Preserving The History of Griffintown
“My first experience down here in the territory was McAuslan Brewery. I was invited to be the artist in residence. It was a wonderful story of entrepreneur businessmen meeting with entrepreneur artists. Peter and I became good friends, dear friends. I proposed that I would do a body of work on the past and the present of Lachine Canal, what it was in its industrial era and what it has become in its post-industrial era. And Peter entertained me.
After losing three studios to condo projects, he offered me the second floor of his visitor’s center. It was at that visitor’s center that I launched myself into the urbanism of Montreal, the Lachine Canal as a waterway, and, more specifically, the people of this territory. As a Master’s thesis project, it was my thesis advisor, Laurie Blair, who suggested, “You should really do something on Griffintown.” I had another idea in mind and she tailored that.
She was very wise to do so. Out of that, ensued a short doc called Dans l’Griff, which is a three-generational story about the Mercier family. All their stories elicited from their personal photographs, from their photo albums, and filming them on location with the photographs that are eliciting the memories of what life was like ’cause that life is gone.
My idea with their documentary was to show the past and the present. In order to familiarize myself with Griffintown, I did something called the Griffintown Tour. It was 21 short films of Griffintown. I picked out 21 architectural sites and I had a PhD, a guy named Matthew Barlow, who was specializing in the Irishification of Griffintown. Matthew told a social history while doing this walking tour that I devised.
I thought the best way to understand the territory and the landscape is not only through the historian but through the buildings themselves. That’s now online. It’s a wonderful project. I occasionally get emails from ex-Griffintowners that have mobility issues, living in old folks’ homes that have you saying, “Thank you, Mr. MacLeod, for preserving our history. I remember the Lowney Chocolate and the Dow Brewery scandal and the Liberator crashing.” It was very important for me to humanize that territory.”