Sounding Griffintown: where the streets tell stories

Through an immersive sound walk, Griffintown refuses to be forgotten.

Griffintown is a shadow of what it used to be. The once vibrant Montreal neighbourhood transformed into a bleak industrial area in the 70s before becoming the seemingly hip sector it is today. This new look comes with the weight of yet another unique community that fell victim to the city’s gentrification. Thankfully, there is a way to experience the neighbourhood as it used to be: by checking out “Sounding Griffintown.” 

“Sounding Griffintown: A Listening Guide of a Montreal Neighbourhood” is the thesis project of Concordia graduate Lisa Gasior. It consists of nine tracks that vary in length from under a minute to 10 minutes; each one immerses the listener in sounds of Griffintown as they follow a map of the streets. The tracks incorporate interviews from people who grew up in the area, recounting stories of their upbringing in rich detail and personal anecdotes. Through sound and the visual landscape, a vivid picture is painted. All you need is a pair of headphones, a phone, and a data connection. Anyone can access “Sounding Griffintown” by checking out the webpage.

The walk begins at the busy corner of Peel and Notre-Dame. From there, listeners are invited to follow the pace set by an echo of footsteps in the background of the soundscape. 

Intimate details are offered like precious heirlooms. At the Dow Brewery, for example, a man’s voice explains how he and his friends used to sneak up on the roof and dangle from the edge. Later, another voice speaks about the lively community of the Griffintown Girls and Boys Club where all the teenagers would hang out. While there were good times, there are difficult memories too. On Shannon street, the interviewees recount the event of the 1944 plane crash that destroyed a three-storey building and killed 15 people; later, we are told about the brutal murder of Mary Gallagher, whose ghost allegedly still roams the streets. The walk ends on a bittersweet note at the ruins of St Ann’s church, which was a community hub until its demolition in 1970. 

When neighbourhoods are forced to develop, their rich history often gets swept away. It’s important to uncover these histories and explore the backstories of our neighbourhoods in order to better understand the context of our living situations and how we got to the place we are now. 

The deterioration of Griffintown was no accident. In the early 20th century, the neighbourhood consisted of predominantly working-class Irish and Southern European immigrants. In preparation for Expo ‘67, the city made an active effort to push out these communities to eliminate what they viewed as an ‘eyesore’. The Bonaventure Expressway was extended and hundreds of homes were demolished, which turned Griffintown into a lifeless industrial sector in the 70s . The landscape changed again in 2013, when the Quartier Innovation Montréal project launched an effort to revitalize the neighbourhood and introduce new artistic and economic developments. 

As a result, Griffintown is now considered up-and-coming—but at what cost? The Griffintown of today may be shiny, but its rich history has been buried under condo developments and swanky restaurants. The gentrification of Montreal neighbourhoods is a major issue, and Griffintown is just one example. 

Unfortunately we can’t reverse time, but we can always learn the backstories of the spaces we inhabit. We should of course delve deeper as well, as Sounding Griffintown fails to include Indigenous perspectives and only spotlights certain voices; the soundwalk is a place to start, but definitely not a comprehensive history.

 If you’re curious or if you simply want to know a bit more about the city, I suggest taking some time out of your day to check out “Sounding Griffintown.” Grab a pair of headphones and listen to what the streets are telling you. 


Montreal: a city as racially divisive as any other

Cinema Politica screened Dear Jackie, a telling film about Montreal’s Black history

Dear Jackie is organized as a letter to Jackie Robinson, the first African American professional baseball player. This letter serves as a narration of the context of the film, over images of the city. 

Though Robinson’s story is that of success, his storyline is only a pretext to talk about the broader context of discrimination against Black folks in Canada, and specifically Montreal. 

Director Henri Pardo noted during the Q&A session:

“My intent was not to talk about certain things that I am personally tired of talking about. I didn’t want to talk about racism, I wanted to find out about the people in the neighbourhood”. 

Black people were resigned to only settling in a single neighborhood of Montreal in the 1940s, that of Little Burgundy. It was coined the “Harlem of the North.” 

This film depicts the injustices faced by Black people in Montreal and the changing architectural landscape of Little Burgundy, and how it has changed up to today. 

In the 1960s, when the government built a highway cutting off parts of the neighbourhood, they razed over 400 Black homes, leaving hundreds of people in the streets. 

Today, Little Burgundy is one of the most gentrified neighbourhoods in Montreal. 

Pardo wanted to raise awareness of the little-known history of Black struggles in Quebec, as a call to action.

The film was in black-and-white, which served as a ground for the universalization of experience, where colour could not be understood as a means for separation. 

From a journalist’s perspective, there were clear visual obstacles. The story in of itself, though historically valuable, had an odd angle. 

There was very little archival footage of Little Burgundy and the medium of narration through epistolary form felt forced and almost out of place, as few images of Robinson concretely appeared on screen. 

It would have been interesting to centre interviews of people who lived in Little Burgundy, rather than minimal archival footage that has very little connection to the area. 

The community centre NCC kept on coming up, but there was next to no archival footage of it. People’s spoken words dit not fit the images that were displayed on screen, which made the film at times hard to watch. 

Cinema Politica seeks to not only screen important political films but to also relate community organizations in Montreal that advocate for the causes demonstrated in their films. Representative of organizations such as Brick by Brick and one of their sub-groups Plan Accueil discussed their work in trying to make housing more accessible. 


Where should Montreal plant its coveted 500,000 trees?

The city’s government must find a place for the urban forest it promises by 2030

As Christmas trees begin gradually disappearing from windows this time of year, the opposite may soon be true for trees just outside them. With an urban forest in mind and a shovel in hand, will Montreal’s government be planting near you?

The city’s Climate Plan is promising half a million more trees on the island by 2030. However,  as the Government of Canada’s website explains, large-scale tree planting is often not as simple as it sounds. It involves ensuring that “the right tree is planted in the right place, for the right reasons.”

Determining the right place when it comes to tree planting is something that Carly Ziter, urban ecologist and assistant professor at Concordia University’s Department of Biology, is wholeheartedly invested in. Ziter’s research focuses on “ecosystem services,” or the services that flora could provide to people within urban environments.

“One of the reasons I focus on urban areas is that you are providing benefits directly to people where they live,” said Ziter, who had cycled to the university’s greener Loyola campus despite the snowy start to the November day. “Things like reducing temperature during heat waves, reducing flooding, improving air quality, improving mental health and wellbeing.”

The tree oath is part of the city’s vision for a “green Montreal,” with a three-pronged mission: to combat climate change, bolster the ecological resilience of the island, and improve quality of life for residents.

As a part of that tree oath, Soverdi, a tree-planting non-profit organization based in Montreal, will be planting 200,000 of those trees on non-municipal land, which takes up 66 per cent of the city’s total land area according to Soverdi’s General Manager Malin Anagrius. Private and institutional land is Soverdi’s main focus, explained Anagrius, and a greening of Montreal cannot be possible if there is an exclusive focus on parks, or cutting through sidewalk pavement to plant trees.

“That’s the traditional tree planting when you think about trees. It’s either the side of the street or in the forest,” said Anagrius. “But what we do is that we try to see it otherwise and try to make a little mini forest behind different kinds of land.”

The non-profit collaborates with boroughs, land owners, and companies to fund the sprouting of these mini forests in locations such as schools, hospitals, and industrial areas.

“Trees can be integrated into a lot of different spaces,” explained Ziter, “and so even if we don’t have enough space for, you know, a larger green space or a park or a garden, we might have enough space to plant a tree.”

In spite of its versatility, the location of a tree is paramount to maximizing its benefits and can present several challenges, as outlined in Montreal’s 2021 Nature and Sports Plan. One challenge is the “availability of required spaces for planting.” The government is also committed to identifying and planting trees in zones which are vulnerable to heat waves, since greening would help prevent overheating.

For Christopher Vaccarella, president of Concordia’s Political Science Student Association, the question of place was an easy one to answer. In keeping with the association’s first sustainability policy, Vaccarella and his partners successfully planted 250 trees in Montreal last year.

“​​All of our tree planting projects were in elementary schools,” shared Vaccarella proudly, sitting at a Second Cup Café in downtown Montreal. He donned a forest-green fleece jacket, a colour absent from the storefronts of many cafés downtown.

“But what I found interesting was all of them are in the East End, which is what we preferred because that’s an area neglected by the city.”

Vaccarella’s heavy endorsement of planting trees in the east comes as no surprise. Just this October, a CBC article analyzing a 2015 study on Montreal’s tree canopy revealed significant disparities across the island. The wealthier neighbourhood of Mount Royal, with its median income of $110,000, boasted a 40 per cent canopy cover. In the east, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and its median income of $40,000 had a canopy cover of just 11 per cent. Reasons mentioned in the analysis  include real estate values, lot sizes, and differences in property tax revenue.

“If I had 500,000 trees in Montreal, I would certainly focus on improving what we sometimes call tree equity,” said Ziter. “[We should] focus on reducing some of those disparities in the canopy cover and ensuring that low canopy, low green space areas did receive the majority of those trees.”

Soverdi is doing their best to ensure just that, as their operations continue taking root in areas like the east end of Montreal.

“It costs a lot more too, to plant in the city than to plant in [a] rural environment,” said Anagrius, whose organization Soverdi has planted 85,000 trees in Montreal since 2014. Trees need to be bigger in order to withstand a metropolis’ tougher conditions, and in many cases, obstacles like asphalt have to be removed to make planting possible.

Location also breeds all sorts of complex decisions concerning appropriate tree species, Ziter explained.

But greener may not always be better. Vaccarella expressed worries over eco-gentrification, a phenomenon that associates greening with snowballing real estate and rent values.

“Just here,” Vaccarella claimed, pointing to the grey pavement adjacent to the Second Cup coffee shop. “You can fill that with a tree and it’ll probably shoot up the market value by a couple of hundred bucks.”

Indeed, when announcing the $1.8 billion greening project in May, Mayor Valérie Plante emphasized the allure of an urban forest for tourists and investors. The greening is a point of focus in the city’s post-pandemic recovery plan, which could exacerbate government-led gentrification.

“One thing that’s really important is thinking about, as we implement greening projects or policies, are we also thinking about corresponding social mechanisms or policies that will help people to stay in their communities?” asked Ziter. She believes that these mechanisms could include rent freezes, subsidies, and a more community-led approach.

Still, that disparity may be bridged with the city’s development of 110 km of “green corridors” connecting large parks and living spaces across the island. One of those corridors will branch out from Bois-de-Saraguay Park in Ahuntsic-Cartierville to Angrignon Park in Le Sud-Ouest.

“You’re going to get a lot more people that can access that kind of thin strip of green space than if you had that same amount of land kind of condensed in, you know, a square or a circle where it’s really only serving people in that particular area,” said Ziter.

This “linear greening” would also benefit wildlife as the corridors create safe paths for their city-wide movements. For the urban ecologists, the location of a tree should not only have humans in mind. “I would also want to think about areas where we could try and maximize the impact for both people and other biodiversity,” explained Ziter.

Towards the end of last year, tragic events in British Columbia concerning the knock-on effects of wildfires, floods, and deadly mudslides have once again drawn attention to issues of soil stability. Reforesting is one viable solution, though it represents a vastly different and much larger scale of tree planting according to Ziter.

Anagrius hopes the topic of reforestation will be addressed by the federal government and their own 2030 arboreal aspirations.

“With the two billion trees project from the federal government, I think there’s enough trees for everyone,” said Anagrius. “We just have to find the space to plant them.”



Visuals by Madeline Schmidt

Concordia Student Union News

CSU fighting for student building

Hopes went down for the Concordia Student Union (CSU) when learning a few weeks back that the last potential building to accommodate student housing was being replaced by a condo project.

The building, located on the corner of Mackay St., was once home to Mizan Gourmet, a Mediterranean supermarket, and Copy Concordia, among other shops and restaurants. It will be demolished any day now.

“We got an email that the building was bought, that it’s going to be torn down and that it’s going to be turned into a condo building,” said CSU President Chris Kalafatidis. “The reason why we’re so offended by this building is that once it goes up it’s over. It can never be undone.”

The building is said to be 20-storey high.

“To put things in context, JMSB is less than 20 storeys,” said Kalafatidis. “This is going to be the tallest object and it’s going to be in the middle of our campus.”

Kalafatidis is also concerned by the lack of infrastructure Concordia offers its students as well as its professors. According to Kalafatidis, students should have more welcoming infrastructures to hang out in and feel attached to their university.

However, Concordia replied in an email to The Concordian that in the past years, the university has invested in the construction and renovation of infrastructure such as the PERFORM center in 2011, EV building in 2005, and JMSB in 2009.

The building cornering Maisonneuve and Mackay St. was of interest to the CSU to achieve a long living goal: a student building. Not only would it serve to house all Concordia clubs, but would also feature things such as places to hang out, restaurants run by students, and maybe even a movie theatre, according to Kalafatidis.

He says such a project would be feasible.

We have the money [to pay for the building] because back in early 2000 we established a fund called the SSAELC fund,” said Kalafatidis. SSAELC stands for Student Space, Accessible Education, and Legal Contingency. “The purpose of this fund is to buy a club building and now it’s acquired enough wealth where we can actually do that.”

Following Concordia’s historical expansion, such a building would also serve as a way to build a campus proper to the university. Unlike many others, Concordia’s Sir-George-Williams campus is not a traditional distinct campus. Located in the middle of Montreal’s downtown, the university shares its location with dozens of shops and restaurants. Concordia’s ‘natural expansion,’ as defined by Kalafatidis, was foreshadowing a potential campus of its own; yet, hopes of achieving it went down.

“Ideally, Concordia will buy more in the area and slowly build what McGill already has: a campus of our own,” said Kalafatidis. “And now instead of getting more campus, or maybe green space where students can hang out, we’re getting a giant building.”

In an interview with CTV, Kalafatidis said the CSU is willing to take action and escalate the situation to the municipal government level. They are also hoping Concordia will join forces in the cause.


Photo by Kayla-Marie Turriciano

Student Life

Collective intervention is needed

Everyone, especially artists, are economic agents for deregulation and gentrification

In a dimly lit basement, at the end of meandering halls beneath the performance hall of the Rialto Theatre, an eclectic group of concerned citizens gathered to openly discuss the nexus of artists, real estate inflation and shifting cultural demographics.

Gentrification: The Role of Artists in Changing Neighbourhoods took place on Saturday, Sept. 29 as part of a collaboration between POP Montreal Symposium and Concordia’s Fine Art Student Alliance (FASA). The array of panelists included both artists and those who work with non-profit social housing organizations and as community organizers in neighbourhoods affected by gentrification.

Cathy Inouye, a musician who has fought against many issues related to housing and poverty for more than 10 years, opened her segment by saying that an important thing to remember when talking about gentrification is that human beings are losing their homes or being evicted from their apartments. Faiz Abhuani, the co-founder of Brique Par Brique, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create affordable living spaces for marginalized people, agreed.

“I think it’s important to start with that baseline,” he said. “The reason why we’re talking about this is because there are real effects on real people.”

Gentrification is a multi-faceted issue that “happens across the city, not just in areas where artists are moving,” Inouye said. Abhuani contextualized the historic development of gentrification with artists and the North American economic shift over the last century from industrial labour services to cultural forms of production.

“People thought: ‘I really need to be around the people I’m like’ … and ‘I need to be close to places where culture is produced,’” Abhuani said. He explained that this economic shift prompted those with sufficient financial means to migrate to urban centres. These ongoing demographic migrations, from a capitalist-marketing standpoint, continue to justify urban development in regions that push people from lower-income brackets out of their homes.

“The people who benefit from these changes and from these large economic forces are the people who have means,” Abhuani said. “And the people who don’t [have financial means] are the ones who end up biting the bullet [and] having to move around.”

In gentrification, the role of artists—in this case, referring to individuals with the social status and capital to make a career from their art—lies in the fact that mass migration to more affordable neighbourhoods creates economic speculation, explained Fred Burrill, a Concordia PhD student who currently works with local non-profit organizations to fight for the right to housing in Place St-Henri.

“[Speculation] is a very intentional, state-driven process of changing the ways that [housing] investment is configured,” Burrill said. Speculation increases the property value in a community, and the demographic shift brought by artists provides local governments with a marketable, discursive framework that justifies their desire for urban development in alleged “up-and-coming” communities.

According to Burrill, the goal of speculation is to “turn the housing market from something that is based on supply and demand to something that is essentially a concrete manifestation of the stock market.” He used Griffintown in Montreal as an example. “[Artists] are all actively part of an ideological apparatus that’s used to justify deregulation.”

Artists often positively frame their contributions to the cultural fabric of a neighbourhood as genuinely representative of that community and reflective of their deep connection to its residents. However, Abhuani said this is a dangerous mentality because artists with social status are able to sell this culturally appropriated art and capitalize on it, while those without esteemed social status cannot. “So, maybe you shouldn’t do that, number one. Number two, why are you [in that neighbourhood]?” asked Abhuani. “You’re not there in a vacuum … You’re not just trying to create. You’re not just trying to survive. You’re trying to get ahead.”

All of the panelists agreed that the presence of artists in low-income neighbourhoods brings systemic gentrification to the community through selective state investment in development projects because cities want to support cultural hubs. Although artists may also be affected by rental increases and have to leave the neighbourhood, Abhuani explained, many of them not only have the social capital to relocate, “but they like doing that; they want to be on the forefront [of living] in certain neighborhoods.”

Inouye shared an observation from when she lived in New Orleans as a tuba player in 2012. “You could really see the mostly white kids from New York or from San Francisco moving in,” she explained. “You could see this hunger that people had to kind of own that beautiful magic that exists in New Orleans, and you could see them really wanting to connect with the community that had been there—the community that had lived through Katrina … You could really see this process unfolding, and it was so similar to colonialism.”

Inouye added that while it isn’t bad to want to connect with a given community, it is necessary to keep in mind how different people occupy the space in that community and how social and physical capital change the way people interact with that space.

Most concerned artists will ask themselves, “What can I do, as an artist, to fight against gentrification?” which, Burrill explained, is the wrong question. Artists and people in general should simply ask what needs to be done, without placing the individual at the epicentre of change. While the panelists agreed that gentrification can be throttled through the acquisition of real estate and income disparity can be bridged by wealth redistribution, concrete plans to combat these systemic issues still aren’t being enacted.

Despite some differences of opinion between the panelists, they all seemed to agree that one of the first steps to combating gentrification is community mobilization. Burrill explained that there tends to be an element of individualism when talking about the housing market and gentrification, with arguments such as encouraging better knowledge of tenant rights to avoid eviction and to fairly rent out living spaces.

“What actually needs to happen is that we need to intervene collectively in the [housing] market,” Burrill said. This would entail the city buying empty lots, removing them from the realm of speculation and reserving them for social housing projects, he explained. That, or artists can literally make their neighbourhoods more ugly, he said as a joke. “Beautification of neighborhoods without collective intervention in the housing market is simply a tool of development.”

Main photo by Alex Hutchins


How gentrification affects the local music scene

A conversation about underground music and art of DIY venues at POP Montreal

A jam-packed room on St-Urbain Street played host to a rare discussion during POP Montreal on Sept. 17 about the struggle Montreal musicians face in the wake of gentrification.

Famous for its one-of-a-kind art scene, Montreal has also garnered a reputation for its boundless local music scene. However, even in a world where creativity flows free, artists say it’s hard to ignore how much gentrification has changed the city. Venues close, struggling musicians move away, new residents complain about noise.

Out of these struggles arose a DIY music culture. Tired of the exhausting requirements associated with owning a venue, artists found ways to open venues without the proper permits, making them illegal. It’s a throwback to New York City in the 60s––a bustling, crowded stage where bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash got their start.

While this creates a myriad of legal problems, artists often feel they have no choice but to create a place to hone their craft. Yet, with the rise of gentrification in Montreal neighbourhoods, these legendary places are disappearing. What was once a welcoming, art-driven environment for DIY venues is becoming a concrete jungle of new condos and overpriced coffee shops. The artists move away and the music that once dominated a region goes with them.

“If the [venues] are all gone, where are artists going to play?” asked Sybil Bell in an interview with The Concordian. She’s the creator of Independent Music Week, a festival promoting small venues around the U.K. featuring new local bands.

“They need to [learn their craft] in a small venue,” she said. “They have to be able to make mistakes, learn what it means to go on tour and learn how to deal with people. Without that, there just won’t be a new chance with other artists coming through.”

Katie Jensen, the moderator of the POP Montreal panel, recalled the moment she realized developers were affecting small and DIY venues in her hometown of Toronto. She has been producing a monthly art, music and food event called Feats in the East for the last six years. In that time, she’s had to change venues six times, as they closed one by one.

“That’s when I realized about the venue crisis we were having in Toronto,” she said. “I started paying attention to these conversations that were being had between venue owners and community members. That really got my interest.”

There is no record of how many Montreal venues have closed over the years, but many musicians claim it’s something they observe every day, and it isn’t simply because of the rising rent costs. Panelist and McGill professor of urban media studies, Will Straw, explained that a key issue is newcomers to newly-gentrified neighbourhoods.

“They come to the neighbourhoods and don’t like the presence of music—so they make noise complaints,” he said.

Bell pointed out that, without legal or DIY venues, Montreal’s music scene wouldn’t be the same. Grassroots musicians would have no way of developing their sound or performing for an audience.

“If you’re driving to work and listening to music, where did that music come from?” she asked. “It’s from a band that started out at a small venue, got good and got signed.”

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

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