Community and the Human Spirit by Dave Flavell
Community and the Human Spirit by Dave Flavell (Petra Books, $24)
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
For many people, the neighborhoods where they grew up and spent their formative lives were not just places to live, but were also a state of mind and an important way of life. This can be said of the three southwestern Montreal communities of Griffintown, Pointe St. Charles and Victoriatown, which was better known as “Goose Village”.
From the 1920s through the 1960s, these three working class Montreal neighborhoods held a special place in the hearts of its former and current residents. They were known for its strategic location near the Lachine Canal, where many heavy industrial companies like Dominion Coal, the Canadian National Railways (CNR), the Darling Brothers Foundry, Stelco, Sherwin Williams Pains and Northern Telecom had their offices and plants located, and where many of its residents found steady employment; it was where such landmarks like St. Ann’s Church and the Victoriatown Boys Club were focal social gathering points; and most important, it was where the idea of a close, tight-knit community was well displayed amongst its hard-working residents, who were mainly of French Canadian, Italian and Irish descent.
Although many of the factories of Pointe St. Charles and Griffintown have been transformed into preppy condos, and Goose Village was expropriated and had all of its buildings demolished by the City of Montreal in 1964, the original sense of community spirit has never left the hearts and minds of its many former residents. And they have been fondly recalled in the book Community and the Human Spirit.
The book is a collection of oral histories by 26 former residents who made either Pointe St. Charles, Griffintown or Goose Village their respective homes where they grew up, played, were educated and found their professional callings. The common thread amongst these highly readable oral accounts was that although they and their families didn’t always have much as their counterparts in such neighborhoods as Westmount, NDG or TMR, the close knit relationships they had with their neighbors, and how they looked after each other in good times or hard times, gave them a sense of richness in their lives that have never left them.
For example, there’s Eddy Nolan, whose love of boxing at the Griffintown Boys’ Club earned him five Golden Glove championships, and later turned his love of sports and community into something good, as he participated in every Terry Fox Run since the beginning, and has raised over $200,000 to combat cancer; there’s former Montreal Fire Department chief Joe Timmons, whose father was a Montreal fireman starting in 1927, and was one of the firemen who fought the tragic fire that was brought about by the crash of an RCAF Liberator bomber in the middle of Griffintown in the spring of 1944, which killed the entire crew of the plane, as well as eight Griffintown residents on the ground; and there was Joe Berlettano, a virtual rock of the Goose Village community during the 50s and 60s, who ran its Boys’ Club at the age of 18 and did so much good for its residents – especially those who were in need – leading up to the Village’s expropriation in 1964.
Coupled with a large selection of rare personal and archival photographs, Community and the Human Spirit is like a fascinating family album of wonderful memories and heartfelt stories of three lost neighborhoods that made up the industrial heart of Montreal for so many decades. And most important, it showed that the heart of Point St. Charles, Griffintown and Goose Village were the people who made their lives there, and showed a genuine care and affection for their hardworking, honest way of life and the people whom they had the privilege to call neighbors and friends.