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Published:March 24th, 2009 16:03 EST
Memories of Montreal

Memories of Montreal

By Askin Ozcan (Mentor)

In 1974 summer, as a fresh graduate of the University of Toronto, School of Architecture, I moved to Montreal, to attend a French course for six weeks. The scholarship scheme offered housing and a living allowance at a modest scale. My free time, I used, writing application letters to architectural offices. Jobs were scarce for architects everywhere in Canada. I also applied to several private employment offices which seemed to find jobs for architects.

Shortly after the course, I landed in the office of Architects Parry & Patch and started to draw detail drawings for a tractor factory. In the school, we were trained for conceptual design and big ideas. Detail drawings for construction were neither my experience nor to my liking. Soon, one of the partners became ill and the office experienced a partial shut-down. I had to leave.

Next, the private employment office introduced me to the design office for the Montreal Area Postal Plant. Hundreds of architects and engineers and technicians were rushing to get the drawings ready. I was given the job to prepare some drawings for design development.  

I lived in Rue Durocher, in a small studio apartment. It afforded me the comfort of proximity to my job, to downtown and later to the apartments of a few friends I met from Turkey.  I remember how we ordered pizzas on the winter days, early in the morning and the delivery-man had to shovel off the snow at the entrance and it saved us from doing it. Montreal was fine during the summer- a truly chic city, but its long winter with high snow was a big surprise to me,  a young man from Istanbul.

The social life comprised of making parties with the friends from the office and the Turkish friends I had met in Montreal. Two of them worked for Chateau Champlin, an assistant manager and a cook; one an economist, and another one who made her doctorate in chemistry.

I remember our advertising in the McGill student paper to meet girl students to converse with us, to improve our French. Evenings, I spent at a nice jazz club or chatting with my Turkish friends who lived near my apartment or alone, shaking off the tiredness the work gave me.

I appreciated the three radio stations which played continuous music, without talking, one classical, one jazz, and one pop. I hated radios who played Chopin`s Minute Waltz for instance, where the speaker talked for ten minutes to present a minute-long waltz. There were also a group of jazz musicians who invited interested people, as guests, to their apartments, as they rehearsed in the evenings and served coffee or beer at the cost price. This group refused to play for any radio or TV or making records. They believed in live-music. I don`t know how they supported themselves. 

The pea soups I had, I still remember, also the good foods of a Hungarian restaurant and a steak house near-by. Montreal is a luxurious and a very nice city and my friends from Toronto and Boston came to visit me sometimes, as well, as they liked Montreal.  

In 1975, I attended a ballet performance by Bolshoi which visited Montreal. A great performance it was. Before them, Canadian National Ballet performed a brief modern dance which was at least, at the same standard. During the intermission, a row of girls sitting to my right, started to talk to me, in Russian.

First, the girl sitting next to me talked. As I don`t speak Russian, I couldn`t reply. Then, she changed places with the next girl and she, too, tried to talk with me in Russian. As I didn`t reply, she changed places with a third girl who started to talk to me in Russian. As they didn`t succeed, they asked me in English: "Are you not Russian?"   No, I replied." "Oh, you look so Russian, therefore we talked to you in Russian ", they explained. We thought you didn`t like the first girl and so we changed places with each other, thinking you will like maybe the other girl. Now, we know you didn`t answer us, because you really don`t speak Russian!"

I comforted them by saying "all of them were beautiful and if they want to talk with me in English or French, I`d be delighted to speak with them."

A very old man, sitting to my left, apparently also Russian, was murmuring something.

The girls asked me, "do you know what this old man is saying in Russian?"  "No, I said."

He is saying, that the Russian young men forget their mother-tongue so rapidly.

I also remember subscribing to a one-month long Japanese film festival. After having watched a Japanese film everyday, I nearly spoke Japanese

In the office, I tried to change some of the designs. Firstly, the plant had concrete walls. I proposed to replace them with glass walls so the by-passers could enjoy the colourful operation in it. Our cities are so dull with concrete walls, such a public building with a fantastic interesting process in it, like sorting mail, could add to the city`s education , I thought. Then, I proposed a glass or plexiglas tube in it, large enough for people to pass through, to visit this magnificent building. It could bulge in its middle to afford a stamp exhibit and why not even a small café with a few tables. In its start, people could pay, to enter it and it could even generate income for the Post Office.

The idea was liked but found impractical and against some building laws. 

After six months, in this office, there was a bomb threat, by the Union of Postal Workers, as this highly automated new postal plant would cause the terminating of the jobs of many a worker, so I preferred to quit my job there. 

I live now far away from Montreal, but visit it in my memories at times. 


Askin Ozcan is the author of six books, WISDOM IN SMILE, THE SECOND VENICE,

SMALL MIRACLES, LIGHTNING AND A BOUQUET OF ROSES, STOCKHOLM STORIES, THE MINI-SUBMARINE available at 200 internet bookshops including and via 25.000 bookstores by giving their ISBN. He is currently writing for, , , . He has written hundreds of articles for Turkish, U.K., Swedish, U.S. and Indian press. He lives currently in Stockholm, Sweden.