Montreal

St-Henri looting puts spotlight on Montreal neighbourhood's gentrification

After another case of vandalism and looting on the weekend, Montreal business owners, politicians and community activists are reflecting on the stresses an influx of new businesses and high-priced condos are placing on the city's St-Henri neighbourhood.

Vandals storm upscale grocery store amid complaints of condos and 'hipster restaurants'

Maxime Tremblay's St-Henri grocery store, named 3734, was targeted by anti-gentrification looters on Saturday night. (CBC)

After another case of vandalism and looting on the weekend, Montreal business owners, politicians and community activists are reflecting on the stresses an influx of new businesses and high-priced condos are placing on the city's St-Henri neighbourhood. 

On Saturday, approximately 30 masked individuals dressed in black stormed 3734, a boutique grocery store connected to a restaurant on Notre-Dame Street West, a stretch where an increasing number of high-end restaurants and cafés have popped up.

They threw smoke bombs, stole food and left behind a printed message deriding the "arrival of condos in St-Henri."

The note said the neighbourhood has since seen "a multitude of expensive businesses … hipster restaurants and bourgeois grocery stores."

Police haven't made any arrests.

An anti-gentrification message left behind Saturday derides the arrival of condos and 'expensive businesses' in St-Henri. (Radio-Canada)

'Condo-ization' of the neighbourhood

It was the latest in a string of cases of vandalism targeting new businesses in the traditionally working-class neighbourhood.

Over the last decade, many of the factories in the area have been replaced by condos and office space. New shops and restaurants have also popped up.

Coun. Craig Sauvé said the "vast majority of people in St-Henri don't condone vandalism and theft," but the incidents point to larger problems facing a community in transition.

"As a borough, we're doing what we can to create more inclusive housing," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"We're trying to slow down the 'condo-ization' of the neighbourhood with the very few legal means we have," said Sauvé, who is part of the city's opposition party Projet Montréal. 

The Southwest borough is also trying to pressure the provincial and federal government to bring some legislation to help keep commercial rental rates down and put more funding into social housing, Sauvé said.

"We've seen no action from the provincial government," he said.

Natasha Razouk, a single-mother and student, said she was lucky to find a subsidized co-op in St-Henri because it was otherwise unaffordable. 0:38

Another Plateau?

Maxime Tremblay, co-owner of 3734, said he was attracted by the character of the neighbourhood and the cheap rent, even though he runs an upscale shop. 

He has no plans to leave the neighbourhood, but he's concerned it could turn into another Plateau–Mont-Royal, a trendy Montreal borough home to many of the city's most trendy restaurants and bars.

"Of course, there's some big issues about gentrification in the area," he told Daybreak.

"What I hope is that St-Henri will stay mixed and not become something like the Plateau, which is more homogenous."

Tremblay said he has made an effort to sell items that "aren't too expensive but still in line with our values."

Stretching a community's 'social fabric'

A recent report by the charitable organization Centraide said the arrival of new businesses "infused new life" into the borough, which has experienced an upswing in major urban projects that have brought on "considerable real estate and speculative pressure." 

"These incredible changes have indeed stretched and reformed the community's social fabric," the report says.

Earlier this month, members of the social housing group FRAPRU camped out on the Lachine Canal to bring attention to the lack of affordable housing.

The group wants the two governments to kick in enough cash together to have 50,000 social housing units up and running in Quebec within the next five years.

A man clears off an anti-gentrification message from the window of 3734 in St-Henri. (CBC)

St-Henri 'being taken away from us' 

That's the kind of development in St-Henri that resident Natasha Razouk would prefer.

The single mother and student said she was lucky to find a subsidized co-op in the neighbourhood because it was otherwise unaffordable.

While she disagrees with vandalism as a tactic for challenging St-Henri's gentrification, she understands the anger that motivates it. 

"I don't think it's fair, honestly. St-Henri was built on the backs of low-income families, hard workers, working class, blue collar, many poor people also, generations and generations," she said.

Those are the kind of residents she feels are no longer welcome in St-Henri. 

"Our neighbourhood is kind of being taken away from us. It's becoming trendy and we're in the way now. This is how I feel," she said.

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