I like to explore the neighbourhood by walking my dog, Elliot, as it’s a simple excuse. I probably wouldn’t bother to go on this quest without his companionship especially when it’s below 20 degrees. Before I had a dog, I would hibernate.
Recently, I have been going to the west side of the neighbourhood – to me this means west of Iberville and Frontenac St. and walked all the way to De Lorimier which is another major road. I don’t know if my neighborhood stretches to this street, but there were a number of interesting finds during these walks.
I walked by Le Carrefour de St-Eusèbe and the St-Eusèbe church on Fullum St. that I previously mentioned. Even though I no longer attend catholic ceremonies, I am drawn to this church and will have to go one of these Sundays. I walked by a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere and the newspaper review at the window read what sums up my search: “…this restaurant is nestled somewhere in between Centre-Sud and Hochelaga which is a sort of no-man’s land…” Interesting, I am not the only one.
The most interesting find however was on De Lorimier St. at the corner of Ontario where I found a plaque sitting in front of a cheap old baseball-type of fence (the kind behind a catcher that you would find at any old school playground). I stepped closer and found out it was the old site of Lorimier Stadium (or Lorimier Downs) where the Montreal Royals played (a AAA farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers) and the plaque was in honor of Jackie Robinson who first broke the colour barrier in the minor leagues in Canada in 1946 before doing the same thing in 1947 in the majors. I spoke to my Dad on the phone and although he was only 10 at the time, he remembers going to games at the 20,000 seat stadium and he explained to me that the powers that be wanted to send him to the city where they thought would be the most lenient for having the first black man play minor league baseball. He asked me what the site is now. “A high school” I answered, “but there’s also a park called ‘Parc des Royaux’ next to the old site which is obviously a nod to the old team.”
“During that season, Robinson faced the racist resistance of his manager, Mississippian Clay Hopper, and teammates to his entrance, but soon won them over with his masterful playing (beginning with spectacular play in the opening game against the Jersey City Giants and courage facing against hostile crowds and opponents. As for his home city, he was welcomed immediately by the public, who followed his performance in that season with intense adoration. For the rest of his life, Robinson remained grateful to the people of Montreal making the city a welcome oasis for his wife and himself during the difficult 1946 season.”
I also found out that there’s a Jackie Robinson statue at the Olympic Stadium site (which is not in the neighbourhood)… now that the Expos have moved, perhaps they should move the statue to this neighbourhood as the small plaque and cheap baseball fence is just not enough to commemorate a very important piece of history for this area.