When I lived in Park Ex, we often rode our bikes through a gate on l’Acadie Boulevard and into Town of Mount Royal. The mile-long fence separating Park Ex from TMR was infamous among urban planners and activists across the country — even written about in the U.S.
Once a year or so, an article would unfailingly appear in some local paper about the unembarrassed way the fence divided working-class from middle-class Montreal. It was our Berlin Wall, or directly descended from apartheid barriers. (You always have to leave some room for journalistic hyperbole.)
The fence never became a big enough cause célèbre to convince anyone to bring it down. It’s still there, still doing an excellent job.
The l’Acadie fence was not just a physical barrier, of course. It separated worlds.
At first, we crossed into TMR just to ride around and ogle the houses we could only dream about. Houses with lawns and finished basements and garages and, somewhere inside, colour TVs and cool air-conditioned rooms.
As we grew older, the rides into TMR gained purpose. We wanted access to services. So we’d ride to the centre of town and run the quarter-mile track attached to TMR High, or shoot hoops at the courts next to the town hall. (We weren’t the only interlopers. Kids from the Côte-des-Neiges area would also arrive for pickup games, lime-green combs poking from their Afros.)
The police occasionally stopped us en route. I’ve always wondered how they knew we didn’t belong. Did something about our faces and haircuts tip them off? Maybe our cheap clothes and banged up bikes told them we weren’t Townies.
When they stopped us, the cops were unfailingly polite and unthreatening. (We were white kids, after all.) They asked where we lived and where we were going. One time, they pumped us for information. Someone had been stealing bikes. They mentioned a name. Did we know this individual?
To be fair to the cops and to their impulse to profile, I suppose a Park Ex kid was more likely to steal a bike than a TMR kid.
Look at me — the first bike I ever owned was stolen. Thirty-five bucks for a white Mercier with racing handlebars. A guy about my age, who lived around the corner, sold it to me.
So the police were right.
I now live in house with a lawn. We have air-conditioning and an alarm to keep people from stealing our stuff.
Lately, though, there’s been a rash of burglaries in our area. It might only be a matter of time.