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Festival remembers Griffintown, a neighbourhood on the brink

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Montrealers this weekend will celebrate the history and culture of Griffintown – a neighbourhood awaiting demolition slated for next year.

“Remember Griffintown,” a three-day festival organized by Concordia University Television (CUTV), will include a walking tour, a scavenger hunt, film screenings, art, and live music.

Paul Alfalo, a coordinator of the event, insisted that “Remember Griffintown” was conceived as a cultural, rather than political, event.

“Most Montrealers have heard of Griffintown but 90 per cent of them don’t know where it is,” he said. “[There’s] so much talk…but you shouldn’t pass judgement before you know about it.”

A century ago, Griffintown – located in Southwest Montreal – was a working-class Irish neighbourhood, but it fell into decline when the city rezoned the area as industrial during the 1960s. The neighbourhood was revived recently when cheap rent attracted artists and musicians.

But with massive redevelopment planned by a private company with ties to City Hall, the name Griffintown has become synonymous with aggressive gentrification. In town meetings since the proposal was presented, residents and activists predicted that the urban renewal project will permanently change the face of their neighbourhood.

Risa Dickens, a founder of the cultural blog Indyish, one of the sponsors of “Remember Griffintown,” shared residents’ concerns.

“The plan will reduce space for independent stores and bring in big chain stores. Already you see prices going up in Atwater market and new gentry boutiques,” said Dickens. “It doesn’t make sense when 80 per cent [of Griffintown residents] live below the poverty line – $20,000 or less.”

If Devimco, the company that plans to redevelop the area, acquires 60 per cent of the land within Griffintown, it will have the legal right to break ground. It intends to invest $1.8-billion to raze Griffintown and replace it with a massive complex of condos, townhouses, a lifestyle center, and two mega-malls. No trace of the neighbourhood will remain, except for 12 heritage buildings protected by municipal bylaws.

Dickens was optimistic, however, that the event would be a positive showcase of the area’s history.

“It’s a show about bringing as much art as possible and getting the community involved,” she said. “CUTV wanted us to step outside the politics and celebrate, to give an idea of what’s at stake.”

Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, and representatives from Devimco have been invited to the festival.

Both CUTV and Richard Burman, the documentary filmmaker who directed Ghosts of Griffintown, will be filming the event.

For detailed listings of festival events, visit