Atwater & Sainte-Catherine @ 4:30pm on Tuesday March 28th

 

 

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It is officially Montreal once you have crossed the six lanes of Rue Atwater. This north-south artery signals the end of Westmount and the entrance to the Ville-Marie borough. Heading east on Sainte-Catherine the city begins to swell up, apartments and department stores adding storeys every block. Before plunging completely into the concrete jungle, Cabot Square offers one last plot of park space, a city block left bare.

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At 4:30pm on a grey sloppy Tuesday, there is a detente between workday activities. The lunch rush is long gone, and suits are still booked for another few hours of work. Pedestrian traffic is shoppers and students, filing along Saint-Catherine. Those headed east are empty handed, the ones headed west laden down with the fruits of the Sainte-Catherine strip.

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Kitty-cornered to the looming ALEXIS NIHON centre, Cabot Square is the inverse of a multi-level shopping complex. The centres’ black banners contend with the bleak white plaza of unshoveled snow filling the square. The right angles of window panes and rooflines stand against the abstract angles of maple tree branches. The humble Cafe de la maison ronde in the middle of the square is dwarfed by its big bodied neighbours, all jostling each other for a peak bit of skyline.

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From the centre of the square it is a panorama of city life. This corner of Montreal is a thoroughfare, a place most go only as a means for getting somewhere else. The pace is dictated by a bank of stoplights, taking turns with advance greens and last gasp surges through yellow lights. The crunch of foot traffic on salty sidewalks is lost behind the beeps, bumps, and blares swirling in the square.

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Two couples stand a couple of metres apart, both pairs more interested in the others conversation. Couple one is intent on Couple twos’ lapdog, watching it run frenetic circles at the end of its’ leash. Couple two is clearly more concerned with why couple one is watching them, rather than minding their dog. Poor fido.

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The snow is largely unmarked, save for the crossroads plowed by pilgrims on their way to wherever they were headed. Pearl white powder is stained with a week’s worth of diesel fumes, courtesy of the slumbering busses ringing the square. Silent crowds stand locked to smartphone screens, as disconnected as can be from their surroundings.

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Although a block of nature, Cabot Square is not free of constructions claws. Atwater metro is seemingly the new storage site for the contractors left over ladders and rebar. An impromptu gallery is cordoned by jaunty temporary fences, the instillation not bookended with any completion date.

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Three kids holler and bounce their way through snow deeper and softer than they would like. Morning showers have left streams and lakes amongst the snow drifts, and the youths are now splashing through the chilly minefield. They are aiming for the bus farthest from them, and begin squealing as the driver swings the front doors shut. In a drastic move, they leap onto the low concrete benches, and use the seats as their personal highway across the square. The driver spies the trio just as he readies to leave, and waits the extra 30 seconds to make sure the daring travellers catch their bus. Crisis averted.

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