Matthew Barlow, Griffintown: Identity and Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press 2017)

By Caron, Matthieu | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Matthew Barlow, Griffintown: Identity and Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press 2017)


Caron, Matthieu, Labour/Le Travail


Matthew Barlow, Griffintown: Identity and Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press 2017)

OVER THE PAST two decades Montreal's landscape has undergone a profound physical transformation. At the forefront of this transformation are numerous real estate developers who refashion old working-class neighbourhoods, opting to erect glassy condo towers where low-rise buildings once stood. Griffintown is one of those neighbourhoods. Seen by promoters as occupying an ideal property location, bordering both Downtown Montreal and Lachine Canal, it has been at the centre of such transformations in landscape.

Stemming from a dissertation completed in 2009, Matthew Barlow's 2017 book demonstrates how memoryscape has shaped the past and the current identity of Griffintown. Part of UBC Press' Shared: Oral and Public History collection, Barlow's work navigates through Griffintown's most distinguished and outspoken community--Irish-Catholics --and how our understanding of Griffintown cannot be disassociated from their legacy. Tracing the dynamic history of Irish involvement in Griffintown from the dawn of the 20th century to the early 21st century, Barlow demonstrates how the Irish-Catholic community forged four main cultural spaces for itself: the Catholic Church, local politics, the Saint Patrick's Society, and organized sport. While community leaders actualized the sense of place and connection to the landscape, built symbols like St. Ann's Parish were foundational monuments to the locality of Irishness in Griffintown. Over time, the attitudes, goals, and influences fluctuated along with the Irishness of the neighbourhood.

From the start, Barlow writes candidly about his personal relationship to Griffintown and its community, affectionately referring to the neighbourhood as the Griff. Barlow's historiographical intervention comes as "the only study of the Irish in Griffintown or Montreal as a whole that examines the twentieth and twenty-first centuries." (8) Influenced by a spanning literature on the Irish diaspora, memory work, and ethno-religious identity, Barlow uses a historical approach to demonstrate how we may understand Griffintown's Irish community through a threefold process. According to Barlow this was first forged out of social and class identifications, followed by a change in the local landscape and outmigration toward more affluent communities, and finally the projection of an imagined history of Irishness to formally carve out a space for the diaspora within Montreal's urban, political, and cultural scene. Barlow does well to demonstrate Griffintown's complicated ethnic, religious, and political landscape. However, I cannot help but question how Barlow evaded important questions related to Montreal's local governing context while also largely dismissing Quebec's unique position in the Commonwealth, which oftentimes overlaps with the interests of Irish nationalists.

Barlow elaborates his study chronologically through five chapters. Chapter 1 looks at Griffintown and the persistent connections that Irish-Catholic migrants had to Ireland as they settled in Griffintown. Chapter 2 follows this storyline by monitoring the competing identities and loyalties that seen in Griffintown during World War I and shortly thereafter. This is the most transnational of Barlow's chapters as the author simultaneously grapples with the international context with the outbreak of World War I, nationalist fervour for Irish independence, and the local dynamics in Griffintown. …

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