Day Fifty Nine: Pieces of the Past, Present, and Future - Grampies Go 50 for 50 - CycleBlaze

November 18, 2017

Day Fifty Nine: Pieces of the Past, Present, and Future

Montreal used to be a divided city. On the east side, the French people lived, and on the West, the English. Sandwiched in the middle were the immigrants, starting from about 1900. The acknowledged dividing line was St. Lawrence Boulevard, and the immigrants could be found on the few streets just a little east and west of that. There are about six streets to the east, before Rue St Denis. St. Denis was an absolute cut-off point. And there are about six streets to the west, before Av. du Parc. After that, you were up against the mountain, Mont. Royal. One of those streets was St. Urbain. This was immortalized in Mordecai Richler's St Urbain's Horseman, which later became a movie and a TV series.

The first wave of immigration to the St. Lawrence area was of Jewish people, fleeing repression in eastern Europe. Later waves included Greek, Italian, Portugese, and Vietnamese.

People who have a real academic knowledge may well challenge these impressions of mine with real statistics, but this is how it looked to me, on the street.

The Jewish people established bakeries, groceries, butcher shops, delicatessens, and even a gravestone factory along St. Lawrence, which was also known as "The Main". But as happened in all of Canada, the immigrants - or their children or grandchildren - established themselves and moved away from the initial landing pad. For a while, they would nostalgically return to the old neighbourhood, and patronize the shops. But in time, the shops faded away.

But not all faded away. One that stayed was Schwartz's - The Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. What happened was that the French people, always lovers of good food, adopted it as their own. Without changing the traditions and importantly, the recipes, or even the décor, they became the majority of the customers, and even staffers, aided, it seemed, by Greek and other immigrants. Finally, in a move much feared at the time but since proven to have been OK, the place was bought in 2012 by French Canadian pop diva Celine Dion.

The only real change that we could see was that in the list of "celebrities that ate here" on the paper place mats, Celine Dion is number one. We know this because daughter Laurie and her husband Dave arrived this day from Seattle for a quick visit, and Schwartz's is always on the list for any visit.

This time, it was a history and nostalgia "double header", since the Leafs were playing the Canadiens downtown. During the time of the great English/French divide in Quebec, it was the French that got the short end of the economic stick. Perhaps hockey offered some a way out, and of course the usually frozen Quebec countryside was anyway an ideal incubator for hockey players. So it came to pass that Quebec produced the majority of great players. Even the English community managed to throw up a few greats on their own.

The Canadiens (which is French for French-canadians) are also known as the Habs, short for habitants, the name for the earliest settlers in Quebec. The team was founded in 1909 and is the oldest continually operating hockey team there is. Their hayday was 1953-79, which also happens to correspond to my impressionable childhood and young adulthood. In Quebec, a Canadiens star had pretty much the same status as the Pope.

But over on English Canada, way off in protestant Toronto lurked the Toronto Maple Leafs, the arch rivals. The voice of the Canadiens (on radio and later TV) was Rene Lecavalier and the voice of the Leafs was Foster Hewitt. We hated Foster Hewitt.

At Schwartz's -packed as usual. Note the red Canadiens sweaters coexisting with the blue of the Leafs.
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The classic Schwartz's smoked meat sandwich. The friendly waiter is a bit unusual. His excuse: "I'm new".
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At Schwartz's
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Smoked briskets in the front window.
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Some of this must surely have rubbed off onto our kids, because Laurie paid $140 each for four tickets to the game.

Very quickly though, the signs of change were apparent. We were in Schwartz's and indeed all was as before (except for Celine on the placemat). The place was of course full, but with the early hour and cold temperatures outside, there was at least no line on the sidewalk. Among the customers were those in hockey sweaters, since clearly we were not the only ones who planned to come here and then take the Metro to the rink. But among the sweaters was a fair, even an equal number of Leafs sweaters. And later, at the rink (Bell Centre) , there was also an equal number of Leafs sweaters.

Mix of sweaters in the stands
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This is the 100th anniversary year of the National Hockey League. They brought out some of the greats from the past. Here, from left to right Denis Savard, Yvon Cournoyer, and Frank Mahovlich.
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Hockey remains an important part of Canadian culture.
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Action in front of the Canadiens's net.
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Fortunately, Canadiens/Leafs French/English fighting is quite rare now, even on the ice.
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Wearing the Leaf's colours in Montreal?
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This thing about the sweaters is a deep, deep, part of Canadian history. The short story "The Sweater" was written by Roch Carrier in 1979, about his own experience in 1946. It was originally titled ""Une abominable feuille d'érable sur la glace" ("An abominable maple leaf on the ice"). It's about a kid in Quebec that is forced to wear a Leafs sweater to the rink. The horror and trauma of this, at the time, would be just the same as wearing the symbols of one religion into the house of worship of another.

Have a look at the animated short narrated by the author, it is so great!:

Maybe it's better that this division no longer exists in Canada. But hey, how can we absorb this: The Leafs beat the Canadiens 6-0 tonight!

This bittersweet note is a good place to end this historical and current blog. We will add one last song, from an album appropriately called "Off the Map", sung by Scottish immigrant Archie Fisher and with Canadian great fiddler Garnet Rogers. But don't be mislead. The final line says "never again would we ride together". This is totally not the plan. Grampies will ride again. Remember to send us a note to get updates on when that will be.

Until next time!

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