Exploring Ville-Émard

Updated: May 9, 2018


Yesterday, I joined Joyce Pillarella – oral historian, graphic designer and educator - and a group of other walkers interested in learned more about the history of Italians in Ville-Emard on a walking tour/scavenger hunt of the area.


Joyce led us on a Jane's Walk this beautiful afternoon, and urged us to think about Ville-Emard and our own in neighbourhoods in different ways. We had to think about concepts, reflecting on the past, present and future of the community to try to understand the relationship between the landscape and the people. We tried to find images of power, community, intimacy, repurposing, change, safety, danger, ethnic identity and relationships throughout Ville-Emard. We were also encouraged to think of smells and sounds, in order to engage our senses.


We then ended the tour at Aj's Bar on Jolicoeur, with some cold coffee and soda, to discuss our findings.


Joyce does one of these walks every year, and I highly encourage you to check it out when you can. There are tons more organized by the Centre d'écologie urbaine de Montréal in different areas, too.


We started in the famous laneways of Ville-Emard, where children used to play under the watchful eye of the neighbourhood "detectives" (family members and friends looking out from their backyards or kitchen windows). Joyce explained how this is very much the perfect symbol for the duality that existed in Italian culture at the time: the front of the house was very consciously presented, meanwhile people were more casual in their backyards. People were also able to communicate easily, because they weren't hidden behind tall, wooden fences typical in other neighbourhoods. We talked about intimacy, community and the relationship between public and private.


We moved to a fenced in yard. There used to be a school there, then the Italians turned it into bocce courts, and now it's open green space - repurposing at its best.


We stopped by the "grease pole" near S. Giovanni Bosco church. During festivals, Italians used to grease up this pole and put prizes at the top. Boys used to work together to reach these prizes, which obviously included things like sausage, beer and mortadella.

Then there was Pino Sport on the corner of Dumas and Joliceour: a store that has survived throughout the years. Nothing is priced, nothing is merchandised: super old school. The window display showcased everything from teacups, to wooden spoons, to tools and plastic bins.

We ended the tour on Mazarin street. Every house is different in texture, size, height and style.


Many thanks to Joyce for a super informative, inspiring and, as always, interesting afternoon.


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