If you are a Main Street Exile you are in for quite a shock. On the the menu now you have a mixture of restaurants, many restaurants. Mind you, some are quite good. Add plenty of colored plastic and some neon signs. And of course the creeping-up-everywhere condos. But the best part is the locals who still dare to roam the street as if it belonged to them. And this has always been the best part of the Main. The beautiful people of the Main. Beautiful because they are real.
This area is ever changing. Most of the observations date back to 2005. Some of the photos are also from the same era.
Old Montreal is a contrast of old and modern. When modern comes to mind one has a tendency of thinking in terms of buildings. There is one such building on the main : The new Court House.*
But fortunately there is a good number of grand old buildings in old Montreal. One example is the old La Presse building on the Main.*
It has kept its character and place of honour. Modernity here co-habits with urban decay. This was evident near St Lawrence Street on Notre Dame, 2005. One can also see it on St Lawrence and St Antoine Street.
On the Northwest corner was once a Tavern.
*St Laurence, Craig 1910, 2005*
No longer so. Just north on the Main one can see the feisty old Tabagie Cintro. I haven’t been there, but the shopkeeper must be one tough cookie. Sad looking corner.*
The restaurant besides it is shut down. *
The Brewery Mission takes the rest of the block up to the lane. This is the haven for some of the local homeless people.*
There is hope. Take for example the grim-looking Themis Building. It is being turned into luxurious condos. Along the same lines, one day some of the transients will be turned into gentlemen if we invest as enthusiastically on them as we spend on old buildings.*
I have asked myself: Where is the soul of Old Montreal. Once the municipal and provincial offices are shut down what is left? An urban ghost. During the summer maybe a few tourists. No grocery stores. Nowhere is there a pharmacy. Restaurants mostly for tourists. Where do you buy clothes doing your lunch hour. Not here. Office supplies. Not here. Plants for your office not here. A computer. Not here. Somehow we have invented a disposable district. We use it during the day and in the evening it stops existing.*
The area is seeing a transformation. To the east and west of the Main we can see signs of revitalization. Condominiums have sprouted left and right. There are financial organisations and the Convention Center that are adding to the activity. But there is something still missing. We cannot hear the heart beat.*
But despair not. Just walk a few hundred feet North on the Main and you are in a new vibrant land: China Town. China Town is an enchanted land that taunts old Montreal. It is a dragon full of energy and exotism.
It is quite invigorating to hear all the chatter of the ethnic shoppers. The movement of the hands, the piercing laughter. The high pitched voices, followed by long drawn syllables. I can’t understand a thing they say. Perhaps I should have taken Mandarin lessons instead of Spanish.
One easily sees that this is an area where Asians do their shopping. There are several grocery stores here.*
And of course the restaurants. Quite busy around here.*
Some of them are hidden from the blind eye. This is especially true on the side streets off the Main. You can eat at a not -so Chinese restaurant. Here you would never find a real Chinese customer. So be adventurous and go into a restaurant where there are few Caucasian customers. Would be helpful if you went along with a Chinese friend. He might know what best to order.
Typical to this bustling zone are the for sale signs. Quite a few buildings are for sale. Don’t quite know the reason for this situation. Perhaps real estate values in the area are on the rise. Or there is a contraction of Montreal China Town in favor of the newer China Town on the South Shore. *
In addition to grocery stores and restaurants one can spot several jewellery stores that double up as money exchange centers.*
There are stores that sell oriental music. Dried seafood can be found in several places. *
If Chinese tea is your bag this is the place to find your favorites. And let us not forget the Chinese Medicinal Herbal Teas available at some of the specialised shops.*
From Sherbrooke Street to Mont-Royal is the heart of the Main of yesteryear. Many old faces gone. The old fish market is no more, used to be on the east side near St Cuthbert I believe. Now Warsaw is gone and replaced by a Plastic and Fluorescent Pharmacy. *
Across from the no-more Warsaw is the venerable closed down pasted up Old European Bakery.*
I confess I don’t have many photos of Schwartz Deli. For some reason I have been only taking pictures of the West side of the street. But Schwartz has great food. You’ll really like this dive if you like to have your food thrown at you. And the last time I was there the best part of the décor was the mustard on the rye bread. But the pilgrims do line up. *
There is at least one exception to the west side only.
I have actually taken pictures of Simcha’s Grocery Store. Could not resist. This place is oozing in charm and nostalgia. Just look at the outside. You will notice a fresh tattoo applied to the side wall. You will also notice old wounds incurred in the Sign Language War. The inside of the store offers you the sights and smells of days gone by. And the cash register is ancient and noisy and is manned by an old warrior of the Main. He stoops and he coughs, but the pride in his face illuminates his store more that all the plasto-fluorescent voltage of all the new arrivals.*
Across from Simcha’s is another old Main Street establishment: L Berson & Sons, Monument Maker.
This is an absolutely unexpected sight. How did this firm hold on to this piece of estate for so long?*
Let us welcome the newly arrived entrepreneurs.
You will notice the contribution of the Middle East, Asian, and Portuguese immigrants. Champs Sports Bar caters to the local crowd as well as the out of town sports aficionados. *
You can see new Asian and Middle East eateries.
At the corner of St Lawrence and Duluth sits Friperie St Laurent. They sell second hand clothes from the 60’s and 70’s. If you watch carefully you will notice some of the old timers walking the street wearing exactly that style: the same checkered shirts, the flashy ties, and the Frank Sinatra black hat. *