City Spotlight: The Mile End, Montréal


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City Spotlight: The Mile End, Montréal

The Mile End, contrary to popular belief, is not a mile from any official landmark in Montréal. However, it was, the first important crossroads north of the tollgate at the city limits in 1792. It also lost its name for nearly a century and used to be home to the city’s booming garment district. When you walk north of Montréal’s iconic Park Mount Royal, but not too far East or West, you will happen upon it. At sunset, when the sky is sorbet colored, Park Avenue feels wider.

When you walk west along the train tracks, you can see the best view of the setting sun. In the Mile End, the dregs of downtown always feel far away. If you dip off Park onto Fairmount, St. Viateur, or Bernard, you will find bars, cafés, galleries and small shops. A friend’s rooftop or a patch of grass will offer solace in summer; a café or pub will warm you in winter. The establishments all carry a different air, as do the district’s residents. But, nothing feels out of place and everyone seems to fit in. Here, you can choose a grocery shop for your mood, and in a few months time, the shop-owner will know you by name.

The neighborhood has been recognized, internationally, for its music scene since the 1980’s: Arcade Fire, Bran Van 3000 and Grimes started world famous careers here. Many successful record labels have sprung up in the meantime, such as Arbutus Records and Constellation Records. Small galleries and artist-run centers crop up too, only to be quickly filled with local art. Drawn and Quarterly is the neighborhood’s own famous independent publishing house, while Phonopolis is the neighbourhood record shop.

There is one neighbourhood florist, she will give you a crystal or a small buddha, if you are lucky. The pace of life in the Mile End seduces. Parents pull their children on sleds. Hasidic men bustle to temple, their children play freely in groups. Young musicians and artists drift in and out. Low rents reel people in. The neighbourhood’s creative energy has its own ebbs and flows. The obstacle of money does not infringe on creative practices. Nothing feels unfeasible when you are surrounded by the eager and the talented, and do not have to pay through the nose for accommodation or a studio.

At one point most residents of the Mile End did not speak English, or French. A mix of immigrant populations settled here long before the students and Anglo-artists, who still come for the artistic community, the cheap studio space and the affordable rent. Today, many young families live here too. The array of privately owned establishments offers a mix of the new and longstanding cultural influences, which is perhaps the best thing about the neighborhood.

It is diverse and dense. It is not uncommon to overhear a Greek man and a French man switch between English and French as they discuss Latin politics over Italian espresso. Sub-cultures collide in dark after-hours music venues. Queer dance bars, vintage stores, temples and schools neighbour each other.

Unlike many quickly gentrifying neighborhoods, the Mile End is quaint and quiet enough to still feel intimate as it transforms over time. You can still feel near to alone in many of the local parks, but you may run into a friend on any given street corner on your way home. Later that day, you may hear several different languages in the span of a few minutes.

In the Mile End, there is a sense of people living close together, but not competitively. The bakeries like the bookstores seem to quietly rely on and find pride in their differences, as do those that call this neighborhood home. What results is an odd form of harmony, a neighbourhood that seems to accept its ebbs and flows as markers of time, rather than signifiers of capitalist growth or decline.

by Zoe Koke
Gloobbi Contributor based in Montréal

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