Saturday, March 16, 2013


an old building dating back to 1867 here in Montreal, 
back when the francophone bourgeoisie lived in this district, 
the Square Viger
now a patrimonial legacy of our past.
L'Union Francaise
created in 1886, 
 established its headquarters in this building in 1909, 
(I read this somewhere but this detail remains unconfirmed by other sources...), 
where the French community could gather together for various activities and celebrations., 
and offer services to those in need. 
They still do on some degree nowadays.

I went for a short visit during my lunchtime yesterday to have a closer look at this building. 
It shows some damages but still stands after all of this time, 
a jewel of its era. 
You see above a close-up of "Marianne", 
French symbol of the Motherland, 

gazing upon the evolution of the modern world, 
and indifferent toward the junkies and homeless folks 
wandering through the park across the street, 
day and night...

standing proud, 
even if something seems to be missing underneath her clasped hands.

I love this medallion between her breasts and her Empire style dress.

"Jeanne D'Arc"
another proud symbol of the French people.

The facade still commands attention as you walk or drive by.
Long gone are the days when L'Union Francaise welcomed French immigrants 
freshly off the boats that crossed the Atlantic to bring them on an exciting journey, 
a new life far away from home perhaps, 
but nonetheless full of hope in this [still] young country, 
when you consider History itself in general. 
Its archives are now preserved in another building nearby, 
the BanQ (Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec), 
another architectural monument of the Square Viger.

It is a little difficult to grasp the importance the Union had for so many 
upon their arrival in the "New World", 
how many needed assistance to settle in, 
just how many climbed these steps 
and gazed out these windows to have their first look at their new "home", 
full of apprehension and dreams all at once. 
To emigrate takes a certain force of character, 
to uproot yourself totally from everything familiar and comforting 
to embrace a new life set by different standards. 
Surely it was reassuring for them to find themselves behind these walls for a little while. 

Those familiar with my photography already know 
that I like looking at things up close, 
seeking details many wouldn't even pay attention to...

This door at the basement with its mail slot at the bottom... 
Where postmen back then "midgets"?!? 
I find this odd, 
given the snowstorms we had back then, 
that there would be an opening so low 
that the snow could filter in, 
or that it would be buried under snow, 
making it impossible to leave mail in there. 
Just a thought!!!

Try imagining just how many have turned this door knob, 
the way they were dressed, 
the things they carried with them, 
things salvaged from an old life, 
a few precious memories and possessions.

I like how this reflect a little the modern life surrounding it, 
like an ever changing time capsule.

I took a peek at their backyard. 
It needs some work... 
But I was pleased to see those old balconies, 
and that modern fire escape, 
very graphic in its shape. 
I also noticed...

I also noticed, 
to the left, 
a small terrace, 
a convenient place for a morning coffee, 
the occasional smoke... 
or even a glass of wine shared by friends as dusk settles over the city. 
But that is just my imagination taking over...

I leave you with this, 
as I noticed, 
from the angle I was standing at, 
that people appeared to be walking by right underneath "Marianne"'s hands. 
"Come here so that I can crush you!!" 
No innocent bystanders were hurt in the process, 
especially as this one was wearing his hard hat, 
a consequence of the many construction sites around in the area. 

As I was taking my pictures, 
a young woman came out to greet me. 
French by her own admission, 
and her accent still fresh from the old country, 
she was excited to let me know 
that she and three other French women were now there 
to revive L'Union Francaise
and make it a vital part in the life of the French community in Montreal. 
I did notice that it seemed to have gone into a lull these last few years. 
Back in the 1990s, 
when I was living just a street away from there, 
activities were frequent but not so much lately. 
Nice to hear this is about to change.

"Nous sommes unis par la langue 
et réunis par le Québec"

127 years of history, 
how many lives were affected here, 
one can hardly imagine the scope of its importance, 
welcoming newcomers and preserving a language and traditions in the New World. 
May the organization and the building both enjoy long life and prosperity!! 

I have found a document about the organisation's creation in 1886. 
For those who understand French, 
this should prove interesting. 
You'll find it HERE
In my research, 
I also came across a short article [written in English] about a man 
who held position at the Union for a while, 
an interesting fellow by all accounts, 


  1. I enjoyed this post andI admire the unusual angles. That doorknob could tell a few tales I'm sure. I hope Marianne isn't about to press the detonator for the dynamite!

    1. She didn't share her plans with me,
      but she does look like there's something on her mind here...

  2. Stunning photographs - as usual - of a grand old lady, thank you Bruno. We had a similar organisation in Harare (Zimbabwe) in the 1980s-1990s, the Alliance Francaise, which would hold a variety of French cultural events and functions throughout the year. I was a member for a few years and attended several of these, but my poor command of French (schoolboy level) was a limitation.

    1. Yes, through my research, I found a few entries about such an organization in African countries.
      So you can say "Leo lave la voiture pendant que Lea cuit un gateau"?...
      Practice makes perfect, but until then, I sure can imagine those limitations of yours
      while trying to interact with many people at once in such a setting.
      A little disconcerting it must have been.

  3. Looks like Marianne lost her sword. I love the photographs of the back of the building. The railings look so delicate. The garret windows look like some place I would have liked to live long ago.

    1. She definitely lost something....

      I always have that thought whenever I saw those windows over the years.
      Very European to have a room with a window like that,
      looking out at the stars while geraniums grow on the window sill,
      an old Billy Holiday record playing while something simmers in the oven
      and a bottle of wine breathing on the table...


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