in the 1940’s and ’50s – PRIME time.
The original book would grab anyone’s attention. It was bright red and had infamous burlesque stripteaser Lily St. Cyr on the cover. Inside was filled with information relived from the good old days of a wide open city that I heard about from my parents who recollected them. My dad wasn’t from Montreal originally (he was born in Russia and moved to Manhattan before settling in Montreal) and my mother’s parents were from Ireland although she grew up in Montreal. My dad especially had a lot of stories – I’ll just leave it at that.
City Unique was written by William Weintraub (who began his career as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette in the 1950’s) and who was a friend of my uncle (who used to write a column for the Montreal Gazette). Weintraub looks at all aspects of life in Montreal in what Mordecai Richler called “an engaging, evocative book about Montreal’s prime-time.”
After reading this intriguing book I mailed it to my mother’s friend in Montreal who I was sure would appreciate and relate to all the insider innuendos. Unfortunately when I phoned about a year later to retrieve the book (which was an original signed copy) she had no recollection of ever having received it. It was on loan from my cousin. When I phoned to reluctantly tell my cousin the news (that she wasn’t getting her book back) I joyfully received another copy in the mail. Maybe not an original signed version with the same cover but, thoughtful and cherished nonetheless.
Montreal in the 1940s and ’50s was Canada’s largest, most vibrant and colourful city. It was even more pulsating than New York. No one could foresee that political and economic factors would cripple the city and send it into a long decline. William Weintraub, writing with insight and affection, brings the Montreal of his youth vividly, entertainingly and wittily to life in this remarkable book. The Montreal he describes was a city with two communities, English and French, who lived separate lives. They met along the dividing line that was “The Main” – St. Lawrence Boulevard and the nearby streets, where gambling joints, bordellos and night clubs prospered, and where striptease artiste Lili St. Cyr became the toast of the town and gangsters raked in profits while the police looked the other way. It was the Montreal of the colourful, charismatic mayor Camillien Houde within the repressive and corrupt Quebec of premier Maurice Duplessis.
I think this book speaks to anyone who grew up in Montreal especially those with adventurous parents who were involved and active within the community. You might not have personally known everyone mentioned but you have heard their names. To me, it was extremely provocative and noteworthy. And things have settled down since…but it will never be the same!
Available on Amazon.com
Wilensky’s, Bens, Ruby Foo’s, Schwartz’s – are Montreal Institutions.
What makes this city the most unique in Canada:
1) Montreal is an Island.
2) Montreal is built on a Mountain.
3) Home to the largest Jazz, Fireworks & “Francofolie” (French Music) Festival.
4) Habitat 67 – created by Israeli-Canadian Architect Moshe Safdie, is a structure unlike any other in the world. I didn’t say it was nice looking, just unusual.
5) Montreal has one of the largest underground networks in the world. You could literally live underground.
6) The Metro system is one of the best and definitely Canada’s busiest.
7) Enormous Art & Graffiti Culture.
8) Great Shopping and still has the most Stylish Women in all of Canada (maybe North America and possibly the world).
Photos: from images