Kondiaronk Book Reviews {No.1} – Montreal: The Unknown City

Montreal: The Unknown City by Kristian and John David Gravenor

This is the book that first introduced me to Montréal – and I was born here.

It’s a little bit of everything; an almanac, a guide-book – in some cases it’s like a highly-localized Ripley’s Believe it or Not, albeit better documented.

But more than anything else the Brothers Gravenor manage to gather a massive quantity of information and weave it into a cohesive series of vignettes, presenting the Montréal hiding in the recesses, shedding light on the nooks and crannies of our City, it’s society, culture and history. It’s an excellent travel guide to Montréal for those who want to get to know the real city and not just the typical tourist destinations. And for those with adventure in their hearts, they will discover the anecdotes, the history myths and fables of our community. On the whole, this singular book provides an answer to the question, why is Montréal a major cultural centre, and what propels the Montréal style, in the creative and fine arts, in architecture, literature etc? In sum, what is it about Montréal as a city that feeds so many creative minds? If nothing else, this compendium will provide countless hours of enjoyable, casual reading and provide an immense wealth of knowledge, not to mention the settings, scenarios, scenes and characters to generate a torrent of creative content. And if you’re unfamiliar with said content, never fear, as the book is also a compendium of all manners of local film, television, visual arts, bands etc.

With regards to the style of the book, I find it invites the reader to do additional research, even if that might be no more than simply looking it up on Wikipedia or Google. I know Kristian makes great use of the on-line Montreal Gazette archives in addition to an on-line copy of the Lovell’s Directory to unearth hyper precise information, and also runs the successful Coolopolis blog. I find the book reads like a blog in the same fashion that a blog would use hyperlinks to open new windows onto a given subject. There’s a palpable feeling that the authors want you to take it upon yourself to go out and discover the city’s history and culture on your own terms, to see it for the first time through your own eyes. At least that’s what I did, and I’ll be forever grateful to the authors for this gem. A must-read.

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