I Want To Move To Park Extension 


It doesn’t have the most attractive name in the world, and it is one of the poorest places in Canada,  but the place where I grew up is my home forever.  I never thought wanting to move back would be so difficult.  There just aren’t enough good apartments to move into. And the water pipes burst often.  The roaches. Did I hear bedbugs? This is scary to a sensitive soul like me.  With the deterioration of infrastructure all over the city,  it’s logical Park Extension would be affected perhaps the hardest. And now I’m in a quandary of how to get around this? Even people living here tell me to not move here.  But you can’t get them out. So what gives? Do they have the only good places to live in? Are they slum lords? Or are they masochists?

Park Extension has 30.7% of its population defined as working poor. This means they work and make wages too low to live decently on.  So could it be that there’s 2 types of people here —property owners living in their buildings and people too poor to move elsewhere? Sort of like a… slum?  You wouldn’t know that by looking at the people,  at least the ones walking around when I’m there.  I remember growing up in 3 apartments in the area and 2 look seedy as I pass by them now. Maybe they’ve just gotten older or I didn’t know better or cared.  

This building on Jarry and Stuart is infested. 

This one was condemned and the slum lord fined. 

I like streets like these. Full of life. And people. And community. 

So tell me. Someone. How can I find a decent apartment in Park Extension? 


La Place Commune 

Communities are built on the will of the people . They should never be built on the backs of the people .  Empowerment is the only effective way to make a community prosper . 

I was walking in the drizzle of a cool October afternoon in the rough underbelly otherwise known as the heart of Park Extension on my way to La Place Commune , a community organization that just celebrated its 1-year anniversary in August . I had an appointment with one of the managers there,  Ana Paula Duran ,  a Park Ex resident . It was 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon and it was nearing the end ofthe weekly Saturday brunch.A 3-piece band was in the middle of the café playing some experimental jazz .  I noticed a big bass ,  a flute , and an unidentified instrument .  I realized who Ana was by the way she seemed to be involved in the whole rhythm of the running of the place . I waited for her and she brought her black bean lunch to a table in the middle of the café . It was loud and we went back to sit by the side of the kitchen . Ana is such a friendly person ,  and she brings this positivity to everyone in the place . The staff seem dedicated and the patrons ,  if you will ,  look content. I’m taken back to a time when I was neck deep in the community stuff .  The patrons looked like they were not from the area . As Ana admitted ,  only part of her target audience is taking advantage of the organization . 

Park Extension is a marginalized and segregated place , where people need community projects . This didn’t exist when I was young and growing up here . Ana explains that financing is almost non -existent, but she wouldn’t turn down anice donation from someone with the means . The idea of the community outreach involved here is focused on collective gardening . Thisis different from the city -wide community gardening in that it is communal .  People all participate in the growing of the vegetables and use them together .  They share where in the community gardening they just have a plot of land to themselves . The collective promotes sustainability. Whereas the community promotes solely individual empowerment, the collective is,  ironically,  focused on community sharing.  As Ana states,  the purpose is to empower people by making them feel like they have contributed to the project. To me,  this is the bona fide cause and effect of Empowerment 101. The café is also a way of eating great local food and not relying on packaged and processed foods . As I found out a while back , it is very fulfilling for the soul as well as the palate to be able to sit down to a wholly natural meal you helped create .  

But the local population ,  made up heavily of immigrants ,  whether older European ones or newer Asian ones ,  seems to be aloof or even unaware of the existence of the place . Some see it as a coffee shop that has nothing to do with them . And therein lies the challenge of getting them involved . They are the heart and soul that Park Extension is made of .  They also need to be part of the empowerment process .  It’s time to get the word out . 

The picture above is of the burnt Greek Orthodox church a few meters from the collective .  It is where the Greek community was gathering to feel empowered in the 1960s and beyond . The people need to see the collective as an extension of this .  We need to fulfill out soul as well as our body and mind . A sense of community belonging is paramount as opposed to trying to fit in as a square peg .  

The show ended and the flutist ,  a native Californian ,  came to say goobye to the gang and my talk with Ana was over. His name is Mike and he’s an experimental musician .  We spoke of the Chicago Cubs and his love for Montreal . I got up and slowly greeted everyone goodbye . 

Associated with the collective is the art hive, an art collective bringing communities together through art. The collective is also available for other community activities . 
In short ,  people in the area need to support the organization that they are fortunate enough to have in their community that provides them with alternatives and new ideas .  Above all ,  it offers a sense of achievement.

Review : Caffè Neo 

Caffè Neo at 690 St. Roch St. West 

Deep in the heart of Park Extension in north-central Montreal is a quaint little café/daytime sports bar called Caffè Neo,  playing on the Greek word for coffee shop  (καφενείο). It is where I came on this rainy and cool Sunday afternoon to have a nice cold coffee and get some inspiration for my waning creativity in what should be the most creative part of the year. 

Park Extension was a mostly Greek immigrant part of town when the wave of Greeks came here mostly in the 1960s and 70s.  With most immigrants using Park Ex  (so called by the locals) as a stepping stone for bigger and better things,  the heart of the Greek community still lies here,  even if the Greeks living here are among one of many minorities.  This is where the Greek Independence Day parade takes place for the entire Montreal metropolitanarea every end of March.  Indeed,  our Prime Minister calls this his district.  But more of that in a future entry. 

The run down street of St Roch is home to a café that serves more as a meeting place for younger Greeks or Greek -Canadians than the ones that have been here for decades.  Most of them live in or near the area.  The picture above shows that the neighborhood has been neglected by the city. What’s PM Trudeau doing about his district? 

Across the street is a place the owner refers you to if you want a τυρόπιτα  (cheese pie). It is owned by a Turk,  a once -hated rival. But it’s good to see there is harmony. Youcan even bring it to the café and have it with your coffee. 

The array of coffees is great.  There’s the ever popular Greek coffee as well as the better known cappuccino and espresso.  I have tried to find a good Greek coffee in Montreal and, outside of senior centres and hangouts,  this is the only place that actually makes a more than decent one.  Please let me know if you know of another.  

The cold choices are Frappé and Freddo.  The Frappé is my favourite, although I’m told it’s becoming passe.  Both are delicious,  and easily distinguishable from other imitators.  I was told illy coffee is used,  which is a more than decent brand. 

The service is always courteous and with a smile with actual Greek girls serving you. It looks like the immigration has picked up again. 

AThe popular games on Sunday afternoons are the direct soccer feeds from Greece. The NFL fans would be disappointed that their 1 PM game would not be playing. There may be a need for more TV screens. 

The café has almost as many women as men and it’s a warm place to be. The service is great and the ambience is relaxing with its acid jazzy background music. The snacks are fine and the coffee’s excellent. 

PROS: Great ambience and coffee 

CONS : Too few TV screens and the snacks need an update