The Daredevils of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve

When I go home from work every day I spend some time waiting for the bus at the corner of Ste. Catherine and Pie-IX. And there, I see them.

By Colin McGregor

A part of 2020’s tent village along the rue Notre-Dame est.

They weave in and out of oncoming traffic, often with a cup in hand. They approach each car or truck at the stoplight and ask for money. Sometimes, they don’t bother to leave the road when the lights turn green again, going up to the driver’s side of slowly moving cars, asking for charity. Sometimes there is just one of them, sometimes more. They are men, and at least one is a woman. They are clearly in some distress.

In all the months I have observed them darting in and out, on and off the street, in good weather or in bad, I have only seen one driver give them anything at all other than a word or a signal meaning “go away.” And yet they come back, day after day, some with no shoes on.

They are honked at, waved away, told to leave, but they continue their work with little regard for traffic lights or their own safety.

They do this dangerous panhandling a handful of metres from where last year, in 2020, a large itinerant village was set up, topping out at around a hundred tents in a long thin local park along Notre Dame Street East. That tent village is no longer there, with its makeshift hospital and restaurants, its charitable souls handing out bagels and other foods, its media glare, and its places for the homeless to congregate and get advice.

Many of the village’s residents preferred living there to shelters, where their freedom is more curtailed, especially in a time of Covid-19. But residents also said that they feared winter’s coming chill.

The camp was not a perfect place. There were drug dealers, and flare-ups of violence too.

The village began life in July of 2020, and was dismantled by the city of Montreal in December of 2020, when winter was starting to set in.

Most North American cities have their own tent villages. They get dismantled, and then pop up again. They ebb and flow like the tides.

I’ve no idea where the tent people went, nor do I know where the darting daredevil panhandlers of my intersection will go when the first snows fall.  

Let us hope it is a safe place. I have seen a couple of near-accidents while waiting for the bus.

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