Walking Tour of Literary Montreal

It was under a beaming sun and with the distant sound of far-too-expensive cars that our fourth and final mRb event took place. A great opportunity to discover bits of Montreal’s literary past as well as its current landscape, our Walking Tour of Literary Montreal took some 20 eager walkers through the streets of Mile End.

We started at Parc du Portugal, where, hoping to catch a glimpse of Leonard Cohen, we listened to poet Angela Leuck read haikus – her own as well as Cohen’s. Wearing a kimono and holding a Japanese parasol, Leuck even regaled the audience with homemade sushi.

Moving on from our private Zen Poetry Festival, we followed our guide, Kate Browne, to Steve Luxton’s apartment where Yann Martel finished the award-winning Life of Pi. Not having Martel on hand, we asked actor Davide Chiazzese to read an excerpt of the first chapter.

On the way up to Mont-Royal, we stopped in front of the old Jewish Public Library where we discovered that there once was a striving Yiddish literary community in Montreal.  Sadly few of these works have been translated into English. After Kate’s call for Yiddish translators to work on these forgotten pieces, Davide read a translated poem of Jacob Isaac Segal.

Next stop? A most unromantic coffee shop: a good old Canadian Tim Horton’s. That’s where Steve Luxton, poet and editor of DC Books, works every day. In the back corner, we gathered around Luxton to hear two poems on de Bullion Street, making us rediscover the forgotten strip. Isn’t that what poetry does best?

Cat Kidd. Photo by Tiffany Crotogino.

After poetry, we moved on to the spoken word scene. We were greeted at Casa del Popolo by none other than Ian Ferrier who invited us to the small stage at the back of the room. There, we found out about the spoken word scene and the importance of Casa del Popolo in making monthly spoken word events possible. We had the opportunity to see a short performance by Cat Kidd (her outstanding Sea Peach) and by Ian himself.

On our way to the English-Montreal Plateau icon, we stopped off in front of a church to hear what the French-Montreal Plateau icon, Michel Tremblay, had to say about prohibited books. Sweating in his black suit, Davide entertained the group with an excerpt from Tremblay’s La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte.

What would a walking tour of Mile End be without a Mordecai Richler stop? A very poor tour indeed. So we deviated slightly from our trajectory up Saint-Laurent to stop off in front of Wilensky’s on Fairmount. Wilensky’s is closed on Sundays, but we were able to peer though the darkened windows and look at the old-fashioned décor while Davide read an excerpt of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.

Back on Saint-Laurent, we made our way to Monastriaki for a taste of the underground literary scene. There, Billy Mavreas, owner of the gallery and co-founder of Expozine, told us about Expozine before reading excerpts from his own work. We also had the great pleasure of hearing J. B. Staniforth explain how he started his zine Querencia.

Our last stop was at D&Q bookstore, where refreshments and tote bags filled with books, were waiting for us. There, we found out about the graphic novel scene in Montreal.

From the feedback we received, I believe that a good time was had by all. I’d like to thank all the writers, poets and artists who participated in the tour. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to discover Mile End’s vibrant literary scene and for them to unveil their art outside of their usual audience. By the number of people who signed up for Ian Ferrier’s email list, I’d like to believe that there will be more people at the next Words & Music event.

Thanks to all the participants and to Kate, a most energetic guide. Thanks to Canadian Heritage for the grant. That was unfortunately our last literary event of the year, but please note that the mRb will be turning 15 in the fall and that we will be organizing a party!