Leonard Cohen's Montreal

References to Montreal are peppered throughout Leonard Cohen's work, from the early poems, to the novels and throughout the song catalogue. Here's an overview of the formative locations.

A tour of the city that shaped the world's moodiest songwriter

Montreal's Leonard Cohen, who many consider the bard of English Montreal, died earlier this week. (
Leonard Cohen was born Sept. 21, 1934. His father, Nathan Cohen, ran a clothing business. His mother, Masha, came from a Lithuanian family of Talmudic scholars. Nathan Cohen died was Leonard was nine. His funeral was held at the family home, 599 Belmont Avenue, in Westmount.
The Westmount home where Cohen spent his boyhood. (Google Maps)

Scions of the Westmount Jewish community

Cohen's family were prominent members of the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in Westmount. Portraits of his grandfather and great-grandfather still hang in the synagogue. Cohen had his bar mitzvah here. The synagogue's cantor, Gideon Zelermyer, lent his vocals to Cohen's last album, You Want it Darker.
A Hebrew school class photograph of Leonard Cohen in 1949 at the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue in Westmount. (Kristin Falcao)

McGill mythologies

As an undergraduate at McGill, Cohen published poems in a student paper called the Forge, and many were later included in his first collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies. 

His mentors at the time included Irving Layton, who was in the process of reinventing Canadian poetry by daring to reference Nietzsche and sex. "I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever," Cohen would later say of Layton. He was a pall-bearer at Layton's funeral in 2006.
Cohen graduated from McGill with a degree in English in 1955. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Downtown smoked meat 

In the smoked-meat heydays of Montreal, few delis were more popular than Bens, at the corner of de Maisonneuve Boulevard and Metcalfe Street. Its clients, over the years, included everyone from Liberace to Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Cohen was a regular at the deli, which was open into the early hours of the morning. "Into these special places in the city — and Bens is one of them — is drawn this very urgent cross-section of people who have somehow committed the first rebellious act that a man can perform: refusing to sleep," Cohen said in a 1965 NFB documentary. 

Bens was torn down in 2008 to make way for a luxury hotel.
A still showing Cohen walking into Bens from from the 1965 documentary Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen. (NFB/Concordia Signs Project)

Our lady of the harbour

Cohen's debut album features a song about a Montrealer who "takes you down to her place near the river," where "she she feeds you tea and oranges / that come all the way from China." 

The song, about dancer Suzanne Verdal, includes the line "And the sun pours down like honey / On our lady of the harbour." Cohen is referring to the Virgin Mary that stands atop Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, also known as the Sailor's Church, in Montreal's Old Port.
Suzanne Verdal had an apartment close to the church. (Catholic Church of Montreal )

Plateau home

Despite spending most of his time in Los Angeles, Cohen kept a home in Montreal since the 1970s. It borders Parc du Portugal. He's told interviewers that he has done some of his best writing in the kitchen in the duplex.
Mourners gather in front of Cohen's home on Friday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Cohen fans have been leaving tributes on his doorstep since his death was announced Thursday night.

One creative fan renamed the nearby street in honour of one of his most beloved lyrics.

Read more about Leonard Cohen