W is for Westmount.
“Westmount — Mairie — City Hall” (photo by Flickr user Humanoide)
There are two particularly ritzy neighborhoods in Montreal. One is predominantly French-speaking, and the other is English-speaking. The French-speaking upper-crust lives in Outremont, while their English-speaking counterparts live in Westmount. Both of these neighborhoods line Mount Royal, and boast spectacular views of the city and its peons hustling below. Isn’t that always how the rich like to live?
A typical Westmount mansion (photo by Flickr user Michel Gagnon)
Westmount is full of snooty boutiques, cafés with women toting little dogs in their oversized handbags, high-rise condos, and beautiful mansions. Outremont is its mirror image, on the flip side of the mountain.
Westmount is actually its own city, complete with its own City Hall and special street signs, within the much larger city of Montreal. (Fun fact: if Quebec ever does secede from Canada to form its own nation, Westmount will remain part of Canada, because of its large English-speaking population and independent city status.)
Westmount also has at least one claim to fame with which Outremont cannot compete: Leonard Cohen was born there. Here’s a picture of his childhood home:
“Cohen’s Childhood Home” (photo by Flickr user duluoz cats)
And, if you’re curious, here’s a CBC article about the couple who put the house up for sale for $1.4 million in 2010.
Here is a short piece I wrote about riding the 66 bus from downtown through Westmount and into NDG, where I lived at the time.
Sheila darted across the wide expanse of Guy Street just in time to catch the last bus home. Home. That was a funny word for it: a place where she was always laying low, trying not to make the slightest of sounds. She had begun to think her body had been designed for hiding in crevices, like a mouse. It also helped that she could hold her breath for seven minutes at a time, the product of childhood contests to see who could stay underwater the longest without passing out.
Yeah, I’ll put that on my résumé, she thought bitterly, boarding the bus and slumping into an empty single seat toward the back. She clasped her schoolbag close to her heart and turned to stare out the window.
For a change, the glass wasn’t crusted over with salt and Sheila could see the city whizzing past. As the bus chugged up the mountainside, its engine growling with the strain, she could see the lights of Montreal sparkling below. Like pearls before swine, she thought, not entirely sure what the phrase was supposed to mean, but liking the image that waltzed through her head. Her eyes roved across ancient stone castles and Tudor mansions, and she wondered just how long these beautiful buildings had been withstanding the chill of Montreal’s sub-arctic winters. Her gaze fell curiously on a number of architectural oddities, gently caressed the weathered stones of the private college, and turned away from the dreary façades of the later-period houses harbouring dated furniture just inside their large picture windows.
I wonder what it costs to live in such a palace, she thought, idly clacking her nails against her front teeth and contemplating a home that was hanging over a precipice. Doesn’t matter; I’ll never live to see that kind of cash. Anyway, I’ll have to come back with my camera and take a few pictures when it’s light out. She tried to imagine the framing of each shot, and wished the bus weren’t so bumpy so that she might take a few notes for later. She wondered what kind of people lived here, high up on the side of the mountain. Nobody on the bus got off until Westmount became NDG and The Boulevard became Cote-St-Luc Road, so it was hard to come up with any educated guesses.
I wonder if Breavman ever looked down from this spot? she thought suddenly, half-remembering a character from The Favourite Game. He was a rich kid. Slumming, but from one of these high and mighty families originally… Did Breavman ever see this view? She wasn’t sure why the question possessed her now, demanding an answer.
The bus just rumbled on, crossing the imaginary line from wealth into poverty, and the charming older houses were instantly replaced by crumbling apartment buildings. Sheila sank lower into her seat, clutched her books tighter, and wondered if her parents would be throwing pots at each other again. She closed her eyes and let all the air out of her body, counting the seconds as though submerged in the local pool.
Question of the day: What city do you call home?
Want to learn more about Montreal’s Underground City? My book, Naked Montreal is now available at Amazon! Click here to download your copy now. (NOTE: This title is 18+.)