Why Montreal's Irish Mafia by D'Arcy O'Connor is one of Jay Baruchel's favourite books

The actor, director and writer says the book proves that Canadian history is anything but boring.
Actor and filmmaker Jay Baruchel counts Montreal's Irish Mafia as one of his favourite books. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images/HarperCollins)

July 1, 2017 marks 150 years since Confederation in Canada. CBC Books is creating the Great Canadian Reading List — a list of 150 books curated by you. 

Actor and filmmaker Jay Baruchel says Montreal's Irish Mafia by D'Arcy O'Connor proves Canadian history is as colourful and electric as any other country's.

"Montreal's Irish Mafia by D'Arcy O'Connor is just a wonderful crime history of a certain type of Montreal. It's very much about the Anglo underworld and a tremendous resource for anyone who's interested in Canadian true crime. As its title implies, it centres on the West End Gang of Irish guys in Pointe-Saint-Charles, NDG and Saint-Henri, the side of the city I grew up in. Without telling too many tales out of school, my father was in a very colourful line of work back in the day. I'll just say there was some overlap between my parents and events in this book.

"By the way, it's just exciting. It's the stuff of great drama. This book goes against this narrative in English Canada that this is the nice place to live but is not the most interesting place to write about. Our history is every bit as colourful as any other country's. It comes down to two things: how it's being portrayed and what's being portrayed. I think people don't know about a lot of this stuff. It's a chronic function of the Canadian condition to be embarrassed of yourself and fight against taking pride in anything.

"This book gives you a very vivid taste of a very specific part of the world. Montreal is unique within Quebec and unique within Canada. The West End is unique within Montreal as well. You have this strange cultural mosaic that is at different times unified or competing, all of which makes for this electric, interesting thing. People don't realize how much Montreal is like a Scorsese movie is. I think the West End of Montreal is one of the great unknown, under-reported parts of this country and it's a shame. Obviously I'm biased having grown up in it, but there's some pretty incredible stuff that are the stuff of movies and punk rock songs, so I think people will dig it."

Jay Baruchel is the star of the How to Train Your Dragon films, This Is the End and the television series Man Seeking Woman. He recently directed the movie Goon: Last of the Enforcers and became chief creative officer at Toronto comics publisher Chapterhouse Publishing.


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