By Shaghayegh Shirinbab
I came to Montreal to study about a year ago. During this year I walked in most of the neighborhoods of Montreal, but I had never visited the other side of Cannel Lachine until I started the Working Class Public History workshop with Dr. Steven High in September 2014.
The course was about researching the post-industrial transformation of Pointe Saint-Charles and historical sites with the goal of creating an audio walk and an accompanying booklet about the neighborhood. My academic background is Art Education with interest in community and participatory art. I was eager to enroll in this seminar at Oral History Department of Concordia University because this course was based on community collaboration, participation and group work. Besides I could discover a part of Montreal that I knew very little about.
The first question that popped up in my mind was: Why Pointe-Saint-Charles? The history and the inhabitants of this neighborhood make it significant place with lots of research potential. This working class neighborhood was one of Canada’s first industrial areas and has a remarkable history of community mobilization. The neighborhood has transformed steadily over the past decades. Diverse groups from different cultural backgrounds and languages now inherit what was once home for mostly Irish immigrants and Francophone citizens. Our task was to find historical facts and story ideas and present the information in a form of an audio walk and a guided booklet. Our main research resources were the Oral History database, including transcribed interviews with community members, academic papers, online resources, and archival documents such as maps, newspapers, and photos. Perhaps the practicality of the course was having seminar sessions at Share the warmth in the Point and the informative walks that we did together around the neighborhood. Actually my first ever walk in Pointe Saint Charles happened with Dr. High class. It was a memorable experience. On this walk I immediately realized how eagerly I wanted to be part of this great initiative. The diverse neighborhood, the landscape, rich cultural heritage and history of the Point provided a perfect setting for interesting walks, that I was not think of before. We walked through peaceful alleys of the Point. Each person had a research report about different sites. We were stopping at specific places to hear information about that place and see the place in person. So we had very different and engaging presentations. We enjoyed the nice weather of early fall as we were walking in the parks and vast lands of the Point. Nearly at the end of the walk we arrived at the Knox street mural painted on the CN train wall. We took our time to explore the mural and take pictures. Then we continued walking, conversing and sharing information. My second walk in the Point was even more interesting because during this walk I was listening to the first version of our audio walk. This walk happened almost at the end of the semester. As I was walking with the class and listening to the audio walk I felt how well I knew this neighborhood. The streets that once were new and the roads that I could get lost walking on now felt familiar to me. I knew stories of each corner and I could imagine how each place looked like decades ago. How fascinating!
This semester was my last semester at Concordia University and I am no longer living in Montreal. Among many other things, specifically I will always remember my walks on ‘the other side of the trucks’ and the story of the Point.