La Cafe de la Petite Gaule

By Leah Girardo

Ever since I started visiting montreal well over a decade ago I have always been taken by the Southwest. For years most of my friends have lived in Saint-Henri, the Point and Verdun (and admittedly a few up in the Mile End), and I spent most of my visits in recent years staying in Point-Saint-Charles. Much of my time in Montreal was centred around attending punk and other DIY shows, getting in the street for demos and reconnecting with friends at the annual anarchist bookfair.

One of my most memorable visits to Montreal was the very first show I played in in the city, at a place called La Cafe de la Petite Gaule on Centre Street in Point-Saint-Charles. It was a place that resonated with me, the walls with posters that were calls to action, a zine library tucked away to archive some printed matter made by local residents and folks far away. These features suggested that the cafe was part small business, and part community organizing space. When I asked friends about the space and the neighbourhood, I distinctly remember them describing it as a long time working class area with a history of resistance, but that the future of the neighbourhood felt uncertain as the forces of gentrification were affecting the day to day life of many residents in more profound ways everyday.

At that time I wrote all of the lyrics for the band I was playing in, and that night at La Petite Gaule we played a song I wrote about the imperialism of english. I had written this song as a person living in Toronto, understanding the land there as the traditional territory of the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation, and thinking about my relationship to that land as a settler. I quickly realized that in Quebec the song took on several new meanings. As I introduced and explained the song before playing it, I talked about my own relationship to english, understanding language as a tool for colonization, thinking about the way language and culture are tied together.

As I finished speaking I heard a voice form the back of the room exclaim: “Mais Oui!”

I’m not sure if I blushed then, struck by my own ignorance, but after our set I had a chance to talk to more people about francophone and anglophone issues in Montreal and also in the Point. After that every release the band put out was translated into french. I worked on translation with a friend who was Quebecois, born and raised just outside of Quebec city. Over the years he helped us put out records and set up shows. Our friend helped us negotiate a variety of issues being an anglo band from Ontario playing in Quebec, including helping us to negotiate with the SQ after getting pulled over somewhere on the 40 between Montreal and Quebec City because we had gone on a short tour with a temporary license plate that was not visible at 3 am on a snowy morning drive back to montreal…

The relationship with my friend in many ways transcended the language barrier, and was also constantly in relationship to it. It was a relationship based in sharing an interest in the same kind of culture: a culture somewhere between resistance to normativity and consumerism, and being young and annoyed. It was also a relationship of understanding, that had charming moments of getting a wink or a high five after I fumbled through ordering a falafel in french. The relationship also sprouted out of that little cafe in Point Saint Charles, a place where community activism was also negotiated not just in spite of language difference, but in complex relationship to the cultural and social ways language affects our understanding of the world around us.

Since then my political ideas have shifted a little, as my analysis has deepened and perhaps even matured over time. Those words I wrote still stand though, and I think about playing a song like that in a cafe on what I now understand to be the north side of the tracks. Being part of this class pushed me to reflect on the journey that brought me to be part working on a public history project in the Point, studying the neighbourhood and it’s rich history of resistance and resilience, and continuing my own negotiation with language, history, colonial legacies, and my voice among all of it.