Behind Natalie and her heartfelt family drama on THIS LIFE sits NDG, a larger than life, family-friendly residential oasis in Montreal.
Notre-dame-de-grâce, or NDG for short, is a predominantly English-speaking neighbourhood that sits a few kilometres west of Montreal’s downtown core. Its major artery, Sherbrooke Avenue, plays host to local mom & pop shops, diverse restaurants, and the pre-requisite dozen or so Starbucks Coffee Houses.
In THIS LIFE, NDG serves as the primary backdrop for the series’ touching story. Natalie, her children, and her best friend Danielle call NDG home.
Everything on THIS LIFE was shot on location and doing so creates an intangible synergy between place and story. When you’re at Natalie’s house, on location in NDG, you feel like you’re actually living THIS LIFE. Filming in a real house in NDG allows us to let viewers into the character’s real environment. It gave me shivers and you can expect those shivery feelings to translate when you watch every episode of THIS LIFE.
But it’s important to note that the neighbourhood isn’t just populated by some fictional Lawsons; NDG is also considered the home or birthplace of a number of real famous Canadians. I have friends that used to (and might still?) babysit Sam Roberts’s kids. Passing Jay Baruchel on the street a time or two used to be a right of passage. A few clicks from THIS LIFE’s NDG on-location set is Confederation Park, which used to field Blue Jays catcher, Russell Martin.
Those names aren’t impressive enough? Well you can add actors William Shatner and Jessica Paré, as well as poet Irving Layton, and legendary hockey player Doug Harvey to the list of notable people that were born and raised in NDG.
Historically speaking, NDG was initially inhabited by the Saint Lawrence Iroquois but rapidly became one of the first locations for European settlement -- as was the entire island of Montreal. NDG Village, as it was once dubbed, was mostly broken up into farmland where cabbage, apples and their world-famous NDG melons were grown. In fact, NDG melons were so tasty, they were actually sent to Buckingham Palace and served to King Edward VII -- I heard his Yelp! review was rather enthusiastic. But with an ever expanding city centre and a skyrocketing urban population, farmland soon made way for much needed housing development.
Today, NDG mixes the family-friendly atmosphere and urban planning of a suburb with the diversity, cultural production and busyness of the downtown core. The neighbourhood’s labeling is often a point of contention. Suburb or not, NDG is one-of-a-kind.
I myself went to Loyola High School, a rigorous Catholic, all boys private school located in NDG. As a kid growing up on the island’s furthest-flung suburb, NDG offered a gateway to the tantalizing pulse of the city. To this day, it remains a fertile ground for local shopping, eating and arts.
During many sun-soaked production days this summer, as I walked up Harvard Street towards the set of THIS LIFE, I couldn’t help but imagine Natalie, Caleb, Emma and Romy going about their business in some of NDG’s best-kept secrets...
For food, there’s only one place the Lawsons would go for high-quality take-out -- Rotisserie le Chalet Bar-B-Q. A staple since 1944, its melty rotisserie chicken is easily the best in the city. The operation was started by Swiss-born Marcel Mauron and remains a family operation. Their secret? They roast their chicken over hardwood charcoal in customized brick ovens, creating the Rotisserie’s legendary crispiness.
A few blocks westward of “chicken heaven” lies Shaïka Cafe, NDG’s arts and culture hub. When you step through its corner store doors, you’re instantly transported to an eccentric bohemian oasis. By day, it’s your prototypical indie coffee shop. By night, it transforms into a music and spoken-word venue, where weekly open mics and live performances mark the epicentre of the neighbourhood’s burgeoning arts community.
Cut through neighbouring Girouard Park and beeline it a few blocks north to see one of Montreal’s finest stretches of cityspace -- Monkland Village. This hidden gem of a village plays host to a number of local food festivals, lesser known Grand Prix festivities and outdoor musical performances throughout the year. It is also THIS LIFE Showrunner Joseph Kay’s favourite place to spend time in Montreal. Monkland Village provides onlookers a perfect snapshot of the diverse and transitioning nature of NDG. I recommend taking a walk and breathing the street in for a real taste of what it is to be an NDG-er.
On your next trip to Montreal, make a detour through NDG and walk in the fictional footsteps of Natalie and company.
I’m Max Morin, by the way, Story Coordinator for THIS LIFE. Keep this blog on lock for many more nuggets of behind-the-scenes goodness.
Watch a video about what it was like shooting THIS LIFE in Montreal: