I have had the incredible good luck of meeting an interesting diversity of Montrealers since I started this blog in 2005 and there is no way I could discuss that in a single blog post, such is the regard I hold these people in, let alone the talents and accomplishments involved. But I will say the lists contains architects, urban planners, community organizers and activists, environmentalists, railroad historians, urban explorers par excellence, poets and artists of every stripe, documentary filmmakers, independent journalists, politicians( !?!), and hundreds of outrageously beautiful everyday citizens who are the heart and drive of all those intangible, and maybe even just a little bit crazy, things that make Montreal one of the best places there is on the planet.
And then you run into someone you already admired.
Last June on Wellington street in Verdun I had the pleasure of meeting Sterling Downey for the first time at the Projet Montreal booth during the sidewalk sale. He is running for City Councillor in the Desmarchais-Crawford district in Verdun. That would not normally be worthy of a blog post except, you see, Sterling Downey is Seaz.
Around 1994 I began to notice graffiti popping up around the city on my urban explorations around town, particularly in the South West Borough, which was not a borough in the those days but a series of districts that had the Lachine Canal as a common feature – Cote Saint Paul, Saint Henri, Point Saint Charles, and Griffintown (Little Burgundy would be added to the Borough). So, without any real plan, but a love of bicycling through these areas and an obsession with photographing stuff, I began photographing graffiti wherever I could find it, and that included some very obscure locations and abandoned factories (before the condos came). It was a very interesting period in Montreal .
It didn’t take very long to start recognizing “tags” and appreciating “pieces” and getting to know the various styles. There were a bunch of names that became familiar and I almost felt like I knew them, that I was somehow becoming connected to this community of interesting urban exploring artists. And of all of them, the two that stood out in terms of really getting it out there in good quality were Flow and Seaz – they were everywhere! I once cycled out to the junction of highways 20 and 13 to photograph Flow and Seaz on two boxcars that appeared to be permanently residing on the edge of the CN yards there (you had to be part nuts yourself to even consider that route) . Something was happening and I was pretty enthusiastic to just follow all along. Life was good.
I have to confess. I never did meet any of these graffiti artists that I admired. I have often seen people writing and tagging, even got to know that in some cases this was “toys” learning the ropes or realizing that maybe they didn’t have it, and there was definitely an experimental art school out there, but I never came across any of the “big names” at work. I’ve witnessed “cross out wars” and have been very disappointed to see some very nice work ruined by some punk’s arrogant gesture. There was all kinds of communication on the walls – KIlroy had been there and back a few times. I never tried to find out where these people hung out, I was strictly an on site kind of participant/documentarian preferring to record the relationships between the work and the locations.
It’s kind of weird to think that was happening twenty years ago. A lot of spray paint under the bridges you might say. And sometimes I wonder what happened to all those people and if they still write graffiti.
What I can tell you about Seaz is stuff I have stumbled upon over the years. I know he worked with Suzanne Gauthier (name?) who wrote her PHD thesis on Graffiti art in Montreal having read about it in the alternative papers, but also from seeing “Shout Outs” from Seaz to Suzanne on some walls in Saint Henri and maybe other places( though Google is giving me a hard time on that). He became a founder of the internationally renowned Under Pressure festival in Montreal. He is also involved in Fresh Paint! art space downtown. But perhaps most importantly, he dedicated himself to educating both the public and at risk youth about the importance of creativity as a tool for personal development and social responsibility. Seaz became an Educator – not too shabby for a kid from Verdun that became one of Montreal’s greatest street art legends!
So I am going to vote for Sterling Downey because he is, as people in the business community love to say, someone who gets the job done. It’s as simple as that. Please consider voting for Projet Montreal on November 3rd.
Saw this article earlier and it just brought up a whole slew of issues as to the wrong directions Montreal has been going in for a few generations. There you have a very interesting building right on the Lachine Canal that no one has been interested in for decades. While being well known amongst urban explorers, this former CN building once played a very important role in organizing train traffic for downtown and the South West. It’s part of what should be a very well known local narrative, the history of railroads in Montreal, which itself is a substantial portion of the history of Canada . But with the egregious condo tower development of Griffintown ( a district that should be renamed Tremblayville) it appears that there is now energy to add some “culture” to this structure and the area.
There is very little evidence of that railroad history in the city today with perhaps the most telling item being the monumentally obnoxious gesture of building the city’s principle hockey arena (Bell Centre) in front of one of the most important railway buildings in the country, Windsor Station. The city needs to be more rail friendly for the future and the decision to build on that spot was horribly shortsighted. Heritage has not been high on the list of priorities in the “Paris of North America” for a long time with a fair amount of “Paris” getting torn down and replaced by much lesser than projects. In the 1980′s the tracks that ran between Saint Antoine and Notre Dame were dug up, the viaducts at Guy and Mountain streets torn down and some of the most boring neighborhoods in the city were created, no man’s lands that are not well served at all by public transportation, nor offer much in the way of arts or commercial attractions. One could have hoped that for all the corruption involved Montreal could have at least got a bit of a bang for it’s inflated dollars. Didn’t happen.
And now we have another municipal election, one that should be closing the door on the Tremblay Era, a time in the city post-merger that has been dominated by corruption and really, really bad decisions in development, though it needs to be said that the two, more or less, walked hand in hand.
I first met Richard Bergeron around 2008 when the Turcot movement was picking up some momentum. This man was attending public consultations, community meetings and other events around the city mainly concerned with transportation and infrastructure issues in Montreal and how they would impact residents. And this was when he was the only elected official from Projet Montreal. I was very impressed with his whole approach towards those issues and especially how he not only seemed very concerned about citizen’s ideas, but was willing to rub elbows with anyone who had something to say. You could see that he was very passionate about the city. This is not what the usual politicians do, often showing up only when they want something from you. I spoke with him again this year at a Verdun Projet Montreal event and I could clearly see again his enthusiasm and determination to see Montreal return as a great world class city. During my Turcot activist period I spoke with a number of incredible people around the city including architects, engineers, urban planners and the like, and not one of them had a greater grasp of the whole picture in Montreal than Richard Bergeron. He would make an excellent Mayor!
I ran for Borough Councillor with Projet Montreal in Verdun in 2009. I learned a lot about what the job is really all about doing door to door campaigning. While many of us would like to change the world; there is a man who is angry about not being able to build a fence 10 inches higher than the bylaws permit; someone else who feels the city should focus on wild animals; others who want more municipal parking lots; people with every imaginable concept hoping to get these projects “grandfathered”; and the list just keeps on going. It is not an easy job, especially if you plan on doing it well. If the 2013 team in Verdun is any indication, then I would have to say that the Projet Montreal candidates across the city are well prepared to serve the citizens of Montreal in the best manner possible.
We need honest people in charge of the city, it’s really as simple as that. And Projet Montreal’s books are open to anyone who wants to see how the money is acquired and spent.
We live in strange times. Every day more and more people are accepting the overwhelming scientific fact that man made climate change is real and is coming to shake our world upside down. There is no running away from this realty as we now frequently see extreme weather events around the globe shattering previous records and the damage that can displace thousands. That The Arctic is melting should be all the information we need. North America itself is only one severe drought across the breadbasket from chaos. While politicians in Ottawa ( Harper fires scientists rather than face the truth) and Quebec City (the Ministry of Transportation believes more roads and greater capacity are the answer to everything) try to carry on as normal, that very normal 20th century approach that is no longer relevant, there are cities around the world that have decided to take matters into their own hands and begin programs based on principles of sustainability in the face of oncoming catastrophic global climate change. It’s about survival and being ready to fight, being prepared, and facing the future head on. Montreal needs to get going in a new direction!
Some people have called Richard Bergeron a dreamer, especially in regard to public transportation and Light Rapid Transit (LRT). I challenge anyone to find a city where the locals are saying, “Oh My God, why did we ever build an LRT system?” A program to reduce the burning of fossil fuels is going to be a success anywhere, one that will be greatly appreciated as time goes on. And I say we need more dreamers, dreamers with the courage to move forward, because there is a difficult road ahead and sitting put hoping for everything to just stay nice and comfy is suicide. We need leaders who are more dreamers than slaves to ideologies that serve only the wealthy corporations who have worked very hard to create the mess the world is in. There is going to be new problems and we need to get in on the game in order to have a decent shot at survival. Future generations will judge us by how we act now, and I mean right now.
You can vote for the old guard that cheated, lied, and misspent your tax dollars, or you can vote for change, essential change, change that embraces the 21st century as the most challenging period in the history of humanity.
I humbly suggest that you vote for Projet Montreal.