R.I.P. Lucia Kowaluk

I learned this morning that Montreal activist Lucia Kowaluk passed away on Friday. She was 84.

I first crossed paths with Lucia when I wrote for Montreal’s Hour Magazine, a weekly alternative newspaper. I wrote a lot about housing and homelessness and I remember her writing at least one congratulatory letter about something I’d reported on.

In 2008 we met in real life when she hired me as a part-time community development worker, organizing social events for a social housing project in NDG. She was on the board of that organization and was the main spokesperson for the hiring committee.

I learned later that she took pity on me and hired me because she felt I needed a job, not necessarily for my abilities. I’m proud and stubborn and felt pretty insulted when she told me that. An American by birth, she was always a straight talker.

We didn’t always get along. She couldn’t understand why I felt it was important to seek tenant permission before publicly posting photos from a tenant Christmas party. She didn’t like it when I failed to fill out paperwork detailing each and every encounter I had with tenants.

I only worked 16 hours a week and I found it impossible to visit the tenants in apartment buildings located all over NDG, deal with the office, meet with Lucia, field phone calls, write reports and attend board meetings, supervise McGill social work students who hosted a seniors’ lunch in the tenant centre etc. I found the job very trying because there were politics between staff in the office of the social housing non-profit organization and its board of directors. I was caught in the crossfire and I needed her help to cut through all sorts of frustrations. I couldn’t get into the 35 buildings I was supposed to serve because no one would give me keys. The office initially refused to tell tenants I was working for the organization and tenants didn’t know who I was. I had no credibility and door knocking in the apartment buildings didn’t work at first.

She listened to my complaints but I think she found me whiny. A trained social worker (I believe she taught social work at McGill), Lucia faced down developers when the La Cité project threatened heritage buildings in Montreal’s Milton-Park neighbourhood in the 1970s. The co-op she co-founded, the Milton-Park Housing Co-op, is now the largest housing co-op in North America. To name just a few of her many accomplishments in 50+ years of community involvement and activism: she campaigned for nuclear disarmament, managed homeless shelters, helped found Heritage Montreal, co-founded Montreal’s Urban Ecology Centre, founded alternative publishing house Black Rose Books with her partner, Dimitri Roussopoulos, and just plain got involved with every life she ever touched.

It’s no surprise to discover she was awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of Quebec in 2014. While we lost touch in 2010, I kept seeing her in the news. For instance, Lucia spoke out when Montreal Allouettes football games disrupted the peace and quiet of her neighbourhood. She recently fought to keep a developer from wrecking the Notman House Garden and asked the City of Montreal to turn sites such as the old Hôtel-Dieu hospital and its buildings into co-op and community housing.

She had strong opinions. I remember her expressing annoyance when the Urban Ecology Centre replaced native plants she’d lovingly procured with other, non-native plant species. If she didn’t like my attitude or the way I was doing something, she’d tell me. She told me to get a Kanuk winter coat and buy it in July when they have a sale. When I knew her she wore a purple men’s winter coat. She didn’t care about fashion, she wanted to be warm.

She was incredibly generous and loving as well. She gave tenants tickets to events she thought they’d be interested in. I remember attending a fundraiser for the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign —she was one of their proud “grandmothers.” As I remember, every January she headed to Vancouver to see the son she’d adopted and proudly raised.

Most of all, she was unstoppable. As someone else said, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She kept her eye on her goals and with steely determination, reached for them. We need more people like her. She will be missed.


Montrealers, beware moving scams


It seems like every year around July 1st there’s a story about someone scammed by their movers.

Yesterday someone posted in the West Island Community Facebook group that a moving company they found via the West Island section of  the Greater Montréal Kijiji site is a scam.

The moving company’s ad says it’s charging $45 an hour for a minimum of three hours, plus one hour for transportation costs. On Facebook the poster described a move that was fairly straightforward,  since it involved a queen bed, a dresser with a mirror, a desk and chair, one big and two smaller sofas, a baby crib and some boxes, a move completed within two hours, including 30 minutes the movers apparently deliberately wasted hanging out at a gas station dépanneur. The distance wasn’t far — from Pierrefonds to Île Bizard.

But the total bill was way higher than the original quote of $300.  The movers demanded $1130 but when the poster called the police, they said they couldn’t help because it’s a civil matter. In the end, the poster paid the movers $600 but felt incredibly ripped off, with their belongings held hostage until they paid. On top of that, the poster says their belongings were unceremoniously dumped outside in the pouring rain.

The poster’s story of what happened:

I checked more than 10 times and they said don’t worry we won’t add any money to this amount.. so we will be charged less than 3 hundred according to what they said, he asked me to give him deposit of 400 $ I asked him why are you taking deposit more than the total amount? he said don’t worry we will give you money back but we need to take this because we don’t know the total number of hours we will work when we arrive to the new house, I paid 300$. our house is 4/5 and we did not move appliances, the only things we are moving were: queen bed, dresser with mirror, desk and chair, 1 big sofa, two small sofas, baby creb, some boxes… they finished ” with wasting time” in 2 hours.. they asked us to move and they followed us ” From pierrefonds to lil bizard” they asked us to stop in the gas station rue pierrefinds/ saint Jean.. they wasted 30 minutes buying refreshments and wondering around between the super market and the subway, then they said we want to give you your bill ” yes in the middle of the srteet” the bill was 1130 $ .. we told him that this is not our deal, he said it’s 45 per hour + more 45 per hour for two workers, so 45*3 per hour! plus 3 heavy boxes.. and 5 hours work! we need to pay them or they will drop drop out stuff in the middle of the street.. they only worked 2 hours in the old house! when i asked about the first deal with them, they said contact our supervisor (*******), ” it was the first time we hear his name” when we called him he said why didnt you call me tomake sure of the price .. we called the police and the police officer was shocked from the price but he said they are not able to do anything as it is a civil contract.. the company took 200 $ more plus the 300$ they took earlier, they kept asking for more and they asked me to open my wallet and took all the change from us so they took 50$ more and accepted to move when they knew I can give them 50$ more upon arrival, so 600$ in total, when we arrived the new house they said your time is up and we will leave everything in this parking since it’s your property, it was raining that day!! they dropped everything! shouted and made fun of us and left!
when you are hiring a moving company, don’t sign their contract as it is tricky and it meant to steal your money!!!

This story appears to be credible. A poster in the group researched the phone number connected with this moving company using an app called SafeCaller. According to a screen capture from the app, on June 11 someone reporting the number as “unsafe” wrote: “Fake movers. Charged 1000 CAD for one fridge and one stove, 15 minutes ride.”

Update: Someone just posted in the Facebook group a link to a Global Television report from 2016 that appears to be about the same moving company, pulling the same scam. Unbelievable!


Getting their Irish up

A colourfully dressed member of the Knights of Columbus stands beside a Canadian soldier next to the Black Stone on May 29, 2016
A scene from the Walk to the Stone 2016.   Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley

For years Montreal’s Irish community has fought for a better memorial for the estimated 6,000 or more Irish immigrants who died of a typhus epidemic in 1847 and 1848 not long after arriving in the city.

Thousands of Irish escaping the Great Famine made their way across the Atlantic on lumber ships called “coffin ships” because the journey passengers experienced, which could take three months, was dangerous and when people contracted typhus (known as ship fever) and died, their bodies were thrown overboard. The sparsely furnished ships were overcrowded and the people on them were given a bare minimum of water and food.  Some say the people served as human “ballast” for the ships.

In 1847 American port towns fearing an influx of Roman Catholic Irish either imposed heavy restrictions on ships or closed their ports to the Irish. Many Irish landed at the government quarantine station at Grosse Île (Grosse Isle), outside Quebec City, where they were examined. Doctors used tongue depressors to check the tongues of passengers and apparently would use the same tongue depressor for many passengers and so passed on the disease. The “seemingly well” were eventually cleared to continue their journey to Montreal.

But upon their arrival, many of the new Irish contracted typhus (not to be confused with typhoid fever) and became ill. Though the Grey Nuns, Montreal’s mayor John Easton Mills and many others cared for them at the fever sheds erected at Windmill Point in a part of Montreal known as Goose Village, between 1847 and 1848 an estimated 6,000 Irish men, women and children succumbed to typhus in Montreal. Mills died at home of the disease as did many Grey Nuns, clergy, soldiers and citizens who came into contact with it while tending to the sick. The disease was so contagious the triaging of the dying from the sick and the healthy didn’t work and as the disease spread people were hastily buried in mass graves and eventually forgotten.

Many of the workers who built the Victoria Bridge were Irish and it was they who discovered the mass graves. Moved by the story of the deaths of so many of their people, in 1859 they hauled a 10-foot granite boulder to the site to act as a grave marker monument.

The Irish community has honoured these dead ever since, holding a mass at St. Gabriel’s followed by a Walk to the Stone on the last Sunday in May.

In the 1960s Goose Village including the fever sheds was demolished as Montreal prepared for Expo ’67. The very site where the sheds were located became the Autostade and later served as a parking lot for the Montreal casino.

Today the giant Black Stone or Black Rock on Bridge Street (also called the Irish Commemorative Stone or the Immigrants Stone at Pointe St. Charles) sits on a grassy median that separates two lanes of traffic on the Victoria Bridge. Over the years, the Irish community (which is made up of at least 23 organizations) has made many efforts to get the history of these Irish dead and the story of the fever sheds acknowledged. The monument was once surrounded by a beautiful iron fence adorned with shamrocks. At the edge of a parking lot facing the Black Stone, the community erected a plaque in Irish, English, and French to explain the monument’s significance. Today the black paint on the fence around that plaque is rusty and the glass (plexiglass?) covering the plaque is damaged.

Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation
Women hold up a banner for the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation as Victor Boyle, president of Ancient Order of Hibernians Canada, (left) chats with his granddaughter, Emma, on May 29, 2016.  Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley

In recent years a group called the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation has campaigned to have a commemorative park and pavilion replace the abandoned parking lot and to move the Black Stone to a beautiful new park where people could easily visit it instead of risking their lives crossing traffic. A Celtic cross would replace the Black Stone on the median.  At this new and badly needed green space, the goal would be not only to honour the 6,000 Irish immigrants but also the French-speaking Quebec families who took in nearly 1,000 children who became orphaned and also pay homage to all those who contracted typhus and died after helping the Irish. The site’s history as a hunting and meeting place for indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans would be mentioned, as well as its location near Griffintown and on the site of Goose Village, which was destroyed for Expo 67. The plans too included a sports field for Irish sports such as hurling, “a museum, theatre, meeting place for various organizations, etc.”

But in spite of promises from politicians and efforts by the members of the Irish community to buy the land to create a commemorative park and pavilion, the community recently found out Canada Lands Corporation Company (I think of it as a corporation), a federal government Crown corporation and owner of the land containing the parking lot, sold it to Hydro-Québec. It’s apparently now designated as the site of a substation for the electric train project, the light rail project everyone is talking about. Hydro-Québec has apparently shown goodwill and reached out to the Irish community but it’s unclear how a hydro substation can co-exist with a memorial to Irish typhus victims and history.

You’d think with the Irish shamrock on Montreal’s flag and all the fanfare about Canada’s 150th anniversary and Montreal’s 375th, there would be more respect for the Irish community. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is on record as supporting plans for an Irish memorial park but it’s getting harder to believe he’s going to keep his promises to the community. With a Hydro-Québec substation in the mix, it’s hard to tell how this is possible. My son Patrick Quinn is working in Winnipeg this summer but is so upset about this latest development he’s spent lunch hours calling politicians from all levels of government and urging them to get involved and attend tomorrow’s walk.

This week a group of people gathered at St. Gabriel’s Church in Point St. Charles and spent two evenings working on 6,000 tiny wooden crosses they plan to bring to the 153rd  annual Walk to the Stone tomorrow (Sunday, May 28, 2017). Addendum: May 28, 2017: Last year organizers said they were holding the 152nd Walk to the Stone but today’s walk was called the 152nd and it was mentioned that the Ancient Order of Hibernians has organized it for 150 years but sources differ on the exact date it started.

Several Canadian cities with similar horrible stories about Irish emigrants who died of typhus have worked with the Irish community to acknowledge this history and the important contributions the Irish have made to their cities. Along with Parks Canada’s Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, there are memorials in Toronto,  Kingston and Quebec City, which has a giant Celtic cross acknowledging the famine Irish.

But Montreal? You could say Montreal doesn’t always seem to care about its past.  With the demolition of Goose Village and St. Ann’s Church and the ruin of Griffintown among other affronts, the Irish here certainly have grievances.

I wonder if Montreal will finally listen to its Irish community. Or will politicians pay the price for ruining this long-anticipated project? I don’t think any politician can afford to offend the Irish.

In 1996 I wrote a news story about the Black Stone for the Montreal Gazette. It’s hard to believe so little has changed.

Members of Montreal’s Irish community gather in front of the Black Stone during the Walk to the Stone event, May 29, 2016. With road signs and power lines in the background, you can see the monument’s industrial setting.     Photo by Stephanie O’Hanley

Aargh, some Montreal St. Patrick’s parade misconceptions

giant Saint Patrick at parade
Giant Saint Patrick figure at Montreal’s St Patrick’s Parade                            Rosana Prada/Flickr

Okay. It’s true that in spite of my last name I am only part Irish. If you look at my ancestry I’m probably more Scots and English than Irish. At this point, nine generations in Canada on my dad’s (O’Hanley) side and seven generations in Canada on my mom’s side, I am Canadian, not really Irish at all.

For more information about our branch of the O’Hanleys, check out this article about my aunt, Jenny O’Hanley McQuaid.

But having O’Hanley as a last name has meant for years I’ve had people in Quebec confuse my last name with that of the chocolate bar “O’Henry,” which isn’t even an Irish name, and I’ve often heard, “your last name is Irish, are you Irish?” So I’ve sort of embraced this Irish heritage and learned a bit about Irish culture and the community here.

Here are a few mistakes I see every year around parade time that for whatever reason drive me nuts:

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

I saw this written on the side of a float in yesterday’s Hudson’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The problem? It’s St. Paddy, not St. Patty! St. Paddy is a reference to Patrick, also spelled Pádraig. St. Patty would be St. Patricia. So the slogan on the side of the float should have said Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

The danger in getting it wrong? You could be mocked by the Irish in Ireland. There’s even a guy who’s been writing about this for years (check out Marcus Campbell’s “modest proposal” for Paddy, not Patty here). He even has a Twitter account where he posts such errors. Besides, mixing up Patty and Paddy makes people here look like ignorant Americans. 

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

While this is the correct name for Hudson’s annual parade, it’s not the correct name for Montreal’s parade. Technically Montreal’s parade is called the St. Patrick’s Parade, not the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It usually doesn’t take place on the day itself (March 17), so the official name of the parade does not reference it. But the United Irish Societies of Montreal aren’t helping the media get the name right when the site description for their own website mentions the St. Patrick’s Day Parade! If you read the text on the site carefully you’ll see the event is officially called the St. Patrick’s Parade. But how many media outlets get it right? At this point they should probably change the name to match what it’s almost always called, Montréal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

United Irish Society or United Irish Society of Montreal

It’s been getting better over the years but you usually see at least one media outlet get the parade organizer’s name wrong. I suppose the reason the name of this community organization is plural is because there were several societies involved in putting the parade together in 1928 when they took over running the parade. So it’s United Irish Societies of Montreal, and not United Irish Society or United Irish Society of Montreal.

I suppose I’m being nitpicky. I make mistakes all the time. We joke in our family that whenever you feel stubborn or critical it’s the O’Hanley coming out. This is our Coat of Arms so what do you expect?



Happy belated St. Paddy’s! I hope you’ve enjoyed at least one parade this weekend!






Highway 13 drivers weren’t the only ones stranded during Montreal’s record-setting blizzard

Gare Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
Snowy Gare Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, as it looked when I finally arrived on March 15, 2017

What about STM and AMT commuters?

Yesterday there seemed to be a lot of finger pointing at the Quebec government for its abysmal emergency preparedness. I agree that there is no excuse for 300 drivers being stuck overnight on Highway 13  with no help because of the storm.

But I believe the City of Montreal failed many people affected by the storm, especially when it comes to public transportation.

On Tuesday night (March 14)  I attended a University of the Streets Café discussion and because I had no idea the STM buses were having such a hard time on the road, I thought I’d be able to get most of the way home to Vaudreuil-Dorion by bus. I stupidly stuck around after the discussion when it would have been better to take a commuter train. But because I missed the last train of the night, buses were my only affordable option.

When I got to the 211 stop, just down the road from the Lionel-Groulx metro, I joined a very long line of people who were waiting for the bus. It was around 9:30 p.m. and when I got there the folks I spoke with had been waiting for over an hour. There were two buses parked across the way from the stop and an STM inspector’s car was parked in the middle of the roadway but the bus drivers didn’t invite people aboard the buses so they could warm up, nor did the inspector tell people what was happening. I waited an hour with the people I’d met and during that time no one came by to let us know anything, for instance, would the buses eventually be on the road? There were no city councillors or city officials or anyone really bringing people hot beverages or something to keep them warm while they waited outside. The woman I spoke with is a student who had parked her car in Dorval and was worried about receiving a ticket if she didn’t get her car (I hope they didn’t ticket her. She had a very good excuse for not getting to Dorval). The information was murky in terms of the reasons (work on Highway 20? Highway 13 mess? accidents?) but it seemed no one could get anywhere via Highway 20. The man I met lives in Île-Perrot and couldn’t get home. The woman had a possible place to stay in town but the man didn’t know anyone. They were just two of the many people who live in the West Island and beyond who could not get home Tuesday night and no one from the City of Montreal or the STM or the police or anyone official offered them any information or comfort. Technology exists to send text messages on smartphones. There’s not really any excuse in this day and age for neglecting people like this.

This situation shocked me because I thought Montreal was hardcore and good at handling emergencies. It’s not as though we haven’t had bad snowstorms before. We survived an Ice Storm in 1998 and handled that well. On Tuesday I had the impression city officials were asleep at the wheel. Didn’t they know people were stranded across the city? Isn’t there a protocol for such a situation, even if it happens off hours? Could they have arranged with the AMT to put more trains on so that people heading west would at least have a chance of getting home?

When a huge group of buses suddenly arrived at Lionel-Groulx and abruptly parked, the woman and her friend and I decided it was time to go but the man from Île-Perrot stayed. As I headed into the metro, I asked the guy at the ticket booth what was going on and he said 150 buses were out of service (apparently drivers couldn’t make their shifts and many buses got stuck in snow , most likely because they’re not equipped for it. In their story about the buses, CBC reported Montreal buses aren’t equipped with snow tires. What’s puzzling me is this story mentioning the STM tweeting that its buses have winter tires.  It seems the tires mentioned in the story may not be winter tires at all but something called traction tires. If you know anything about this, please write a comment below). I headed to Villa Maria metro, the closest metro to my parents’ house. A large number of people were waiting in vain for the 103 bus. Among the group were many seniors, people who regularly depend on public transportation to get around. I waited with them for a while, maybe half an hour. But when we saw a bus on Monkland struggling to move forward to get to the station but unable to because there was too much snow, I knew I wouldn’t be taking a bus. So I walked to my parents’ house. I wasn’t the only one walking. I followed a family as they made their way along Monkland. I also met women who too were walking along unplowed sidewalks. It was beautiful out and would have been fine were the wind not so icy. It took more than an hour to get to my parents’ house and I got there close to midnight. But I was lucky. I had a place to stay in Montreal. I don’t know that everyone else did. There were no “portes ouvertes” efforts on Twitter or Facebook to help stranded people out, there was just nothing in terms of emergency preparedness.

Food for thought?

Two things tomorrow (November 12)

30-Day Writing Challenge – Day 11

guardiansbestI nearly forgot about it but tomorrow the Guardian’s Best Animal Rescue Foundation is holding is holding its annual Quebec Animal Rescuer of the Year Award event in NDG. It’s a great way to meet local rescuers and other animal lovers, find out more about what rescue groups are doing for animals and support them by making a donation. There’s also plenty of free food and beverages. I went a few years ago and it was amazing.

This year’s lineup includes the granting of unsung hero awards, certificates of appreciation for young volunteers,  cash grants to three local rescues and the awarding of the 2016 Quebec Animal Rescuer of the Year.

Admission is free but you need to register your attendance before going. I’ve posted this late so if you see this on Saturday morning, register right away.

Bring cash to buy raffle tickets and if you have a well-behaved dog, bring him or her along too.

When:  November 12, 2016, 5-9 p.m.

Where: Monkland Community Centre, 4410 West Hill Avenue, Montreal (you can get there from Benny and Terrebonne ) or from West Hill and Monkland.

You can register and get a free ticket here.

Help WordPress from the comfort of your home

Love languages? If you have some free time today and have translation ability, the WordPress Polyglots team is holding its second Global WordPress Translation Day on November 12 where you can  “translate  WordPress into one of more than 160 languages.”Everyone is invited to join and you can help from anywhere in the world.”

Even if you don’t know a second language and you’re limited to English, you can learn about English variants and help make sure any English is correct for where you live since “English is spoken and written differently in Canada,  Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom.”

Based on what I’ve read so far, Translation Day has already begun here in the EST time zone, since it starts Saturday, November 12th, 2016, at 0:00 UTC and ends 24 hours later. Discover the correct time by visiting See what time that is for you!

Looking for informatiom? Find out more here.


Hey Montreal, what happened to gender-neutral pricing for haircuts?




30-Day Writing Challenge – Day 10

I used to get my hair cut at a place in Montreal called Coupe Bizzarre way back when. It was on Duluth Avenue and difficult to get to by public transit. I can’t remember the cross-street but for me, it was easier to walk there from St. Laurent and Duluth than from St. Denis and Duluth.

Jimi Imij ran it with his partner, Robert and what I loved about it was its inclusiveness. You could be very vanilla or look like a freak. You could be young or old, gay or straight. Heck, you could be anyone and it didn’t matter. Everyone paid the same price for a haircut and everyone used one unisex bathroom and they used and sold only one kind of pomade to style your hair, Black & White.

Sadly the Coupe Bizzarre I knew disappeared when Jimi and Robert moved to Toronto and set up shop there in 1995. (It existed in Montreal for a long time under the same name but with different management and it just wasn’t the same without Jimi). One of the stylists from those days runs Kenzo Kenzo Hair pretty much across the street on Duluth from where Jimi Imij’s Coupe Bizzarre used to be.

Why is this on my mind? I need a haircut and the place I usually visit has just hiked their prices.  I visited their website and carefully read the prices, hoping I was mistaken. Then I checked out some other hair places. I couldn’t believe I was seeing a $10 or $20 difference in price between women’s and men’s haircuts, with women paying more. My usual place charges women between $46 and $56 for a haircut, while men pay between $36 and $47 for a specialized cut and between $28 and $36 for a clipper and scissors cut. My hair is straight and easy to cut. Hair stylists love it. Why must I pay $20 more than a man does at the same salon when it takes about the same amount of time to cut my hair? I’m not talking about barber shops but hair salons and hair stylists. This price difference does not make sense, nor is it justifiable since a specialized haircut can take just as long for a man as a wash and wear cut does for a woman.

Apparently, gender-based price discrimination is illegal in California, in Miami-Dade County, Florida and in New York City, Massachusetts and Washington D.C.  In February an Edmonton salon eliminated its gender-based haircut pricing. We can only hope Montreal salons will follow their lead.

Coupe Bizzarre was incredibly progressive and I suppose ahead of its time. It’s 2016. I can’t believe how backward we’ve become.