Culture  Bursting the Bubble: A nook by the river

Michael Tau’s walking tour of Verdun

First off, you could take the metro to De L’Église station – which will take you straight to the heart of Verdun – but I suggest walking. The trek from downtown Montreal to Verdun is quite an adventure, especially if you make a point of going through St. Henri. The walk also affords such sights as the Atwater Market, The Green Spot (a classic St. Henri diner), and an amazing abandoned malt factory at the intersection of St. Antoine and St. Remi.

For those unversed in the boroughs of Montreal, Verdun transitioned from independent city to Montreal borough in 2002, following a 331-year run as one of Canada’s longest-standing cities. Although previously an anglophone area, it has gradually become predominantly French-speaking. These days, it’s primarily a working-class neighbourhood although recent years have seen a move toward gentrification.

De L’Église station exits onto avenue de l’Église, so named because of L’Église Saint-Paul at its north end. Once you step out of the station, I recommend following the road west several blocks. Eventually you’ll reach the coolest attraction Verdun has to offer – a street actually named rue Cool. You’ll need to see it to believe it. Ostensibly a short road adorned with tightly-packed townhouses and a Shell Station, its pride and joy is the most coveted street sign on the island.

After witnessing rue Cool in all its splendor, continue west past the aqueduct canal to reach Brasserie de l’Eglise, a lovely little bar just outside Verdun territory. In addition to being one of very few establishments to include both “bar” and “church” in its name, it’s a charming dive frequented by plenty of middle-aged locals. And it’s lady-friendly, too: don’t miss the “Bienvenue aux Dames” sign above the entrance. Bars don’t exist in Verdun because drinking establishments are curiously illegal; hence, Brasserie de l’Église has been forced onto the other side of the canal, just into the neighbouring Sud-Ouest borough.

Once you’ve satisfied your urge to booze, head back into Verdun and continue east on avenue de l’Église until you reach the Metro grocery store. Seemingly just another edition of the ubiquitous supermarket chain, this is actually the legendary Metro Joannette, arguably the best place in Montreal to get beer. They stock an awe-inspiring selection of Quebec microbrews, including everything from the complete Unibroue selection to gems by Bièropholie and Les Trois Mousquetaires. This has all been orchestrated by the store’s owner, an avid beer snob who has even had a beer commissioned in the store’s name. If you’re daring, try “El Lapino,” a Jalapeño beer that actually comes with a little pepper in the bottle. It’s absolutely beyond disgusting, but worth a try for the experience alone.

Continuing east on avenue de l’Église, you’ll reach rue Wellington, one of Verdun’s major commercial strips. Wellington is Verdun’s St. Denis, home to snazzy boutiques, trendy restaurants, as well as some larger stores. If you’re there in the evening, you’ll notice that music plays through the streets until nine o’clock, courtesy of speakers attached to the streetlights. Last time I was there, several Quebecois ballads were punctuated by Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow hits. Highlights on Wellington include a decent thrift store and some neat family-run Chinese grocery stores, but the real treat stands right at the corner of Wellington and de l’Église – the Notre-Dame des-Sept-Douleurs church. Overbearingly massive, it was built in 1914 and stands to this day as a testament to the role Catholicism has played in forming Verdun’s culture.

Of course, there are many places to eat in Verdun, including several trendy spots on Wellington. In the wake of gentrification, a substantial “foodie” scene has emerged in the borough, bringing with it bistro fare and gourmet cuisine. However, as a student, I prefer a more affordable approach. If you’re like me, Restaurant Zappy, at the east end of de l’Église is your ticket. They have an extensive menu of specials, a friendly diner vibe, and a nice view of the river.

Finally, venturing further east after de l’Église ends, you’ll pass the Verdun Auditorium, home of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, Junior de Montreal. If you drop in during the day, you’ll likely be able to catch a pee-wee game or even free skating sessions. Just past the Auditorium, you’ll encounter the jewel in Verdun’s crown: the coast. I suggest bringing along a few beers from the Metro Joannette, finding a nook by the river, and watching the sun set behind L’Île-des-Soeurs. It beats the clubs on St. Laurent every time.

All images by Ethan Landy>