Often thought of as an impoverished working class neighbourhood, the borough of Verdun in Montreal, Quebec has been experiencing a renewal since the early 2000's. This eclectic area sandwiched between the Montreal Aqueduct Canal and the St. Lawrence River contains ample waterfront property with bike paths, parks and recreational facilities. Coupled with its proximity to downtown and the convenience of having three metro stations span the entire neighbourhood, it is becoming an increasingly attractive location for new immigrants, young families, and students wishing to pay lower rents than trendier central areas. This change in demographics has also resulted in a change of heart for the borough’s city councillors, which led them to repeal a Prohibition-style ban on bars and older temperance laws. Two years later in 2013, they finally introduced the neighbourhood’s first bar since 1875.
Although taverns, nightclubs and cabarets had been barred in Verdun since 1965, establishments were still allowed to sell alcohol with meals. Today, between ten and twelve restaurants have a bar licence that permits drinking without eating. In 2011, the borough introduced a new bylaw that issued one bar permit to Verdun, and one to Nun’s Island, with the stipulation that the ensuing establishments would have to brew their own beer on site. As such, Benelux on Wellington Street has become Verdun’s first and only microbrewery thus far, with no other brewpubs permitted to open within a one-kilometre radius of its location.
The need to redevelop Wellington Street in order to better serve its new clientele was mentioned in the Verdun chapter of the 2010 Montreal Master Plan. However, borough officials strive to maintain the delicate balance between the area’s newer residents and the older ones in terms of the amenities and services available to each of them.
The trajectory of new development reflects the gradual gentrification of the area. There is an increase in condo construction, rents are steadily rising, and the range of commercial establishments along this east-west commercial thoroughfare includes new cafes, stores, and restaurants.It seems, however, that there is a dedicated effort to both ease this transition and to prevent the expulsion of the neighbourhood’s lower-income residents. Policy makers are working to make sure the neighbourhood remains affordable and inclusive for everyone, including young families.
Verdun can be categorized into three distinct sectors. Desmarchais-Crawford contains multi-family, plex-style housing as well as a post-war suburban area of small single-family homes called Crawford Park. Nun’s Island, or Île des Sœurs, became part of the city of Verdun in 1956 after it was purchased by the Québec Home and Mortgage Corporation Ltd from the Congrégation de Notre-Dame with the intention of transforming it into a model city for the upscale elite. Finally, Wellington-De L’Église contains dense housing and is the borough’s commercial and industrial centre. The most underprivileged sector of the three, it is slowly being revitalized to become a stronger, more vibrant community.
Centraide of Greater Montreal, a philanthropic organization, supports a variety of agencies and stakeholders in Verdun’s Wellington-De L’Église sector that work with issues of cultural diversity, housing and community planning, as well as skills and learning development. Furthermore, the Société de développement commercial Wellington, a non-profit organization, aims to support local, new, and diverse businesses along Wellington Street. Currently, residents seem to have a generally positive opinion of the commercial strip thus far, thinking it safe, lively, and accessible.
There appears to be a conscientious effort to change the mentality about Verdun, and to increase the quality of life of its residents without drastically compromising the current make-up of the neighbourhood.
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Credits: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.