A Neighbourhood’s Rebirth: Shaughnessy Village

By Sharman Yarnell on April 23, 2010

It’s springtime in Shaughnessy Village and the residents are out-and-about after a long hibernation. It has a wealth of cultural diversity. What an amazing mixture, a true melting pot, of not only cultures, but people from different social status. On one block alone there are Indians, Germans, Ukrainians, Italians, Haitians and Irish. Anyone thinking of purchasing property in the area would be joining actors, lawyers, architects, authors, a dentist, an opera singer and a playwright. 

shaughnessy.jpgThe residents also include students from Lasalle College and Concordia, who make the Village their temporary home. They arrive in late summer droves, vans packed to the brim with possessions - parents usually in tow, to check out the neighbourhood. Then there are the down-and-outs that frequent Cabot Square, the druggies, and graffiti artists who express themselves on the walls of private property. All are part and parcel of any urban community, and Shaughnessy Village - named for the house once owned by Lord Shaughnessy, which is now Canadian Centre for Architecture - is no different. 

For the past 10 years, Shaughnessy has been going downhill, mushrooming down-at-the-heel restaurants along Ste. Catherine Street coupled with the slow disintegration of the block housing the remains of the Seville Theatre. 

The stretch of broken down buildings between Chomedey and Lambert-Closse is now slated for development.

The so-called Seville Block is named after a once proud lady: The Seville Theatre. Built in 1929 as a movie theatre, she was turned into a stage theatre in the 1940s. In her heyday, she showcased some of the top names in the entertainment world including Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. In the 60s, she was turned back into a movie theatre.  

Residents originally wanted the theatre to be restored. But despite being named a heritage site by the city in 1990, she was left to the elements and the pigeons, her outer walls finally having to be supported by beams to prevent them from falling. 

The recent news that Stephen Bronfman, along with real estate developer Prevel, intend to build up the area with commercial spaces and middle-income condominiums suggests the problem may be solved. The old theatre’s façade will either be rebuilt or remembered in a photo montage.  Nice - if the words become actions. The city has promised to fast-track the project and all agree that sooner is better than later when it comes to the Seville Block.

A new concern is also rearing its ugly head.  A nearby Ste. Catherine Street restaurant asked permission from the city to open a terrace that would accommodate 710 people.  The thought of late-night revellers leaving the bar in the early hours and spilling onto the residential streets has some Villagers concerned. 

So, what’s the draw to this little hub? This tight-knit community is served by an elected organization (The Shaughnessy Village Association, formed in 1981) that holds get-togethers throughout the year. Auctions are held at these events to raise money and collect food for charities in the Village. There is a keen interest in the historical value of the area. Homeowners work at maintaining its heritage by conserving the integrity of the older homes, greening the alleys and holding a seasonal clean-up day and beautification contest every year. 

The residents lobby the city for better traffic flow.  The organization has also provided lane lights for areas heavily used by drug dealers, thus cutting down on the problem. The Montreal Heritage Society gives weekend walks through the Village during the summer, showcasing its old homes and rich history.  The Montreal Children’s Hospital, restaurants, grocery shopping and a library are all within walking distance. A movie theatre is nearby. There is even a theatre group, The Shaughnessy Village Players.

I have lived and worked in Shaugnessy for over 20 years. I remember Pascals, the York Theatre, Stanley Cup parades on Ste. Catherine, the St. Patrick’s parades, Nick Auf de Mauer walking along Tupper, hat pulled down, cigar in mouth. I even remember the occasional hockey riot.  

Shaughnessy Village is many things to many people. Certainly a lot can be said for the convenience of living near stores, public transit, or being able to walk or ride a bike to work. But it’s the cultural mosaic that grabs me, along with the friendships made and the comfort of being a part of a warm and caring neighbourhood. It’s home.


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