A collage of black and white photos, featuring the faces of Black current and former residents of Little Burgundy.
A collage of Black current and former residents of Little Burgundy who are interviewed below about their iconic Montreal neighbourhood.

‘A tight-knit community’: Black contemporary life in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood

'They want to put it down — break its spirit, but they couldn’t because a lot of greatness has come out of Little Burgundy.' Black residents share stories of their everyday life.

Montreal’s Little Burgundy is nestled between the southwest neighbourhoods of Saint-Henri and Pointe-Saint-Charles. It has a distinct history and unique importance as one of the earliest Black community settlements in Canada.

As the birthplace of Montreal’s Black English-speaking and working-class community and home to many world-renowned musical legends during the golden age of jazz, it’s historically been referred to as the ‘Harlem of the North’.

In filmmaker Henri Pardo’s documentary, Dear Jackie, viewers witness how Little Burgundy’s past and present-day Black community has weathered the devastating effects of several waves of urban renewal, housing expropriations, gentrification, and disproportionate police violence against Black youth.

But within these major narratives, stories of everyday citizens often become lost and details unseen. Here, residents provide a window onto their lives and the work they do to preserve their community.

SIMON GRAY

Maintenance technician & former basketball coach at Little Burgundy Sports Community Centre and well-known resident of the neighbourhood.

Simon Gray standing in a gym laughing.
Simon Gray standing in a gym laughing.
Simon Gray sits on a bench in a gym.
Simon Gray sits on a bench in a gym.
Simon Gray wearing a hoodie and smiling.
Simon Gray wearing a hoodie and smiling.
Simon Gray standing in the doorway of a gym.
Simon Gray standing in the doorway of a gym.
images expandMaintenance technician & former basketball coach Simon Gray at Little Burgundy Sports Community Centre

Since 1997, after moving to Montreal from Jamaica, Simon Gray has been the heart of the Little Burgundy Sports Community Centre and a mentor to several generations of youth who have passed through its doors.

“Mentoring starts with myself. It is just … a giving. Living in this community — seeing what I’ve seen, going through what I have gone through. It is best, and it was best, for me to do the best for what could have been, what should have been, and still can be in this community which we call Burgundy because I don’t like to use the word ‘Little.’ Little is like the word ‘belittling’ but this is the name they gave it from then but we as the new generation, we call it Burgz.”

Working first as a basketball coach, Gray has served as the centre’s maintenance technician for 24 years. As a well-known figure in the neighbourhood, many youth (as well as those who knew him as teens but are now adults) look to Gray for counsel, guidance and to hear his words of wisdom.

“I don’t live for myself alone, but I live with a discipline, with people. [And] it never stops. The caring never stops. It is continual — it’s just like a stream. You have to keep flowing with care. When we use the word care we have to use it in a more ideological sense or a more ethical sense … it’s not just a given. Care leads to this fundamental word, what we call ‘love.’”

MEIHIBA GANNON-WILLIS

21-year-old recreational programming animator at Tyndale St-Georges Community Centre

Meihiba Gannon-Willis walking outside in Montreal.
Meihiba Gannon-Willis walking outside in Montreal.
Meihiba Gannon-Willis stands outside the community centre.
Meihiba Gannon-Willis stands outside the community centre.
A mural showing Black musicians in Montreal.
A mural showing Black musicians in Montreal.
Meihiba Gannon-Willis sitting inside the community centre.
Meihiba Gannon-Willis sitting inside the community centre.
images expandMeihiba Gannon-Willis at the Tyndale St-Georges Community Centre

“I grew up here, so I’ve been here for a good amount of time. I’ve worked at this community centre [Tyndale] as well. I was actually a participant here and so I’m back to return the favour and give back to my community and get to know the kids. The different community centres we have here, they play a huge role in just making sure that kids are getting what they need and the support that they need in the community.

A lot of the staff that were here when I was younger were very kind and just very genuine in wanting to see my success … and just helping me to be a better person. So, with that being said, I think that it is my duty, as well, to help these kids build better relationships with their peers and help them feel more motivated to do better and to help out and to want to give back.

I hope when they get older they’re like ‘that was my rec. animator’ — that’s what it is for me. My rec animators used to do this with me and now that I’m actually doing it, I see how much work goes into it and how much planning is involved.”

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ANDREA ESTE

Coordinator at the Fabienne Colas Foundation (International Black Film Festival) and board administrator for Revive NCC.

Andrea Este stands beside staircase near a building.
Andrea Este stands beside staircase near a building.
Andrea Este stands in front of an empty lot in Montreal.
Andrea Este stands in front of an empty lot in Montreal.
An empty lot in Montreal.
An empty lot in Montreal.
Andrea Este stands in front of an empty lot in Montreal.
Andrea Este stands in front of an empty lot in Montreal.
images expandAndrea Este is coordinator at the Fabienne Colas Foundation (International Black Film Festival) and board administrator for Revive NCC

The Negro Community Centre (NCC) was the first community organization dedicated to supporting, employing, and empowering Montreal’s Black community in the early 20th century. The desire to create the NCC came to life in the living room of Andrea Este’s great uncle, the Reverend Charles H. Este of Union United Church, in 1927 by residents of the neighbourhood we now know as Little Burgundy. Sadly, the NCC was forced to close in 1989 and its building on Coursol Street was demolished by the city in 2014.

“I’ve been part of this movement, part of the ‘Revive NCC’ board for the last year and we’ve received funding, which is really fantastic. With this money, we’re slowly gaining ground and pushing through to be able to finally, eventually one day re-erect a building and a place where the community can come and celebrate.

Maybe [we’ll] have a museum inside so we can really show the history of Montreal and show the history of what the NCC was because I don’t know how many of this generation know the history of Little Burgundy and of the NCC. So we’re really trying to get people to know about it and to help this initiative.

We want this new NCC to live on for hundreds of years! We really want to build something solid that will last. Do it right and not let what happened years ago happen again because it meant so much to the community and it gave so much and people felt a sense of belonging there. The younger generation right now, I think it’s really important for them to have something like that again.”

MESHACK MORRIS

Local Montreal rapper who grew up in Little Burgundy

Meshack Morris stands in front of an apartment buidling.
Meshack Morris stands in a doorway.
Meshack Morris stands in a doorway.
Meshack Morris leans against a building in Montreal.
A tree without leaves beside a buidling in Montreal.
images expand

“There’s a mural on St Martin [in Little Burgundy] that says: ‘a tight-knit community.’ That’s exactly what the community was and still is. Everywhere was always packed, everyone was close, it was full of life. So much vitality in one single area, for so many years. When my mum told us that we were leaving Burgundy, there was nowhere else in the world that I wanted to go. It really was a culture shock moving to a predominantly white neighbourhood. They didn’t know about Little Burgundy like I did. It matters that people know where I grew up. If you want to know me, you gotta know where I’m from. It’s important.

The seeds that were planted in my mind as a child, as a teen … that I learned from the people I grew up around. I didn’t realize what they were until now, as an adult. It helped me to ask the right questions. And now, my music — the lyrics, the stories — it revolves around Little Burgundy because at that time my whole life was Little Burgundy, the neighbourhood is foundational to my music. If I’m driving downtown, I’m stopping in Burgundy. I’m driving by the park, down Coursol, and St. Martin Street. It’s not a visitation thing. It’s like you feel at home. Especially if you’re from there, you never really leave.”

HEATHER TYRRELL

'Creator of memories' and mother of one, born and raised in Little Burgundy

Heather Tyrell stands on the sidewalk in front of a home.
Heather Tyrell stands on the sidewalk in front of a home.
Heather Tyrell smiling with her arms outstretched.
Heather Tyrell smiling with her arms outstretched.
An intersection in Montreal's Little Burgundy.
An intersection in Montreal's Little Burgundy.
Heather Tyrell stands with a young man.
Heather Tyrell stands with a young man.
images expandHeather Tyrrell in Little Burgundy, Montreal.

Heather Tyrrell and her family have deep ties to Little Burgundy. She was born in the neighbourhood and spent most of her life on the same street that her mother, Eda Tyrrell lived on since her arrival in Canada from Barbados in 1955 as one of 16 young women sponsored through the Domestic Immigration Program. Tyrell has continued this lineage by raising her son, Isaiah Joyner, in Little Burgundy as well.

“We all know that the face of the neighbourhood has changed drastically but in general where I am, on Coursol Street, it has stayed the same. It has always been a community place, everyone interacts with each other.

When I was younger a lot of black people owned homes on this street. Then, a lot of them moved away and people fell for the ruse that Little Burgundy was a bad place or the hood. Little Burgundy has never been a ‘hood.’ There’s no way, shape, or form that this is a ghetto. Under no circumstances, because people don’t pay millions of dollars for a home in a ghetto.

The only reason why they try to cast that over Little Burgundy is [the same as] any inner-city where Black people live, they try to label it as such. They want to put it down — break its spirit, but they couldn’t because a lot of greatness has come out of Little Burgundy.”

ISAIAH JOYNER

23-year-old Little Burgundy resident, and Finance graduate from Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business

Isaiah Joyner walks down the street in Montreal.
Isaiah Joyner walks down the street in Montreal.
Isaiah Joyner stands in front of a corner store.
Isaiah Joyner stands in front of a corner store.
Isaiah Joyner stands on the porch of a home in Montreal.
Isaiah Joyner stands on the porch of a home in Montreal.
A residential home in Montreal.
A residential home in Montreal.
images expandIsaiah Joyner in Montreal's Little Burgundy

“I got the experience of growing up with my grandparents (the longstanding Tyrell family) in Little Burgundy and going through the education system now to the point that I graduated university and [am] becoming a young pillar in my community. I’ve always tried to put myself out there, be involved in the community, and look towards career development. I really try to focus on the future.

I started in elementary school learning how to be a student leader. That sort of led to working at summer programs in the neighbourhood, either helping youth to be creative or to stay out of trouble and organizing activities for others as a camp counsellor. This really picked up when I was at Westmount High School and in CEGEP while at Dawson [College] and working on the student union. As a university student, I advocate for Black students on campus. Currently, I’m part of the anti-Black racism task force at Concordia University as an alumnus.

The community organizations that have helped me fund my education, like Tyndale-St-Georges and Union United Church in Little Burgundy, who have given me scholarships — seeing that they recognize my service and the effort I put into my studies has helped a lot in building this portfolio and my confidence — and now I’m just trying to pay it back, paying it forward to my community by using my expertise and all that I’ve learned.”

DARLENE LYNCH

Stay-at-home mother and resident of Little Burgundy since 1989

Darlene Lynch stands in front of a building.
Darlene Lynch stands in front of a building.
Darlene Lynch stands on the sidewalk.
Darlene Lynch stands on the sidewalk.
Darlene Lynch stands in front of a residential building.
Darlene Lynch stands in front of a residential building.
Darlene Lynch with a young man.
Darlene Lynch with a young man.
images expandDarlene Lynch in Montreal's Little Burgundy.

As a Black, biracial woman, Darlene has known the intensity of racism and the assumptions people make about her identity.

“My mother was a beautiful woman. She had a hard life, growing up Black and marrying a white man. She got treated bad.

When I moved down here to Little Burgundy, I had to deal with it [racism] too. People have to think: Black is not always Black on the skin. You have to think, there’s more than one colour of Black. You can’t always expect somebody’s skin to be dark.

My son, at school, they would always be like, ‘who’s that?’ — ‘oh, that’s my mother’ — ‘that can’t be your mother, she’s white’. And I tell him: never fight with anybody over that, it’s not worth it. It is not worth it.

I know who I am. I am who I am. I am my mother’s child so you can’t change me.”

JACKSON JOSEPH

Life-long resident of Little Burgundy and owner of Burgz Cantine, a Haitian cuisine restaurant in Pointe-Saint-Charles

Jackson Joseph walks outside.
Jackson Joseph walks outside.
Jackson Jospeh stands in front of a wall of photos in his restaurant.
Jackson Jospeh stands in front of a wall of photos in his restaurant.
Jackson Joseph stands in front of his restaurant.
Jackson Joseph stands in front of his restau
A close up of photos hanging inside Jackson Joseph's restuarant.
A close up of photos hanging inside Jackson Joseph's restuarant.
images expandJackson Joseph at his restaurant in Little Burgundy.

Burgz is the nickname that Little Burgundy locals have given to their neighbourhood. Located only a few steps away from the Gauron Bridge at the Lachine Canal on the edge of Pointe-Saint-Charles and Little Burgundy (what owner Jackson Joseph calls ‘the door’), Burgz Cantine faces its namesake across the canal.

“The name itself [Burgz] … it’s a statement. I did it in such a way that when my people come in, they automatically feel at home. It’s a statement that you know what: there’s none for us, we’re going to create our own. The area’s been gentrified and therefore Little Burgundy for me, it’s a neighbourhood full of history and unfortunately, we’re not sharing that history. So that’s what the concept of [Burgz] is — the design and everything. I want to make sure when people come in, it just tickles the mind that ‘hey, this neighbourhood had a lot of Black folks — it was the first Black neighbourhood.’ I want people to be curious and ask questions about my neighbourhood.

It’s sort of a bridge, like the [Little Burgundy] sports centre where people from different social statuses meet and they could exchange. That’s how I see Burgz Cantine. It’s a sharing place.”

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FIDEL ACHI

Barber and Jerry Pipim’s business partner of Jerry’s Coiffure, one of the last Black-owned barber shops in Little Burgundy

Fidel Achi shaves a customer's hair.
Fidel Achi shaves a customer's hair.
A close up of barber's tools.
A close up of barber's tools.
A close up of Fidel Achi.
A close up of Fidel Achi.
Fidel Achi stands in front of the Montreal barbershop where he works.
Fidel Achi stands in front of the Montreal barbershop where he works.
images expandFidel Achi at a barbershop in Little Burgundy, Montreal.

“I’ve been in Canada for seven years. I’m from Africa and I started to work at Jerry’s Coiffure for nearly six years. Jerry is the one who mostly showed me hair barbering techniques. He taught me how to style and he also gives courses in Little Burgundy for young people who want to try this profession. The courses he gives here are free.

Clients, friends, friends of friends, children of friends. Basically, it’s family. Jerry grew up with these clients because he’s been doing hair for a long time. It’s been more than 20 years, maybe more than 30 years, so he’s done his friends’ hair, when they grew up, his friends’ kids. It’s a whole community.

Before the pandemic, we’d style, chat until 1am in the morning. It’s family and most of my friends come here to get their hair done or spend time with us, and we go through daily life together. And have a lot of fun and that is also what makes us special.”

AMANDA MAXWELL

Born and raised in Little Burgundy and currently working at Desta Black Youth Network as the re-entry coordinator

Amanda Maxwell stands in a library.
Amanda Maxwell stands in a library.
Close up of Amanda Maxwell.
Close up of Amanda Maxwell.
Amanda Maxwell walks outside in a park.
Amanda Maxwell walks outside in a park.
A mural of a Black woman on a buidling in Montreal.
A mural of a Black woman on a buidling in Montreal.
images expandAmanda Maxwell at the Desta Black Youth Network in Montreal.

​​“I work for Desta Black Youth Network. I work in re-entry, so basically, I help those who are currently incarcerated and those who are transitioning on their way home. I help them with support letters, we offer counselling — once they’re home we help them transition from the halfway house and we help them get a job, an apartment [and] just navigate through the system.

The people that come through Desta that are not from Burgundy, we make sure we show them just how much we are involved in the community so we’re a part of a lot of different community organizations within Little Burgundy [like] Tyndale, Union United Church and we volunteer so when our participants come to us, we make sure we involve them in that too so they get that sense of community.

Burgundy has one of the highest concentrations of city housing, low-income housing, but for me, I feel like people need to know that Burgundy — we’re resilient. At almost 40, I still have the same friends I had at five years old. We are a community from the beginning to end, we stick together.”

Watch Dear Jackie on the documentary channel.


Funded by:
Canadian Media Fund