From ghetto to gentrified, HoMa is a lesson in history
Whether you call it Hochelaga, Hochelag, HoMa, or by its full name, one thing is sure: this ‘hood’s got history. Back in the late 19th century, the area was considered a French working-class neighbourhood. In the 1980s, it eventually earned the qualifiers of “social welfare” and “ghetto” by the forked tongues of the city. Somehow, 20 years later, the neighbourhood has enjoyed a fresh boost. Was it a city effort? Or gentrification? Probably a mixture of both.
As I walk through the neighbourhood, it is quite interesting to see all the relics of the past. At 4951 Ontario St. E., corner of Viau St., stands a gigantic red brick building. Not only does the brick seem worn, but the prominent doors on each side read “Fondée 1867” and “Érigée 1906.”
What used to be here? According to Écomusée du fier monde, In 1867, Charles-Théodore Viau opened a bakery on Notre-Dame St. That very same year, he created a cookie he named “Village.” The cookie would know fast fame and, soon enough, the enterprise became one of the biggest cookie factories in Canada. In 1907, the factory moved to Ontario St., corner 1st Ave. (later renamed Viau St.), with modern and mechanized features, which helped with productivity and profitability. The Viau family sold the business in 1967. In 2001, Dare Foods bought the factory, and it closed in 2004. Today, nobody doubts the impact of the Viau family and its cookies on Quebec society. Seeing important patrimonial value in the building, the Viau cookie factory became a real estate project in 2007, and was transformed into condominiums. And maybe if you close your eyes and imagine hard enough, you’ll be able to catch a whiff of chocolate still floating around…
Walking west and turning on Morgan Ave., surprising buildings will catch your eye. They contrast with the simpler buildings and houses of the neighbourhood. The City of Maisonneuve—which was a city of its own from 1883 until 1918, when it was annexed to Montreal—had grandiose ideas. Maisonneuve’s urban project, inspired by the City Beautiful movement, was designed by American architect Frederick Gage Todd, who made Montreal his adopted city, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. Gage Todd is the man behind Mount Royal’s Beaver Lake and Île Sainte-Hélène park, built in 1938 and 1936, respectively, to name a few. The idea was to create a very long avenue, with a leafy median strip, where buildings showcasing refined architecture would be erected. For financial and technical reasons, the project could not be entirely realized. At least we can still enjoy Marius Dufresne’s great pieces of architecture: the Maisonneuve market and the Maisonneuve public baths, which both come from the Beaux-Arts and Second Empire schools. In front of these buildings, two marvellous sculptures by the well-known Alfred Laliberté can also be admired. The most recognized is surely Les Petits Baigneurs, a Beaux-Arts cast bronze sculpture-fountain that is incorporated into the façade of the public baths.
Walking down to the corner of Letourneux Ave. is reminiscent of Chicago. Here, you will see a building that will remind you of some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural creations. Since we are still in the so-called City of Maisonneuve, it won’t be that much of a surprise if I tell you that the building is (again!) a creation of Dufresne. The building, Caserne Letourneux, previously named Poste de pompiers et de police no.1 de Maisonneuve, was built from 1914 to 1915. It has had various purposes throughout the years: police and fire station, park chalet, and production site of Théâtre Sans-Fil, known for its giant puppets. As of a few months ago, the caserne’s future was strongly threatened. Strangely located—this section of Notre-Dame, on the river’s side, is mostly industrial—yet of important value, we could only hope the building would end up in the hands of a caring buyer. This buyer, as it turns out, is the Montreal Impact!
Finally, love it or hate it, I have to mention the Olympic Stadium, with its gigantic park and significant surrounding institutions (Biodôme, Insectarium, Botanical Gardens, Planetarium). I personally love the Olympic Stadium; its architecture, engineering, and planning represented colossal challenges when it was built in the ‘70s—it surely is an important Montreal symbol. Moreover, unlike many other Olympic buildings in the world, Montreal was able to give a second life to the construction. With a capacity of over 60,000 people, the stadium is the only place in the province that can welcome so many people, thus making it the ideal spot for pre-eminent national and international events. Whether it is to attend a sports game, jump and along at a concert, learn more about the solar system or flora and fauna, or admire a panorama of the city from the 45-degree and 165 metre-tall Montreal Tower, it is impossible to deny it: everyone can find an activity they love at the stadium. Besides, things don’t happen only inside, but also outside. In the summer there is always something going on on the Esplanade: Dîner en Blanc, free Montreal Symphony Orchestra concerts, the Jackalope action sports festival, the Color Me Rad 5km run, the Tour de l’Île, the Winter Village… You name it, you’ve got it. Soon enough, food trucks will also crowd the place. You have no excuse to not visit the stadium in the upcoming months.
This article would not be complete if I didn’t mention places where you can satisfy your hunger or unwind after your discovery stroll in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Here are a few of them:
Kazumi Sushi Lounge, 6394 Sherbrooke St. E., is good for tasty sushi amid sophisticated décor—plus it’s BYOW. Culinary critics wandering around Hochelaga-Maisonneuve also often recommend Sata Sushi, 3349 Ontario St. E. Why not try both? Sushi war is on!
Try Le Valois, 25 Simon Valois Square, corner 3809 Ontario St. E., for a chic dinner—think French bistro—in a warm and casual ambience. Modern with throwbacks to Art Deco, the interior design itself is worth a visit. I totally fell in love with the colourful stained glass squares that cover most of the ceiling and run alongside one wall. With wooden panels and a statue holding two luminous globes, the restaurant has a little je ne sais quoi that reminds me of the grand hall of the Titanic. Food-wise, there are interesting things happening, among them foie gras, tartare, smoked fish and delightful wine. For nighthawks, the restaurant offers a late-night menu from 9:30 p.m. that includes an appetizer and a main course for only $22. With the décor and a deal like that, you’re all set for a delicious meal.
Go to Brasserie Le Blind Pig, 3882 Ontario St. E., to welcome a very new spot! In the location of former restaurant-bar Le Chasseur, the new concept is said to be inspired by the southern States. On the menu: essentially finger food and $3 beer—something we don’t see very often in Montreal. I can’t wait to try it out.
So, next time you need a culture fix, head to Hochelaga Maisonneuve. There’s seemingly something—whether old or new— to discover around every corner. With its mix of history and modernity, a walk through Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is indeed a walk through time.