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Morning rush hour doesn’t really happen in Shaughnessy Village. But at some point the storefronts that are rented in this largely vacant section of Ste. Catherine St. come alive, the curbside parking spots on residential streets turn over and the din of pigeon coos is drowned out by other urban street sounds.

 

Lines of speeding cars skim the neighbourhood on its western and eastern edges on Atwater Ave. and Guy St. while a lone delivery truck full of beer cuts through, along an empty stretch of Ste. Catherine.

 

To strangers, there is no neighbourhood between Westmount and the downtown core. There is only a morass of neon “open” signs, sex shops, fleeting restaurants and panhandlers.

 

As the black night sky fades to a first grey light, an elderly woman braves the morning chill and strolls across Cabot Square before the drunks and the drug dealers settle in for the day. Nearby, a trickle of people march in different directions on cracked sidewalks toward offices and the Atwater and Guy métro stations.

 

On Seymour Ave., a short stretch of Victorian row houses between Ste. Catherine and René Lévesque Blvd., three members of Adel Hanna’s work crew bound up the wood front steps of a broad greystone they’re renovating into an array of small apartments. Hanna, a structural engineering professor who develops small real-estate projects in his spare time, hopes to begin renting them this summer.

 

He works at Concordia University, a five-minute walk away. But since he’s not working this day, Hanna has shown up early to greet and brief the crew, a task usually left to his site manager.

 

From Hanna’s vantage point, the two-year odyssey to transform the building that once served as a nuns’ residence into what he describes as high-end bachelorettes has been a struggle against a mind-boggling array of provincial and municipal regulations.

 

It seems he can’t even haul trash out of the building without getting a fine because he isn’t a licensed tradesman. And the bin for construction refuse in the tiny front yard can’t block the sidewalk, so that nets $500 tickets from passing municipal inspectors.

 

Yet the two years have felt just as long for his neighbours, who’ve put up with dirt and racket while the four-floor building’s interior was gutted and debris was flung out the windows. The rumour was the place would be subdivided into 60 apartments. In reality it’s 35, but that’s still enough to make the neighbours wonder whether their street is returning to the bad old days of rooming houses.

 

Lately, Hanna and the neighbours have reached a truce after he explained his plan to rent to visiting professors and students. It’s better than an abandoned firetrap.

 

And so both sides now hold their breath.

 

That same mix of apprehension and hope found on Seymour can be said to be running through all of Shaughnessy Village.

 

From the edge of the Sulpician Fathers’ estate on Sherbrooke St. down to René Lévesque, where the century-old Franciscan Church succumbed to fire in February, it is a neighbourhood on the verge of something. Whether that something is good or bad remains unclear to the 13,000 people who call Shaughnessy Village home.

 

The entire neighbourhood began with middle-class wealth and hope more than a century ago, then descended into poverty, drugs and neglect. It appeared to be on the cusp of rising again a few times over the past 25 years, but it never made it. Now Shaughnessy Village is a neighbourhood of extremes, of rich and poor, of young and old, and of renewal and blight. And the people who make up this village – the seniors, the homeowners, the students, the merchants, the young parents and the homeless – shape it according to conflicting interests.

 

The festering corpse of the former Seville Theatre at Ste. Catherine and Chomedey Sts., which closed in 1985, taunts the neighbourhood, the most obvious symbol of its neglect and decay. Across the street, the former Omer DeSerres art-supply storefront has been empty since 2005. Metres away, Astral Media will move its head office east to Place Montreal Trust this summer. The downtown merchants’ association estimates the stretch of Ste. Catherine between Chomedey St. and Atwater Ave. is 50-per-cent vacant.

 

Many people who live here believe that if the depth of people’s aspirations, the draw of central location and the strength of history were the only factors that counted, then Shaughnessy Village would be as successful today as New York’s Greenwich Village.

 

But it’s profitability, commercial viability and market fluctuations that rule, and they have created a cycle of ruin that begets more ruin.

 

And while it hasn’t been all bad news in Shaughnessy Village for the last 25 years, the achievements have never caught up to the ever accumulating setbacks.

 

Few cities in North America have a residential neighbourhood downtown, and even more rarely do they have one with such a large concentration of Victorian-era homes. But Shaughnessy Village’s uniqueness has made it an aberration that local authorities seem unable or unwilling to grasp. Their only consistent action has been to ignore the area.

 

No other residential neighbourhood in Montreal can claim it has no sports and leisure facilities, no public library, no community centre, no elementary school, no children’s playground – not even a basketball hoop.

 

The neighbourhood didn’t even have a name until residents came up with Shaughnessy Village when they formed the Shaughnessy Village Association in 1981. They borrowed the name from the mansion where railway baron Lord Thomas Shaughnessy lived in the late 19th century and that is today part of the Canadian Centre for Architecture on René Lévesque.

 

Still, throughout any given day, as people like Hanna bring this neighbourhood to life, a common feeling comes across. There is hope.

 

One local community organizer sums up Shaughnessy Village as an incomplete neighbourhood. It needs the three levels of government and the largest property owners in the area to act. It also needs a determined community that will help push it over the edge.

 

sss

 

Two streets north of where Hanna watches his crew, a woman bundled in a winter coat unlocks the door of a laundromat on Chomedey, just above Ste. Catherine, and then re-emerges a few minutes later wearing thick gloves to scoop up pieces of brown glass from the sidewalk. She empties the debris into a garbage bag that will add to the pile wrapped around a skinny tree. The garbage truck is due this morning.

 

The mess of broken glass is nothing compared to what it’s like on mornings in the summer.

 

The transients who congregate here, in the shadow of the Seville, start drinking by midday. By early afternoon, they’re drunk. And the party usually ends with broken bottles, brawls and sex in a laneway beside a row of 1870s multiplexes, or in a parking lot behind them. The people in this neighbourhood say it’s prostitution; the police call it sex between homeless people.

 

Isabelle Fougnies and her husband have lived on Chomedey for 20 years. They raised their son here. Yet for the last five years, Chomedey hasn’t felt like their street.

 

“It’s a community that’s camping on our land here,” Fougnies says. “And they say, ‘It’s our land’ to us.

 

“The police pass, but don’t stop even if there are drunk people. They don’t know what to do with them.”

 

At any time, five to 20 people, some homeless and some who are boarded in the area, squat on Chomedey, drinking beer, smoking crack, defecating and urinating and pestering passersby for money.

 

Is it any wonder people have left?

 

While the city of Montreal saw a 2.3-per-cent population increase between the 2001 and 2006 censuses, Shaughnessy Village went in the other direction, shrinking by 2.2 per cent, an examination of the Canadian census tracts that make up the neighbourhood reveals. And while the current apartment vacancy rate in the borough is 2.5 per cent, it’s 4.1 per cent in Shaughnessy Village.

 

Shaughnessy Village is the place where byproducts of failed or unwritten government policies – on housing, crime, homelessness, mental health and crises in aboriginal communities – walk the streets.

 

It’s the place where city hall’s talk of creating communities centred around public transit and the densification of the inner core is just talk. And it’s where municipal regulations penalize the people who want to improve the neighbourhood and never seem to apply to those who cause it the greatest harm.

 

The Quebec government stripped the 78,000 residents of the Ville Marie borough of their right to elect a borough mayor and two of their five councillors through legislation last year. Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who won re-election in November, is now automatically the mayor of the borough as well and got to appoint two councillors from other parts of the city to the Ville Marie borough council.

 

So these residents can’t vote out the local borough council if it doesn’t do its job properly.

 

Still, Fougnies says, she doesn’t want to leave.

 

“I don’t need a car. I can do everything by foot,” she says. “I don’t know why I should move.” Her family lived on Tupper St. for 10 years before moving the few blocks to Chomedey. “It’s a nice place to live, but we need to be respected.”

 

sss

 

Richard Morris opened a chic women’s fashion boutique, Blu berry, on Ste. Catherine, near the corner of Chomedey, three years ago.

 

“I have to phone the police every few days just because of people drinking or doing drugs in front of my store or robbing somebody or screaming or yelling or causing havoc in the neighbourhood.”

 

He has no doubt the Seville block that’s entirely boarded up has damaged the neighbourhood, just as he has no doubt a long-awaited $100-million project by its current owner, Claridge Properties Ltd., to build high-rise towers with student housing will go a long way to repair it. But the project, approved by the city council last year, is held up and Claridge won’t speak to the neighbours or to the media to explain why.

 

Morris’s store is busy from spring to fall as the weather lures people onto Ste. Catherine for a stroll. But the Seville project would plunk 1,200 students next door. A clause in Morris’s lease calls for a 20-per-cent spike in the rent on his 450-square-foot shop if and when the project gets built. “If that was finished, there’d be no more loitering in this neighbourhood. The whole thing would change within a year or two.”

 

But can one commercial project be a magic wand?

 

Morris, who has spent most of his 40 years in the fashion trade, started with a clothing cart in the Faubourg Ste. Catherine at Guy St. when the mall opened in the 1980s.

 

Everyone had high expectations the Faubourg would revive moribund western Ste. Catherine. But while the Faubourg was bustling in its early days, it later fizzled. And the big revival never came.

 

sss

 

Margaret Galland has a clear view of the Ste. Catherine/Chomedey intersection from her one-bedroom flat in a high-rise government subsidized housing building for seniors on Tupper St.

 

The wavy line of Mount Royal stretches across Galland’s living-room window. The abandoned Seville block is below that, taunting Galland. The front wall is shored up by steel joists angled over the Ste. Catherine sidewalk and covered over with boards to form a tunnel, a monument to the failure of the city’s heritage designation, given in 1990, to preserve anything but the building’s facade.

 

The tunnel is a magnet for panhandlers and so Galland is afraid to go by there. She’s also afraid to enter Cabot Square past 8 or 9 in the morning, even though it’s a shortcut to the Alexis Nihon Plaza at Atwater and Ste. Catherine, where the seniors from Galland’s building head. By 9 a.m., “the gangs,” as she calls them, start to inhabit the square. She’s got her crosswords and jigsaw puzzles to keep her occupied at home.

 

Galland is in fact her maiden name, while Margaret is a middle name. She’s a breast cancer survivor and has been fending for herself ever since her husband died young and left her with two children. Yet she refuses to allow the married name she’s gone by for the last 65 years to be published in the newspaper because she’s afraid of the people who hang out in the area.

 

“I’m 87 years old. So at my age, I’ve been through a lot and I’ve seen a lot. I have to be careful.”

 

If Cabot Square only feels unsafe, the sidewalks around it truly are. Over the last three years, several residents in Galland’s HLM have fallen and hit their heads or twisted their ankles in the holes on Ste. Catherine and on a wide crack in the sidewalk in front of a gas station on Lambert-Closse St., around the corner from the residence. The residents told each of the candidates who visited the HLM during last fall’s municipal election campaign.

 

“But nothing’s been done,” Galland says.

 

***

 

It’s 2 p.m., and the sky is blue. Lizzie walks out of the Chez Doris day shelter on Chomedey and into Cabot Square with two other women. One of them, clad in a pristine white ski jacket, is also Inuit. The other is a tall blonde with pink cheeks.

 

The authorities say that most of the Inuit people in this neighbourhood come to Montreal to get medical treatment or to accompany children receiving treatment at the Montreal Children’s Hospital at Tupper and Atwater, and get lured onto the street.

 

But Lizzie, who says she’s 41, fled a violent relationship in the North 27 years ago.

 

The trio greets Pamela, a street patrol counsellor from the Native Friendship Centre who is Inuit herself. Lizzie asks whether Pamela can bring her some mail from home. She’ll try, Pamela answers.

 

“So are you pregnant?” Pamela asks the tall blonde.

 

“Yeah, but I don’t know if I’m going to keep it,” the woman responds.

 

Lizzie is mostly oblivious to the people in the houses around here, but knows they’re complaining about Chez Doris.

 

“People say ‘Oh it must be so hard’. But here they are complaining. Are they there to help us? I say, ‘Shut up. We know what we’re doing. We’re okay.’ Humans judge others without knowing who they are.”

 

She yanks the pull tab on a tall can of beer that’s concealed in a brown paper bag and takes a sip. She sits down on the top step of a statue in the middle of the square and unzips her pale green ski jacket while her companions wander off to the Atwater métro kiosk. Her black hair peaks out from a pink knit cap she got at the shelter.

 

“We’ve become a huge family. We’re 80 or over 100,” she says of the transients. “Even white people. It’s another kind of society.”

 

Lizzie insists she doesn’t sell her body, though men offer her money. But she won’t say how she got the beer or the cigarette pack she’s holding since she’s not working or panhandling.

 

She lights a Viceroy. “Right now, I’m enjoying this beautiful day,” she says. “I smell summertime coming.”

 

sss

 

At 5 p.m., cars stream through the centre of Shaughnessy Village along Fort St., heading south toward René Lévesque, which will quickly take them out of the village and home.

 

Yu-Hui Yu is home alone playing with her 20-month-old son Samuel after a day of work.

 

While he tries to master the TV remote, his father, Lin Zhang, starts his first evening in a new part-time restaurant job to supplement Yu’s salary.

 

She’s an executive administrative assistant with the Concordia Students’ Union. During the day, Zhang works towards a diploma in dental hygiene. Once he finishes his studies later this year and finds work, it’ll be Yu’s turn to go back to school to get a certificate in accounting.

 

The couple, who married in 2003, are living in the one-bedroom apartment high-rise on de Maisonneuve near Guy where Yu has lived since she was a psychology major at Concordia back in 1999. Samuel’s crib is next to the couple’s canopy bed, which doubles at the moment as a place to hang laundry. Since they’ll be living on one income for the next while, the dream of buying a house in Brossard has been put off for a few more years, Yu says.

 

Even so, they plan to look for a bigger apartment this summer, ideally in what Yu calls as a family-friendly suburb.

 

They don’t want to leave downtown, she says. But there are no available subsidized daycare spaces downtown, and there’s no public elementary school near Shaughnessy Village for when Samuel will be ready to start kindergarten.

 

Yu’s parents recently moved into the apartment next door to help care for Samuel. But they have no park to take him to, so he spends most of the day inside, playing with other children on his floor.

 

“Oh my God, green space?” Yu asks. “It’s practically nada. Zero. We have to bring him to Mount Royal. And it’s quite a distance to walk there.”

 

***

 

Back on Seymour, Hanna’s work crew is gone for the day. Once the units are ready to rent, the building will have a manager and outdoor surveillance cameras, Hanna says.

 

Across the street, Toni Bramley is trying to remain optimistic.

 

She drew a radius on a map of downtown to find a home when she and her husband moved back to Montreal six years ago. They settled on a greystone on Seymour. Most of the interior had been gutted already but it gave Bramley, an architect, an opportunity to roll up her sleeves.

 

The back lane between Seymour and Tupper St. was the scene of drug deals and prostitution when they moved in. It has improved thanks to the efforts of the residents and the city to dissuade the dealers from plying their trade there.

 

“I’ve seen such improvement in the less than six years I’ve been here,” Bramley says. “I’m optimistic that this part of the city will play a major role in the future of the city. It’s just finding its way there.”

 

(Courtesy of The Montreal Gazette)

 

This is the first part of three. Plus you get more visuals in the paper today.

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J'adore lire les articles qui parlent sur les différents quartiers de Montréal, qui sont parfois oublié ou sinon presque inconnu, cela nous fait découvrir notre propre ville qui déborde de ce genre d'endroit. Meme si l'on passe parfois dans un coin précis il faut avouer que c'est loin d'etre suffisant pour bien connaitre le coin.

 

Le potentiel de Shaughnessy Village est énorme. Premièrement sa situation géographique entre le Centre-Ville et Westmount est plus qu'excellente et rien que cela devrait lui assurer son succès. Il borde aussi la rue Ste-Catherine, Maisonneuve et Sherbrooke en plus d'y trouver deux stations de métro, une partie de l'université Concordia et une densification assez exceptionnelle.

 

Pourtant ca ne lève pas. Le Faubourg Ste-Catherine est désolant, comme le dit l'article, et le Forum ne constitue pas un ''must'', sans oublier le quadilatère du Séville qui est en décrépitude.

 

Allez M. Bronfman, envoyez les pelles pour construire votre projet qui apportera surement à ce quartier ce dont il a besoin pour mieux respirer. Enfin, j'ose croire !!!

 

Bref, ce genre d'article est probablement le meilleur ''coté'' du quotidien ''The Gazette''. C'est d'ailleurs la raison première pour moi d'aller visiter leur site web ou de lire le journal, à l'occasion. Bravo !

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Looking at the Namur-Jean Talon redevelopment as an example, all you need is a couple projects to begin around the same time to start the momentum going.

 

Here is a list of 8 projects that together would help revolutionize the area.

 

-4 Higher-End Condo Projects

1. The Sulpician Fathers’ estate (where the Franciscan Church burnt down in February) which the Sulpician’s would like rezoned as residential.

2. 1800 René-Lévesque which is currently for sale

3. The Subaru dealership on Sainte-Catherine in Westmount (just before Atwater)

4. The Montreal Children’s Hospital

 

- Seville Block Student Residences (of which I think five of the buildings’ street facing walls should be kept because they’d make an excellent piece of street art)

 

-The Concordia Grey Nuns Project (which should also have an eventual impact on the future of the Faubourg)

 

-Build offices on top of the Forum

 

-A community-based project that would include using The Omer des Serres building, the gas station at the corner of Lambert-Closse and Sainte Catherine and the building adjacent to it.

 

As for the ugly apartment buildings scattered throughout, they provide for much needed density, but many are just in major need of some upgrades.

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One thing we can say though is that the problem is NOT a lack of people living in the area. There are tons of people in the streets in that area at all hours, day and night.

 

I think the problem is that there is a lack of middle-class people. Everyone around there is either homeless, poor, a student or a recent immigrant, none of which have much money. I think due to its proximity to downtown, it is ideal for some luxury highrise condominiums. This can easily be done all along Boul. René-Lévesque. The Children's Hospital can be converted into lofts.

 

The Faubourg is an absolute dump. At this point, I think I'm in favour of just bulldozing it entirely and building a new mixed (highrise) residential/commercial project on its place.

 

The area also lacks police, if you ask me. I have rarely seen them in this neighbourhood.

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The Faubourg is an absolute dump. At this point, I think I'm in favour of just bulldozing it entirely and building a new mixed (highrise) residential/commercial project on its place.

 

Maybe not bulldozing it but, if possible, built some residential floors above it and keep the street level similar to what it is because it ain't that bad. It jsut needs some everyday neighborhood life and a better revitalized front.

 

Moi j'ai toujours imaginé un ''big bazaar'' à l'intérieur du faubourg. Un endroit ou non seulement on peu trouver de la nourriture bon marché mais ou les immigrants récents et les étudiants pourraient venir y vendre tout ce dont ils peuvent, autant la guénille que les idées. Un espèce de ''marché au puce'' multi-ethnique et multi-dimensionel.

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Does Concordia own the Faubourg? I know they bought the office building on the corner.

 

Let me check the records.

 

Centre Commercial is owned by EDIFICE 1616 STE CATHERINE OUEST LE FAUBOURG INC

Edited by jesseps
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