From 'Balconville' to 'Condoville'?

From 'Balconville' to 'Condoville'? The Politics of Urban Change in Post-Industrial Montreal

Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Canada Research Chair in Oral History, Centre d'histoire de Montréal and Parks Canada - Lachine Canal National Historic Site


"From Balconville to Condoville? The Politics of Urban Change in Post-Industrial Montreal" examines urban change in Montreal's Pointe-Saint-Charles district since 1945. A team based at COHDS is currently interviewing residents of this neighborhood in order to develop an audiowalk and cultural in situ interventions.

Pointe St-Charles (Montreal), 1967, Gabor Szilasi

This oral history and new media research project, From Balconville to Condoville: The Politics of Urban Change in Post-Industrial Montreal, examines urban change in Montreal's Saint-Henri, Côte-Saint-Paul, and Point-Saint-Charles districts since 1945, as well as the transformation of the Lachine Canal itself. The area, now part of the Sud-Ouest borough, was once evocatively described as the "City Below the Hill" by late 19th century urban reformers. Working-class and immigrant neighbourhoods coalesced around the industrial district that emerged along a five mile stretch of Montreal's Lachine Canal. One 1868 observer wrote that "A walk along the banks of the Lachine Canal and the Saint-Gabriel Locks, will convey to the observer a forcible impression of the extent and importanceof the factory interests of the City." A similar walk today would leave a very different impression. The mills and factories have been demolished or converted into posh condominiums and the Lachine Canal is now a recreational zone operated by Parks Canada. The few remnants of the industrial past that remain provide seeming confirmation that we now live in a post-industrial age. 

The combined impact of deindustrialization, suburbanization and the building of super-highways has ravaged the working class districts that adjoin the Lachine Canal, resulting in population decline, unemployment and other social problems. It also inspired community mobilization and resistance. Pointe-St-Charles in particular has become synonymous in Québec with place-based activism. This fierce solidarity stands in sharp contrast to neighbouring Côte-Saint-Paul. Saint-Henri, for its part, consists of various contiguous neighbourhoods. We are particularly interested in Little Burgundy, the historic home of the city's West Indian population, and Griffintown, once a vibrant Irish working-class community. Both have undergone hard times and controversial attempts at renewal. Zones of affluence have likewise emerged with gentrification and the adaptive re-use of old industrial sites. Public spaces like Atwater Market have been similarly transformed, as has the canal. Montreal's post-industrial "City Below the Hill" thus represents an opportunity to examine urban change in all of its complexity.