The so-called south-west districts of Montréal—Pointe-St-Charles, St-Henri, and Griffintown—have always been rough and tumble working-class neighbourhoods. Much of this can be attributed to the industry that flourished in the area during the 19th and 20th centuries: industry (both light and heavy), shipping companies, chemical companies, lumberyards, grain mills, storage silos, and frankly any enterprise that could benefit from their proximity to the Lachine Canal. This area was a gateway to both the interior of North America and the world at large.
Prior to the construction of the St-Lawrence Seaway in 1954, the Lachine Canal was the only Canadian route to the Great Lakes from the Atlantic, and the areas surrounding the canal were guaranteed to be busy and boisterous. Since the Seaway opened, the Canal fell into disuse and disrepair; the businesses clustered around the Canal eventually moved away, leaving unemployment and its deleterious effects in their wake.
Now, over 60 years later, the area is experiencing a resurgence and significant gentrification. Old warehouses are converted into lofts, condos, studios and all manner of residential and white-collar commercial offices. Chi-chi restaurants and boutiques are popping up everywhere. Entire blocks of derelict buildings with no historical, architectural, or cultural significance are being razed and replaced with modern steel and glass condos and apartment blocks.
New residents are attracted to the relative affordability of the area, and the proximity to downtown Montréal, which is well within walking distance on a nice day.
No matter how much gentrification and renewal happens, the roots of the area will be hard or impossible to cover up. The south-west has always been gritty. Its grit is what made the south-west flourish in the first place, and may its grit always show through.
See the entire photo gallery here.