Neighbourhoods: McGill Ghetto Print E-mail
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The rhythm of student life
by Hana Askren
Photos by Hana Askren
In the 1970s, a plan to raze the Milton-Parc neighbourhood was largely defeated, leaving the three high-rise condominium towers of La Cité and the attached underground shopping centre as a monument to modernist city planning. The mixed-use complex contains every amenity, including a post office and a cobbler who also copies keys, but the real life of the neighbourhood is in its student community.

The McGill Ghetto, as it is affectionately nicknamed, is the centre of off-campus student life. Although families, professors and McGill employees do live here, the student demographic dominates. It is a unique community, turning over every four years or less as students leave for cheaper or more urbane enclaves. Many young newcomers to Montreal choose this area for their first apartment; it is comforting to run into classmates on the street or at Marché Lobo, the tiny neighbourhood produce store.

Every hour when classes let out, the trickle of students becomes a flood, pouring out through the Milton Gates on foot and bike. During Christmas break, street life thins out, and during exam period, café tables are cluttered with laptops and textbooks. Bar-hoppers let out an occasional 3 am burst of song, and the air outside Lola Rosa, the vegetarian restaurant, is usually fragrant with curry. Used bookstore The Word has no sign, but there is always a stack of yellowing discount books on the windowsill.

Many young newcomers to Montreal choose
this area for their first apartment.

This neighbourhood, which extends from University to Parc, was once very affluent, and rents have begun to rise again. A few large, unkempt apartment buildings are greying at the edges, while some of the four story walk-ups have been renovated into condos. Victorian and Edwardian style buildings feature dormer windows, spiral staircases, and Montreal's signature balconies. Many of these are decorated with ornate woodworking, and groups of students congregate on them in the summertime to sing, drink beer, or read in the shade.

If you look closely, you will see that the Ghetto contains many "third places" - hangouts that are not associated with home, work or school, where people connect and form social networks. The Yellow Door is one such place. It is associated with the McGill Chaplaincy service and is also a community centre, a spoken word coffeehouse, a folk music forum, a food cooperative, and an elderly project. The Ghetto Shul, a synagogue in an apartment, is a religious and social space for Jewish students. CKUT studios are in the basement of QPIRG, a volunteer organization that works for social justice. There is a tiny park at the top of Hutchison Street, and a community garden in the alley between Lorne and University. Even the Laundromat is a small refuge with its free internet, comfortable couches and mini library.

With gathering places like these, it is not surprising that this area is embraced by a community of kids who are far from home, thrown out into the world for the first time. They skirt the university, keeping it close, and trundle around in groups, trying to keep warm. You couldn't ask for a better anchor, the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the city, and a temporary home.

In the Ghetto

Lola Rosa
545, rue Milton
(514) 287-9337

Place Milton (student breakfast Mecca)
220, rue Milton
(514) 285-0011

The Word
469, rue Milton
(514) 845-5640

The Yellow Door
3625, rue Aylmer
(514) 398-6243

Ghetto Shul
3573, rue Lorne

3647, rue University
(514) 398-7432

CKUT Montreal
3647, rue University
(514) 448-4041

Presbyterian College
3495, rue University
(514) 288-5256

Currie Gym
475, av des Pins O.
(514) 398-7000

Marché Lobo
3509, av du Parc

Galéries du Parc Shopping Centre
Entrances on Parc and Prince Arthur

Bar des Pins
3714, av du Parc
(514) 845-6760

Aikido de la Montagne
3724, av du Parc
(514) 845-2729

Ballet Divertimento
3505, rue Durocher
(514) 285-2157
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