Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not a Garden in a City, but a City in a Garden

In the centre of the island of Montreal there's a most congenial residential area, a "garden city" of fine homes, leafy streets and well-maintained parks, an oasis surrounded by an ocean of the typical three-storey apartment blocks that uniquely identify the City of Montreal. The Town of Mount Royal (TMR), or "The Town", occupies no more than two-and-a-half square miles and holds just over eighteen thousand residents,yet it has its place in the Quebec political landscape, particularly during the early years of the province's separatist government.

Created in 1912, TMR began as the gleam in a railroad land developer's eye.
Two years previously, The Canadian Northern Railway discreetly purchased some 4,800 acres of farmland north of Montreal's Mount Royal with the intention of building a "model city". Its streets were to be patterned after those of Washington D.C.-- essentially two main boulevards crossing through a central park--the brain-child, if not of the Capital's L'Enfant, then that of the Canadian Northern's chief engineer Henry K. Wicksteed.

Although no more than a hamlet surrounded by vegetable gardens, the community grew once the Canadian Northern finished its three-mile-long tunnel linking it with downtown Montreal. In its infancy, The Town was noted more for its melons--the celebrated "Montreal Melon" exported to New York, Chicago, and New England--than for its executive and professional residents.

It was in the 1950s that The Town reached its heyday, filling up with cottages, split-levels and semi-detached houses, its streets bustling with children, playing baseball in the summer and street-hockey and snowball fights in the winter. The men from this largely Anglophone and Protestant place took the train under the mountain to jobs in manufacturing, banking or insurance firm downtown, the women stayed at home and the newly-erected schools housed the children. The place had the air of a small town, with life revolving around school, church and recreational centre. French-speaking Montreal seemed a universe away.

"Is the fence there to keep the English in or the French

By the mid-Seventies, The Town's demographic had evolved into 40% Anglophone, 40% Francophone and 12% Jewish. However, it was perceived by the more unreflective elements in the media to be an Anglo bastion. At the time of the accession of the separatist Parti Quebecois provincial government, attention was paid to the fence and shrubbery on the Town's eastern border with working-class park extension, whose presence, it was averred, was to isolate (English) TMR from (French) Park Extension.

I remember being cross-examined on the matter by a young sepratist three weeks into my first job as a reporter for Bell Canada.

Tennis Court in Center of Town

Lawn Bowling Club, Center of Town

No comments: