Charles Dickens Street – Montréal

The former Charles Dickens Street, late 1950s - not the work of the author.

This is the aptly named Charles Dickens Street, a former roadway of the City of Montréal.

It’s difficult to tell based on this picture where it was taken, though the underpass and viaduct visible to the right may place it in Griffintown, Pointe-St-Charles, Goose Village or around the Old Port, I imagine East of Place Jacques Cartier.

Wherever it was it no longer exists, though I doubt as a result of some Bill 101 backlash against English sounding place names. Rather, I think these buildings, possibly the entire block, was razed in the mid 1960s as a part of the massive urban renovations going on at that time.

I wonder if anyone who ever lived on this street found their situation as comedic or ironic as I do. Maybe this is just a shitty picture, and isn’t characteristic of the street’s overall personality. I doubt it, as cleaning up urban squalor was big-time fodder for the local press back then. Drapeau was largely elected for the first time to do just that – clean up City Hall, raze the slums, and gentrify urban ghettoes. He was successful, despite himself, but his authoritarian tactics turned many into born-again free market enthusiasts, and a hands-off attitude has characterized Montréal mayors ever since. Pity.

Either way, what with the current exposition at the Centre d’histoire de Montréal on lost neighbourhoods (such as the former Quartier des Mélasses), its still important for locals interested in the urban preservation and conservation movement to discern between what needs to be conserved to maintain a societal and aesthetic balance and the necessity of slum clearance. I’ve heard many people bemoan the loss of so may old buildings during the Drapeau administration, and while some cases are indeed tragic (such as the Van Horne Mansion or the destruction of Goose Village), there seems to be a general wistfulness for the days of cheap urban living in cold-water shacks. If you think student living options aren’t great today, consider that when my mother began university in the early 1970s cold-water flats in rickety old wooden buildings (without proper insulation or fire-proofing) were commonly offered to students as appropriate housing.

So suffice it to say, while I can join in the mourning of the affordable antique residential buildings that were once well-distributed throughout the urban core of the city, I’m not sorry to see the shacks have been razed. Slum clearance wasn’t generally well-handled, at least by current standards, as the episodes of mass clearance should be studied by any city administration with big development plans. At the very least compensation to renters and owners ought to be a chief concern for the city. Back then poor votes didn’t count for much…

3 thoughts on “Charles Dickens Street – Montréal”

  1. Interesting photo. I googled Dickens Street.

    Below is an extract from an article on Dickens, the street is located and it’s fate is recorded.

    http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/montreal/montreal.html

    “The street named for the visiting author has fared no better, for Dickens Lane at the side of Francisco Rasco’s Hotel opposite (where the Dickenses stayed for 19 days) disappeared in 1999 to make way for a large-scale condominium project. On the hotel was a plaque commemorating Dickens’s visit to Montreal, but it, too, together with items of Dickens memorabilia, has been swallowed by the sands of time.”

  2. For just a tiny bit of an author eh? Sometimes street names are confounding in this city! I remember when I was young we lived near a street called ‘Paramount’ – it was little more than one house wide.

  3. I flipped through some Lovell Directory stuff, and in 1953 the street is noted “295 St-Paul E. north to 288 Le Royer E. Not built upon”. So it was in Old Montreal and just a tiny bit of street.

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