Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Verdun Mystery

It's only four blocks long.

The street is lined with walk-up apartments on either side in that quintessential Montreal design. Red or brown brick and black iron. Balconies facing the street.

I knew that when I was born, my parents lived in an apartment in Verdun, in one of Montreal's many suburbs, but I didn't know that we lived in two apartments on the same street. Same building: one bottom-floor unit and one on the top floor.

The only photo that I have of myself when I lived on 5th Avenue is of me sitting in a simple wooden rocking horse. I'm seemingly alone, on the balcony, overlooking the street below. At least, I thought it was of me in that apartment: after this weekend, I'm not so sure.

I was with DW and one of my oldest friends, Stu. The three of us arranged a photo walk and decided to meet on the terrace at McAuslan Brewery, where I had been just the Saturday before. We had a pint, ate lunch, chatted, and then headed out.

We crossed the canal that divides Saint Henri—where the brewery lies—from Ville Emard and Verdun at Rue Saint-Rémi, and then crossed another canal via Rue de l'Eglise. A right turn onto Rue Bannantyne and then a left, onto 5th, and we found a parking spot immediately on the left-hand side of this one-way street.

The buildings looked exactly as I imagined them: three-storied walkups. We got out of the car and walked on the north side of the street, following the direction of traffic.

I phoned my mom, hoping that she could remember the address of the apartment. By the time I reached her, my companions and I had reached the intersection of 5th and Rue de Verdun. "No," my mom said, we lived closer to Bannantyne. We were directly across the street from a convent. The address was five hundred and something, but I don't remember exactly: that was over 50 years ago."

The five hundreds were closest to Rue Verdun, but I paid heed to her words: it had been more than a half-century ago. I was going to walk back toward Bannantyne and look for the all-revealing convent.

Heading west, past Bannantyne, however, raised more doubt. The apartment buildings, though still lining the street, were now only two stories high and were not walkups. They had balconies, but they appeared to be smaller. On the south side of the street, we found a school, another building that looked like it could have been a secondary school in the past but was now a fitness complex, and a community centre that was once a Catholic institute, possibly a convent.

It certainly looked institutional.

The buildings across the street weren't right. They didn't match the building that I sat on in that 1966 photo.

Looking at that old black and white, I can also see that the parked cars are faced such that the balcony must have been on the south side of the street. The cars would have only moved westward, as the street is narrow and one-way.

If my mother was correct, that we lived in a five-hundred block unit, we could have been on the south side of the street, but we would have been closer to Verdun Road. Interestingly enough, there is a church on the northwest corner of that intersection, and there is a small building off to the side, along the north side of 5th Avenue, that is across the street from those 500-series buildings.

It was a long time ago. Either my mother is mistaken about the nearest cross street or about the address. Perhaps the photo of me on the balcony wasn't shot in our apartment: my great-aunt, Mae, lived a few blocks away. I didn't have her address so I couldn't look for her apartment. If she lived in a three-storied walkup and we were visiting, perhaps the photo was taken there.

I'm determined to find the apartment. This weekend's photo walk was great. We explored Atwater Market, Saint Henri, and Griffintown, which had a lot of interesting subjects for photography. I plan to return, soon.

This time, I hope to find answers.

Update: after reading this post, my mother called me to clarify some points. It seems that I misunderstood her when she said that we lived in two flats on 5th Avenue. I thought she had said that we had been in the same building: that's not the case.

Initially, we lived on the second floor of the two-storied units that were directly across from the convent (that very institutional-looking building with the cross above the door). Some time later, my Aunt Mae, who lived in the three-storied buildings between Bannantyne and Verdun streets, told my parents of a vacancy next door, and they relocated to that unit, which is where I was photographed all those years ago.

My aunt moved to another apartment, in Ville Lasalle, years later (by which point, we had moved to Dorval and then to Ottawa).

Mystery solved.

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