Published in the Montreal Gazette on May 4, 2013
I suppose it is rather ironic that I chose to live on Montreal’s enchanting Mountain Street the same year that the number one hit on city francophone charts was Renée Claude’s spirited rendition of ‘La rue de la montagne’. The year was 1971 and I was all of twenty-four years of age.
In fact, for nearly three and a half fabulous years, I inhabited a tiny, third floor apartment on the west side of this colourful city centre avenue, just north of de Maisonneuve. Not surprisingly, given my youth, my memories are plentiful, and virtually all of them are of the happy variety.
(below, the author on Mountain Street in October of 1973! In the background can be seen Porto Fino Restaurant and immediately in front of it, Coffee Mill Espresso. It was that very month and year that I started my illustrious career with the PSBGM/EMSB)
Mountain Street, or Rue de la Montagne as it is more commonly known at the moment, has almost always been an attractive and vibrant downtown artery. Running from Wellington Street in Griffintown (where it was once named McCord Street) northward to the slopes of Mount Royal, the road is said to be an ancient aboriginal trail leading to those very same foothills. A quick glance up the avenue provides an unobstructed view of the legendary city lookout, with the celebrated chalet found immediately behind it.
During the hot and humid summer evenings, now so many years ago, I would sit on the ledge of the open window (from which a twenty-four year old would never fall!) and watch the world go by. Friday and Saturday twilights would inevitably provide the most appealing panoramas, what with urban cowboys and cowgirls moving from fashionable restaurants to the countless clubs and trendy discos that sprinkled the neighbourhood.
(below, outside my apartment building, looking north, in December 1974)
And restaurants there were! In the early 1970’s, some of the city’s finest eateries were found on just that one block between Sherbrooke and de Maisonneuve: Porto Fino, Coffee Mill Espresso, Club des Moustaches, La Crépe Bretonne, La Soupière, El Gaucho, Katsura, Quasimodo Bar Resto, Café Martin, and still many others, all provided Montrealers of the day with fine gastronomic experiences. At present, none of them remain, including the esteemed Café Martin that had been at that same location since 1930.
Admittedly, the venerable old street went through a somewhat tumultuous time later in the 1970’s. On August 19, 1976, ‘Le Bourgetel’ (an iconic and well-established pub on the southwest corner of de la Montagne and de Maisonneuve) was, along with several neighbouring structures, totally destroyed by fire. The unfortunate event led to the renewal of much of the block, including the construction of the St. Andrew Tower building, which later became the popular, yet now defunct, Hotel De la Montagne.
A great deal from other realms has gone forward, however, including the prestigious Wray Walton & Wray Funeral Home (Sir Alexander Galt’s old 1859 dwelling) that was converted into Disco ‘1234’ in the late 1970’s. Today, it is the temporary abode of the Queue de Cheval Restaurant while that now famous city dining hall awaits its new, permanent setting in an old nineteenth century greystone on the other side of the road.
In addition, a little further north, the elegant and historic Ogilvy buildings have both survived for over a century at the intersection of St. Catherine Street. On the northeast side of the junction (today, the ‘Forever 21 store’) was to be found, from 1896-1912, the first home to Ogilvy’s, and on the other side of that same corner, the Romanesque Revival edifice with which we are all so familiar in the present time. It was within the confines of this chateau-like configuration that I managed, several times, to lose myself as a young child.
Still yet, from charming boutiques and renowned stores to high-tech hockey arenas, chic restaurants to enticing nightspots, rue de la Montagne has much upon which young people today may build their own precious and lasting memories of one very striking city street.
I sure know I did.
(below, from my apartment window, looking southeast, in February 1975. Note the Playboy Club, long gone, across the street. Still there, however, is the parking lot in the distance)