind of emigration.

Pierrefonds in the 1990s was not rural Québec in the 1940s, granted, but you may be surprised to hear, as the non-driver I was—we all want to be different in some way; in my case I refused to get my licence—the frankly astonishing amounts of time I spent waiting. At 6:45 a.m., a yellow bus picked me up at home and dropped me at the high school in Senneville, at Montréal’s westernmost extremity, before going to get the elementary school kids. The result: an hour of nothing to do before class. Every weekend, 12 km by bike round trip for swim class and three and a half hours by train to watch a 90-minute movie. Fifty minutes on foot to get ice cream at the grocery store. Forty kilometers to go to a pool party in Pincourt.

These experiences create in the mind of a young resident of Montréal’s sprawl tolerance for a ridiculous ratio between time spent getting to and waiting for an activity and time spent on the activity itself. It makes for a life better suited to the suburbs than to the urban centre, and you will find more people strolling along boulevards in the areas just outside the city than in Baudelaire’s Paris.

This habit of relativizing time persists in my adult life, which I spend crisscrossing this lovely country to share my modest wisdom about modern literature with Anglophone students. On a VIA Rail train, which I ride as a Privilège member, I’m indistinguishable from the teenager on the Deux-Montagnes–Gare Central line (Roxboro-Pierrefonds station), accompanied by a pile of books and music, patiently waiting to arrive somewhere.

Shopping Mall

Violaine Charest-Sigouin
Growing up in Montréal North, Violaine Charest-Sigouin escaped through novels and shopping. Now she lives by her pen writing for magazines and travels as much for pleasure as for work.

The Montréal North of my childhood was a garden of delights—whole days in the pool and munching cherry tomatoes in the backyard. Our property was so big it contained two homes, ours and a little cottage where my grandmother spent her summers.

But this garden of delights, as magnificent as it was, wasn’t enough. Even at a very young age, I wanted to explore the world. When I was five, this manifested itself as trips to the Léger-Langelier Mall, and I remember my fascination with the conveyor belt at Provigo, which transported grocery bags out to cars in the parking lot.

Soon I was to discover that the world was vast and included even larger shopping malls, such as Place Bourassa. At 11, I went every evening with my friends. I never bought anything. The feverish joy of wandering around was sufficient.

It was around the age of 15 when I became a real little consumer. Countless times I rode nearly the entire 33 Langelier bus route to get to a veritable palace of consumerism, Place Versailles. But that was before I discovered true paradise, Saint Catherine Street. To get there, I had to take the 48 Perras bus, the orange line on the metro, then the green line. When night fell, I was often willing to repeat this lengthy journey to go out to Foufounes Électriques. Sometimes I went home on the night bus, which meant I had to walk 15 minutes along Langelier Boulevard. It never occurred to me that it might be dangerous for a girl my age to walk alone at three a.m.

When my mom, who had by then become the head of a single-parent family, had to sell our house, I felt no sadness—I was much too impatient to move into our new apartment, next to the Henri-Bourassa metro station. I was finally getting closer to downtown!

Today shopping is no longer one of my favourite activities. I live in Mile End, where everything is so close that I can get around on foot or by bike. Nevertheless, I’m always ready to take the interminable bus trip to my childhood garden of delights.


Nicolas Langelier
Nicolas Langelier is the editor-in-chief of Nouveau Projet. For 20 years, he lived in the East End and despite the last 20 years in Mile End, he still has the impression that home is on the other side of the bridge-tunnel

Montréal was born at the water’s edge (you could almost say in the water, as floods were so frequent until the early 20th century). But around 1850, the commercial and industrial nature of what we now call Old Montréal asserted itself, and the population slowly moved away. The wealthiest moved up, toward Mount Royal with its orchards and clean air, while the vast majority dispersed to neighbourhoods in the west, east and north, separated from the river by warehouses, factories, and railroad tracks. Then was born the concept of Montréal-that-turns-away-from-the-river.

Little by little, though, the island’s other shores saw their populations grow, and a water-centric existence developed. From Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue to Pointe-aux-Trembles, from Dorval to Ahuntsic, the river is never very far from Montrealers who live away from downtown. The river is at once a point of reference, a playground, an excuse to meditate and an ill-advised invitation to water-ski. Industrial and human pollution during the second half of the 20th century sometimes impeded this interaction, but for several decades the water quality in the Saint Lawrence and the Rivière des Prairies has steadily improved, and those activities are regaining their former popularity.

I spent the first seven years of my life on the banks of the Rivière des Prairies and 35 years later I can still perfectly recall its smell, its colours, its warmth in July, the hum of the hovercraft icebreaker in spring, and its quiet presence at the end of Delphis-Delorme Street. As teenagers, we’d go around to the other side of the Point and make bonfires and do magic mushrooms on the shore, or we’d drink rivers of beer at the Repentigny Marina, and that was a kind of aquatic life.

I often visited the embankment at Rivière-des-Prairies where, in July 1690, 25 colonists ambushed a hundred or so Iroquois warriors who were passing through on their way to attack Montréal. I liked this idea of the Bout-de-l’Île as an outpost protecting the city, and I think I kind of still see it that way—as a place where we keep watch for what’s coming down the river, squinting and with a hand shielding our eyes, the summer sun forming millions of diamonds on the water’s surface.

Loading dock on the Saint Lawrence, East End.


Jonathan Livernois
Jonathan Livernois is a professor of literature at Université Laval and an essayist. He’s recently published our Document 09, La route du Pays-Brûlé. He lived in Tétreaultville from 2001 to 2010.

The story in brief: the old village of Longue-Pointe, opulent second homes (like George-Étienne Cartier’s Limoilou estate), the streetcar to Bout-de-l’Île in 1897, the division of Hector Vinet and Pierre Tétreault’s lands (which created Tétreaultville in 1907), Dominion Amusement Park from 1906 to 1937, the factories, the port, the Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine Bridge-Tunnel. And Saint-Jean-de-Dieu Hospital, with Émile Nelligan inside, not very far.

The story of Montréal’s east end illustrates how rapidly the whole city industrialized. Between the village and the factory, between Longue-Pointe and its destruction to make room for the bridge-tunnel, there is barely a trace. There’s a kind of bareness, as if events unfolded too quickly to leave a mark. Two or three 18th-century homes remain, including one in which American Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allan was locked up, whose troops tried to take Montréal by coming ashore at Longue-Pointe in September 1775. There isn’t much left to tell the tale, apart from a park called “Parc de la Capture-d’Ethan-Allen” at one end of the Bellerive boardwalk. You have to visit Vermont to learn more.

Why live in Tétreaultville, Montréal’s big backyard, a sort of vacant lot that’s paradoxically inhabited? The almost disconcerting ordinariness of the place means it’s mostly people who were born here, or who worked or still work here. There are some decent parts of the neighbourhood, north of Sherbrooke Street near Ville d’Anjou, for example. But even there, the smells of factories and timeworn facades are -never very far, reminding us that we’ll never be Brossard.

Moreover, choosing to live in Tétreaultville means choosing (or being chosen by) the Saint Lawrence. Poet Fernand Ouellette recalled all the drowning victims from his childhood, bobbing to the surface, washing ashore in the springtime, which he’d collect with the family motorboat. The dead from last winter (such as René Derouin’s father and brother), the bare edifices (no flashy churches or buildings like in Maisonneuve), factories making (or no longer making) things we’ll never know—it is and always has been the same no-holds-barred contact with reality that keeps many, despite everything, in Tétreaultville.

As Serge Bouchard wrote, “What happens to us, real east-end Montrealers, is vital; we see the world as it is, as it’s evolving, what it’s becoming. […] Openings, closings, modern history is unfolding right before our eyes, on our backs and carried by our brave shoulders.”

Bus stop, Valois Bay, Pointe-Claire.


Eric Deguire
Eric Deguire grew up in Beaconsfield. Today he teaches history and French at adult education centres in Dorval and Lasalle, which regularly brings him back to his native West Island.

Highway 20 westbound, and I’m driving along peacefully in my 2002 Ford Taurus. The exits appear one after the other—in Lachine, there’s 32nd Avenue, then 55th, with Dorval Avenue right after, then Sources, Saint John’s, and finally Saint Charles. I head north and turn left at Sherbrooke, then right on Woodside. Back home, to Beaconsfield.

This familiar trip always goes differently, despite certain recurrent elements such as traffic, depression, and orange cones. The radio is tuned to CIBL or CBC, when I’m not listening to one of the CDs kicking around in the back seat.

Even with all the shovelling after two feet of snow, engine failure when the thermometer drops below -30°C, insurance premiums, licence renewal fees, and repairs, this bulky, costly object that is the automobile is also—for those who live in far-flung Montréal suburbs—a source of freedom.

The freedom to cross the island in a matter of minutes, to work in the four corners of the metropolis, to visit Boston, New York City, or Île Perrot, while listening to my music and telling myself stories.

And it was in Beaconsfield that I forged the intimate relationship I still enjoy with my car, against all odds.

Le Gardeur Bridge, Pointe-aux-Trembles.