Pointe-Claire videographer is on a quest to romanticize the suburbs

Jason Bolanis interviews Pointe-Claire seniors in his Endangered Stories video series to preserve and celebrate the history of the suburb in Montreal's West Island.

Jason Bolanis celebrates local history through his Endangered Stories series

A man stands in front of a camera giving the peace sign.
Filmmaker Jason Bolanis interviews seniors in Pointe Claire to capture local stories before they're forgotten. (Submitted by Jason Bolanis)

Jason Bolanis can make Pointe-Claire residents feel nostalgic about virtually anything in their city, no matter how seemingly mundane.

From the ditches that collected rainwater where children played, to Pointe-Claire's first movie theatre, the videographer explores the Montreal suburb's history by capturing the memories of local seniors on camera.

It's part of a series of short documentaries he calls Endangered Stories, to represent the fleeting nature of memory. He says those memories are key to giving residents a greater appreciation of where they come from.

"There's nothing really to romanticize about the suburbs — until I started learning about all this stuff," Jason Bolanis told CBC Montreal's Let's Go.

WATCH | Jason Bolanis and his quest to romanticize the suburbs:

Uncovering the little-known history of Montreal's West Island

2 months ago
Duration 5:24
Videographer Jason Bolanis is on a mission to share the history of Montreal's West Island suburbs through his Endangered Stories project.

Like the fact that John Rennie High School students have been referring to Plaza Pointe-Claire, which is just a short walk away, as "the shops" ever since the '50s. A former John Rennie student himself, Bolanis remembers eating lunch at the mall's food court regularly. As did his older brother, and virtually every generation of students before him.

"It's pretty remarkable, I mean it almost sounds like nothing, but the relationship between this mall and this high school is like over 60 years old," said Bolanis. "How many generations [have] to be alive or around before we start to say, well, this is a tradition?"

The history of "the shops" and the intergenerational lunchtime pilgrimage is detailed on the Endangered Stories Facebook page which has over 3,000 followers and can be found on YouTube.

It was through Facebook that someone suggested Bolanis speak to longtime on-and-off Pointe-Claire resident Karen Larsen for some of his videos.

Her family moved to the West Island community in 1947 when Larsen was five. She described it as 35 houses "in the middle of nowhere" at the end of an unpaved road.

"My mother was devastated, she thought she was at the backside of the moon," she recalls.

Karen Larsen hadn't talked about the old Pointe-Claire movie theatre in years, until Jason Bolanis turned up at her door, camera in hand, last summer.

WATCH | Pointe-Claire seniors remember the suburb's first movie theatre:

Larsen described the many Saturday nights she spent watching a movie there, or dancing in a building that no longer exists or going to bars. She told him about the time she worked at the Steinberg's grocery store in the Pinky stamps division — their version of a loyalty card — and her time as a young girl playing in the Terra-Cotta Park or watching the Pointe-Claire water tower being built.

"When we got talking and interviewing, memories sort of came up," said Larsen.

For Sara Giguère, therein lies the beauty of oral history. Giguère is the cultural officer for the city of Dorval and works at its museum of local history and heritage.

"Unfortunately all these small details about the day-to-day life of people, we don't have that written," says Giguère who is involved in Dorval's own project to record the memories of local seniors.

"[It's] interesting to remember that we used to be a super small village," she said.

The movie theatre that Larsen loved so much is now a pastry shop and she no longer remembers what movies she even watched there. But she remembers the feeling of community, and is happy to see Bolanis relay that in his videos.

Ultimately, Bolanis says that's his goal — to share Pointe-Claire's history so that today's younger residents can have more respect for it, even the mundane things that have blended into the landscape over time.

"[It's] more than the brick and mortar, it's the community. It's the vibe," said Bolanis.


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