Montreal's Cast of Characters

Is Montreal Canada's happiest city? I have wandered a lot of streets in a lot of different cities in my life and I have never encountered so many happy surprises. Indeed the city does have a "joie de vivre" that doesn't exist in other cities, or perhaps it is just the Holiday (Happy) Season. 

After wandering the streets of the city for the past 10 days Montreal has become my happy place.  I thought Portland and Austin were happy places, but Montreal wins hands down with its crazy cast of characters and shops.  

I am not just speaking of the people, who indeed seem to be happy even in winter when it is snowing but also the many man-made characters I encountered as I wander Montreal's Rues and Avenues.  

I hope these photos will convey to you how Montreal's sense of fun and surprise combine to create a happy sense of place.

 I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.    

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.   

  These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

  Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.    They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.  They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

  This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

  This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.   

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.  

  I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans. 

  These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

  I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

  Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

  Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

  I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

  For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

  Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

 We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

 Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

  Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

  Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

  Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

  Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Last Word

One the the key elements of a "happy city" in my mind is how friendly people are to strangers.  Montrealers couldn't have been more friendly to us.

From the store owner who offered to drive us to the St. Michel Market when we asked if we were going in the right direction (it was just 5 blocks away) to the couple who shared their bottle of wine with us at Les Jardins des Panos restaurant when they realized we didn't bring any wine (it is a bring your own wine only restaurant).  

Or how the young lady working at the LNF vintage store was more than willing to share her hot tips with us on where to get the best finds.  She even gave us her name, phone number and email if we wanted to contact her later. 

Don't believe people when they say Montrealers won't speak to you in English.  We never once encountered a local who when we said "Bonjour, do you speak English" wasn't willing to talk to us in our native tongue. We loved how many Montrealers said with a smile,  "You practice your French and I will practice my English!"  We loved that!

Next year Montreal is celebrating its 375th Anniversary, if you are looking for someplace interesting to visit, Montreal should be at the top of your list.   

For me, Montreal has definitely become one of my happy places.    

If you like this blog, you will like:

Mexico City: Full Of Surprises

Treasure Hunting In Portland 

Austin is more fun than weird

Hillhurst/Sunnyside: Street Art Fun!

Hillhurst/Sunnyside (H/S) community is Calgary’s equivalent to San Francisco’s Haight–Ashbury - a haven for artists, hippies and hipsters.

While every other community surrounding downtown Calgary has been overtaken by new condos and infill homes (i.e. gentrified), much of H/S still is early 20th century cottage homes and small apartment blocks. Especially Sunnyside (east of 10th Street NW and west of Centre Street bridge).  A walk through H/S is a walk back in time. 

Calgary Street Art

One thing I love about flaneuring H/S is the funky street art you find there - in a back alleys, on abandoned buildings, community centre, schools, the side of a retail building and especially in their container park (Yes, they have a park with sea containers used for various performances and events). 

Every time I wander the community I seem to discover another piece of street art.

Link: Calgary graffiti: The good, the bad and reason it’s not all bad. 

Street Art Calgary

Not Public Art

Street art gained popularity during the graffiti art boom in New York City in the ‘70s.  It was then that graffiti evolved from small scribbles or tags to large murals, mostly with cartoon and fantasy-like characters, some with incredible skill and detail.

Originally, street art was often on blank concrete walls in rundown communities, on train and subway cars in derelict spaces.  Today, street art has become trendy.  It is often done with the approval of the landlord and is sometimes done as an anti-graffiti initative (given graffiti taggers often respect the work of street artists and don’t paint over them). 

Street art is to the late 20th early 21st century what murals by artists like Mexico City’s Diego Rivera were to the early 20th century. However, they will never last as long - often disappearing in less than a year. 

Today’s street art is also not considered to be public art as that artist has not received public funds and it is not sanctioned by a public authority. 

Despite/or in spite of this, street art can become a tourist attraction - if there is a critical mass of quality art for visitors to check out. 

Link: History of Train Graffiti

Link: 10 New York Graffiti Legends Still Kicking (Ass) 

  Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

Yes this is the infamous "Trudeau Finger" on the side of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre building.  

I LUV Street Art why?

Street Art is usually colourful and playful, two key ingredients that appeal to my eye. As well, I love the sense of surprise, as they are often off-the-beaten path, which is synergistic to my love of flaneuring. I also love the immediacy of street art. While the technique can sometimes be refined, most often they are loose, gestural, drawings.

Street Art Calgary

Flashback

I went to NYC in 1982 to experience street art first hand. It was a time when I was an aspiring artist and felt a strong kinship with the work I was seeing in publications like ARTnews (my bible at the time). 

I came back inspired and created a series of graffiti-inspired paintings over the following two years and also organized the Street Art for Gleichen project, which eventually lead to my becoming the Director/Curator of the Muttart Art Gallery (now Contemporary Calgary) for a 10-year stint. 

It was a fun time. Thinking back, exploring those back alleys and vacant spaces of NYC was my first introduction to flaneuring!   

Last Word

Perhaps it is time for someone in to organize an outdoor art (street art, murals and public art) festival that would encourage Calgarians to get out and see, contemplate and question our outdoor art. I'd love to hear what children and teens think of the art. It is not all about just the grown ups!

If you like this blog, you will like:

Frankfurt's Found Street Art

Austin's Amazing Outdoor Graffiti Ruins

Public Art vs Street Art: Calgary, Rome & Florence

Fantasy Worlds: Superheroes vs Sports Heroes?

I was invited to the Calgary Stampeders vs. Hamilton Ticats game on Sunday August 28th, 2016 by a friend who knew I grew up as Ticat fanatic - literally. While at the game memories of my childhood (some mine and some told to me by others) flooded back.

Family Day Stampeders

Starting at about 4 years old, I lived and died with Ticats’ wins and losses. When I was in kindergarten, I went to the Quarterback Club with my Mom and I am told I was keen to ask Ron Howell a question – “Do you like football or hockey more?”  Yes, in those days players not only played both offence and defence in football, but could also play more than one professional sport. In addition all of the Ticats had day jobs – many at the steel mills. Being a CFL football player was more of a passion than a profession in the 60s!

By the time I was 6 years old, I knew all the Ticat player’s names and went to all their home games. There were 10+ family and neighbours who would go to each game so it was easy to sneak me in….I can remember by Dad handing the attendant a batch of tickets and we’d all rush in. No scanners or searches in those days!  By the time I was 8 years old, I knew most of the offense and defensive plays and would predict what formations and plays would/should be called throughout the game.  I loved it when someone would say, “that kid should be the coach.”

Football became like a religion for me. I would often sneak away when watching a playoff or Grey Cup game and pray to Jesus to help them win when they were losing (I don’t recall every thanking Jesus when they won).  We would also go to the city pep rallies that were common before big playoff or Grey Cup games in the ‘60s.  The radio stations would even create fun fight songs to motivate the fans and players. For me, players like John Barrow, Angela Mosca, Bernie Faloney, Hal Patterson, Smokie Stover and Garney Henley were my superheroes. 

In fact Henley, was very similar to Superman and Clark Kent - a very unassuming man with black geeky glasses by day, but put on a football uniform and he became a superstar.  He would play safety on defence (a position I would later play in high school) for the most part, but when the game was on the line, he was often put in as a receiver on offence.  And, while everyone on the other team’s defence knew the pass was going to go to him, somehow he found a way to get open and win the game more often than not.

future cheeleader

Cosplay vs. Sports Fans

As I watch the game, I began to see all sports are just another form of cosplay, a phenomenon, which has become all the rage since the mid ‘90s.  Cosplay, is contraction of the words “costume and play,” applies to any costume wearing and role playing of characters from comic books, cartoons, video games, action figures and super heroes from television and movies.

Earlier this year, I attended the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo (aka Calgary’s cosplay convention, one of the largest in North America) and was gobsmacked by the number of people who attended, the attention to detail of the costumes and level of role-playing that took place.  For some reason, I felt quite comfortable but didn’t know why as I am not a big comic book or super hero fan.

But a light bulb went on for me while at the Stampeders Ticat game.  I realized it was because when I was young I too would often fantasize about being a super hero, however, in my case it meant a superstar athlete.  When, I would play football on the street and in the park I was always fantasizing. If I was throwing the ball, I would imagine myself as the Ticat quarterback of the day - Bernie Faloney or Joe Zuger. If I was catching the ball, I would be Hal Patterson or Garney Henley.  The same when we played street hockey or in the back yard rinks, we always fantasized what player we wanted to be. In my case it always was Jean Beliveau.  Yes I lived in a fantasy world.

Oskie Wee Wee?

As I continued to watch the game, the similarities just kept coming.  One of the workshops at the Calgary Expo was a lesson in the fictional language of Klingon from the cult Star Trek culture. At the time I didn’t make the connection, but how was this any different from the nonsensical Ticat Oskie Wee Wee chant.

Oskie Wee Wee / Oskie Waa Waa / Holy Mackinaw / Tigers ... Eat 'em RAW!!

Vince Wirtz developed the yell in the 1920s as part of his role-playing as the Hamilton Tigers mascot, Pigskin Pete.  FYI…in 1968 the cheer was the subject of a National Film Board of Calgary documentary.

In fact, mascots, majorettes, marching bands and cheerleaders, which were very much associated with football in 50s and 60s, were really a form of cosplay back in the day.

And then there is the football uniform - helmet that could easily be linked to some super hero or space creature hat, the huge shoulder pads and skin-tight pants that further fostered the idea the players were larger than life.

Superstar vs. Superhero

Fast forward to today. Our five-year-old neighbour is passionate about dressing up as his favourite super hero. With 30+ costumes, he wears one pretty much everyday.  More than once I have wondered, “is this a good thing” but now I remember back to my childhood, when I too lived in a fantasy world much of the time….just a different one!

Last Word

I am also now rethinking Pokémon Go.  The more I think about it, it too is just part of the human need to play and fantasize.  Humans have been fantasizing for millenniums, but how we do it evolves with time just like everything else in life.  

Perhaps we could all benefit from a bit more fantasy, imagination and playfulness in our lives.

Footnote:

Back to the Ticat Stampeders game.  It wasn’t as exciting as I remembered mostly because television has ruined the game for the live audience with the endless breaks for commercials. And the contests and games that are suppose to entertain us during the commercial breaks are silly and insulting.  And don’t get me started about the endless penalties and challenges. 

Also I was disappointed by the Family Day program that included some players signing autographs, face-painting and a couple of slides and bouncing things.  I was expecting football-related activities.  Why not let the kids try to kick the ball through the goal posts or throw balls through hoops? Why not time them on the 40-yard dash and compare their times to CFL players?  Or measure their vertical leaps? What about letting them hit a blocking sled and see what it feels like.  Maybe even have Jon Cornish (he was there signing autographs) show them how he use to practice his running drills.  Maybe even a mini Pass, Putt & Kick competition.  Missed opportunity….big time.