Friendly Neighbourhood Encounters on Square St. Louis

After an enjoyable late lunch at Mañana and after learning about the interesting life story of its owner, Angel Broncales, I was ready for enjoying a little bit of afternoon relaxation and right across from Mañana is a beautiful urban park called Square St. Louis. Its history goes back a long way, all the way to 1848 when the City of Montreal installed a water reservoir on top of a hill. 31 years later the reservoir was taken down and the entire site was converted into a public park.

The centre of the park, situated in Montreal’s popular Latin Quarter neighbourhood, features a classic Victorian fountain, surrounded by a large number of benches that attract local residents, university students, artists and tourists in search of a shady spot to relax. Someone had brought a guitar and was strumming folk songs, children were playing, and a dog was swimming in the water of the fountain. A peaceful atmosphere imbued this urban green space. Surrounding the park is a collection of eclectic Second Empire townhouses and some people say that this square might be the closest thing to a European neighbourhood square.

As I was sitting and just taking in this picturesque environment, a young man sat down next to me and we started chatting. He said that he is originally from Antigua and grew up in Oakville, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. He went to university in Virginia, did his graduate degree at McGill in Montreal and finally a PhD at Cornell University. He told me that today he runs a biotech company located in Boston and occasionally he has to travel up on business to Montreal.

Since he lived in Montreal while taking his graduate degree, he had a chance to get to know the city up-close and says he loves Montreal, especially because of its bohemian character and its European flair. He actually lived around the corner from Square St. Louis, and he is always drawn back to this neighbourhood whenever he comes back to Montreal.

Curious about his experiences studying in different parts in the United States, I asked him what his experience was like, particularly as a visible minority. He indicated that issues such as race, religion and sex are taken much more seriously in the US than they are in Canada. He added that Montreal is a very relaxed place and racial background is not much of an issue. In his opinion, language is a much more important topic in Montreal.

As we chatted, two young ladies, one from California and from Washington, D.C., came by and requested us to take a picture. We chatted for a while and they told us that they were visiting a friend who lives here in Montreal. The atmosphere in Square St. Louis was so open and relaxed, people just felt comfortable approaching complete strangers to sit down and chat. I was having a great time.

Shortly after, the young man said goodbye and I continued my exploration of the Latin Quarter on foot. Montreal’s stone townhouses represent a very unique and beautiful architectural style that you will not find in any other city. As I got ready for my next item on the itinerary, a visit to Montreal’s Islands and the Casino de Montreal, I relished this neighbourhood encounter between total strangers, inspired by the serene surroundings of Square St. Louis.

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