Montreal Location Scouting with Ginger Coffey

I attended a rare screening of The Luck of Ginger Coffey (Canada, 1964) last Saturday, as part of the Cine Gael Irish Film series. It stars Robert Shaw, who was just beginning to be something (he shot this a year after he starred as “Grant” in From Russia with Love) and was directed by Irvin Kershner, who went on to an illustrious career shooting little-known space romps such as The Empire Strikes Back.

In brief, The Luck of Ginger Coffey (Wikipedia) is the story of an ambitious but somewhat misguided Irish immigrant to Montreal in the early 1960s. Ginger Coffey is a master of well-meaning but destructive lies and misdirections, as he wages a tug-of-war between telling his wife and teenage daughter that yes, the Montreal experiment is over and we’ll soon be back in Dublin, while simultaneously chasing down his next big opportunity. The fact that he cannot afford return passage further complicates things and makes his situation even more desperate.

The film is based on a Brian Moore novel of the same title (Moore also penned the screenplay). I read the novel a couple of years after I moved to Montreal, and I found a lot of myself in that character, as I too was an outsider with great but unfulfilled ambitions, and was at a loss as to how to go on.

Ginger is almost delusional in his desperation to find legitimate and meaningful work that provides good appearances. When he hears of an “assistant to the sales manager” position all he hears is “manager.” When told about a proofreading job, he says “so it’s like an editor then,” to which he is told “it’s sort of a sub-editor.” By the end of the conversation Coffey is convinced the “sub-editor” job is “only temporary” (which is essentially his catch-phrase for the entire film) and he proceeds to tell his wife that he’s been hired as an editor.

This is a very Montreal film in that the city does not stand in for elsewhere. It is set, and filmed over a Montreal winter, with plenty of cold and wet black-and-white exterior shots from various places around the city. On such occasions it is fun to location-check those shots; some were easy to identify, and others less so.

After the screening I took advantage of the tools of our modern times to do a bit of research, and I’ve identified some of the key locations, as indicated below.

The Coffey’s first apartment

This is on Drummond, above Sherbrooke. The old redstones are gone now, but the large apartment building is still there.

Tight view:
house on drummond

Wider view:
wider view

Google Street View:
street view

Ginger’s apartment at 1221 rue Plessis

This one was easy, as Ginger gave his address at his arraignment for indecent exposure (see the film for details on that). He said “1221 Plessis Street,” and indeed that is the address of the location used. It’s between Ste-Catherine E. and René-Lévesque.

Stairs view:
1221 Plessis

Balcony view:
21221 Plessis balcony

Google Street View:
street view

Vera Coffey’s Apartment

This is on Square Saint-Louis. Specifically, the building on the north side of Laval and Prince-Arthur. The walking route they took to arrive there makes no sense; they walked through the west side of Square Saint-Louis, in a north-east direction, then turned and crossed Ave. Laval near the intersection at rue du Square Saint-Louis (north side), then doubled-back on Laval. But that’s cinema for you.

High view of Square Saint-Louis:
square saint-louis

Crossing Laval:
square saint-louis

Google Street View:
street view

Entrance to the apartment:
entrance

Wide view:
laval and prince-arthur

Google Street View:
street view

Newspaper Presses

A few times we see Ginger step outside of his workplace at the fictional Montreal Tribune and pause for a moment against a bank of windows where you see newspaper presses chugging away. I’m pretty sure this is the old Gazette building on Saint-Antoine near Bleury.

In the first screenshot below, you see Ginger rounding a corner with a large round column barely visible except for the light reflection. The next shot is him with his back to the presses; the large column is just out-of-frame to his left. That building is now a hotel, but I recall seeing the press machines behind those windows back in the 1980s. You can see the column in Google Street View.

The column:
gazette 1

The presses:
Gazette

Google Street View:
street view

Scene of the Crime

Ginger’s fateful call of nature occurred while he was waiting for a bus in front of the Windsor Hotel. He went around the corner onto rue Cypress to find a darker and quieter spot to relieve himself. Specifically, he seems to have done the deed in the doorway of what is now 1100 rue Cypress.

Side of the Windsor Hotel:
crime scene

Google Street View:
street view

Palais de Justice

This one shouldn’t be hard, but for some reason a lot of Montrealers don’t recognize the Palais du Justice on rue Notre-Dame. Perhaps it’s because it’s set back from the street a bit so we don’t notice it, or maybe it is overshadowed by the magnificent Ernest Cormier building across the street that houses the Appeals Court but for me will always be the place where Jane Fonda had a moment in Agnes of God. But there it is, unchanged, in all its neoclassical glory.

Tight view:
palais de justice

Google Street View:
street view

You can watch The Luck of Ginger Coffey yourself on YouTube, although the highest resolution is 480p.

Three Strikes, You’re Out!

It’s not the Blork Blog style to use this venue to issue screeds against local businesses, but in the case of Green Café I will make an exception, and the exception is based on the fact that Green Café has failed in three dimensions: food quality, web site, and customer service.

Food Quality

I went to Green Café (the branch on rue Drummond) for the first and only time on May 24, 2013, where I ordered a Niçoise salad to go. Green Café’s Niçoise salad doesn’t much resemble a classic Niçoise salad, but that’s an issue of interpretation, not quality. (Theirs is full of chick peas, has no green beans, and they give you a choice of tuna or grilled chicken.)

I returned to my desk and began to eat. The salad was tasty enough at first, but as I got deeper into the bowl the abundance of vinaigrette began to overwhelm. By the time I got to the bottom it was more like vinaigrette soup than a salad. Way too much!

So I thought I’d do the right thing and let them know that they need to reel in the vinaigrette a bit. After all, good restaurants encourage constructive feedback from customers.

Web Site

I went to their web site. As is sadly typical for restaurants, it’s a Flash-based site. Flash is bad for restaurant web sites for many reasons, including the fact that it fails on most mobile devices – and it’s while you’re mobile that you’re most likely to want to get the coordinates for a restaurant, or see the menu. It’s also a bad idea because it’s very likely no one in the restaurant’s staff or administration can update or change the site. This is the dirty secret of Flash-based web developers; once your hire them you’re usually more or less stuck with them for changes and updates. Regular HTML based sites – or sites that run on WordPress or similar systems – can be updated by virtually anyone with the correct login name and password.

In the case of Green Café, their site was not only Flash-based, but it contained an egregious error that no one seems aware of or is willing to fix. When you click the email link on the “Contact Us” page, where the email address is written in (Flash) text as “info@greencafe.ca,” a new, blank email message opens up with the “To” field automatically populated with their address. This is conventional, but in the case of Green Café, it populates the “To” field with the wrong address!

info@green.ca instead of info@greencafe.ca

I didn’t notice the error. So I wrote the following constructive email message and promptly pressed “Send.”

Hello. Today I had my first Café Green experience; I got a salade nicoise (chicken) from the store on rue Drummond. There was WAY too much vinaigrette on it; about triple as much as what I would expect. This isn’t just me being fussy, the thing was literally drowning in vinaigrette. I couldn’t finish it because it was so soggy.

There’s no need to reply, but please do a quality check at that store and give the preparers a reminder of how much vinaigrette is a normal amount. I’d love to try another Café Green salad one day soon, but if it’s as soggy as this one I won’t go back.

Thanks!

An hour later I got the following email from the Green Party of Canada (emphasis mine):

Don’t worry, Ed, your email went to the Green Party of Canada. We don’t serve Salade Nicoise.

Go to the Green Cafe contact page, and scroll down to where it shows info@greencafe.ca. Click on that link and look at the address on the email.

The domain “green.ca” is the property of the Green Party of Canada and is being used, to our continual petty annoyance, by the “Green Traiteur & Café” in Montreal. We have written to them repeatedly and have never received even an acknowledgement.

As you can see, this is not a new problem. Note that the address error occurs on both the French and English side of Green Café’s web site.

Customer Service

I promptly copied my original message and sent it to the (presumably) correct email address (info@greencafe.ca), with the following paragraph added:

One other thing: the email link on your website is broken. Although it says “info@greencafe.ca,” when you click on it it populates your email “To” field with “info@green.ca,” which goes to the Green Party of Canada. (They were kind enough to write back to me an tell me they had received the above comment. This is a re-send.) The same error occurs on both your French and English “Contact” page.

And then I waited.

Almost two weeks have passed. The error on the web site is still there, and even though I said “there’s no need to reply,” I would expect any decent company to reply as a matter of courtesy. I have not received a reply. I join the Green Party of Canada and doubtless many others in this club of people who receive no reply from Green Café when they try to contact them by email.

Any one of these infractions would be enough to warrant a frown along with the willingness to give another chance. Two of these infractions would prompt a personal boycott. But all three together add up to a frown, a personal boycott, and this public message to anyone who is reading – including, I hope, the management at Green Café.

Strike three, you’re out.

Update (June 2014)

A keen reader has informed me that Green Café has updated their web site. It’s no longer Flash-based, and the email address has been corrected. No word on whether or not they’re still over-dressing their salads.

The Squirt Gun: a Parable

True story: when I was seven years old I had a squirt gun that I really loved. It was a big yellow plastic thing that held about a litre of water and shot a stream long and true when the trigger was squeezed. One day my big brother — three years older — was teasing and annoying me for some reason that no longer matters. He wouldn’t let up, and my protests went unheard by anyone in a position to make him stop.

Finally, at the end of my rope, I threatened to smash my beloved squirt gun against a pile of rocks if he didn’t stop teasing me. Developmental psychologists will tell you that at seven years old, our sense of personal agency is very poorly developed, and we don’t have the intellectual or emotional capacity to realize that the world does not revolve around us. Destroying my squirt gun was a completely pointless threat, as I was the only one who would suffer; but in my immature and egocentric mind everyone would suffer if I suffered. Therefore, my brother would surely stop teasing me in order to avoid our mutual suffering.

He didn’t stop, so I threw my yellow plastic squirt gun against the rocks and watched in horror as it shattered. The episode concluded with me fleeing the scene, bawling hysterically. My brother didn’t suffer at all, and I suffered greatly.

My self-immolation was entirely without benefit. While it did put a short-term stop to my brother’s teasing, it was replaced by a greater suffering at the loss of my squirt gun and at my confusion and anguish over what had transpired.

And it didn’t stop my brother from teasing me the next time he was so inclined.

Whenever I hear about Quebec students boycotting classes as part of their ongoing protest against tuition increases, I think of this. It has nothing to do with my inconclusive feelings about the issue, and nothing to do with the evening marches and other actions. It’s just about the boycotting of classes.

Boycotting classes achieves nothing. It applies no pressure to anyone. There is no leverage at work. If the students were protesting the universities and CEGEPs themselves it would be different, or if they were protesting their teachers, or the curriculum. But they’re protesting the government. Staying out of school doesn’t put any pressure on the government. And it gives the appearance that what the students are fighting for — education — is not something they really care about very much.

The only people to suffer from the boycotting of classes are the students who miss their classes.

This is a bit of an old story now, and the boycott of classes seems to be evaporating as the fall semester begins and the election looms. Think of this blog as the sober second afterthought.

PS: For those of you who read too quickly and with only one eye on the text, this should not be seen as an attempted refutation of the cause of the student protesters. It’s just a comment on this one tactic. There are many ways to make their point that actually does put pressure on their target (the government), such as the street protests that received so much news coverage. They could also protest directly at government offices, or engage in a handful of other direct actions. The point being that if you’re protesting against party A, you protest in a way that bothers party A. There is no point in bothering party B, especially when party B is yourself.

Update: Perhaps this story is not so old, as it seems the “strike” is picking up again now that the fall semester is starting.

How to Walk on a Bicycle Path

First of all, don’t. You shouldn’t walk or run on a bicycle path. Hardly ever. I want to be clear about that. But I say “hardly ever” because there are a few circumstances when it may be grudgingly permissible. For example:

  • If there is sidewalk construction or the sidewalk is otherwise blocked and you have little choice but to use the bicycle path.
  • In some less urban areas where there are bicycle paths that exist on their own, with no pedestrian path nearby. I can’t begrudge runners and pedestrians using those. (More on this at the bottom of this post.)
  • If the path is clearly marked as a shared pedestrian/bicycle path.

I spend a lot of time cycling on the various bicycle paths in and around Montreal, and I see pedestrians on them frequently. It’s really annoying when people choose to walk or run in the bicycle path when there is a pedestrian path right next to it. This is not a rare thing; I see it all the time. In many cases it’s when a parallel set of paths run through a park and the bicycle path is paved and the pedestrian path is gravel. It seems that people who don’t think much about what they’re doing will gravitate towards the paved one, just because it’s paved.

But this isn’t about whether or not you should be walking or running on a bicycle path. That’s a separate discussion. This is about those times when, for whatever reason, you choose to do so. This is about the preferred, and safest, way to do it.

It’s simple. Walk against the bicycle traffic.

No, this isn’t a joke. It comes from the same wisdom that says if you’re walking on the shoulder of a road you should walk facing the traffic. The reason is simple:

The most important thing is that the pedestrian and the cyclist see each other.

It’s like this; when you walk with the cycling traffic (i.e., in the same lane as bicycles going in your direction), you can’t see the bicycles in your lane coming. You probably can’t hear them either, based on my observation that at least 50% of pedestrians on a bicycle path are wearing earphones. The result is you get the crap scared out of you every time a bicycle whizzes past, because you didn’t know it was coming.

Now let’s consider it from the cyclist’s point of view. You’re cycling along and you see a pedestrian up ahead. As you get closer you see the person is in your lane, walking in the same direction as you (with their back to you). You know they can’t see you. You ding your little bell, but you don’t know if they heard you. You slow down a bit, but you need to get past them. You’re worried that they will make a sudden random step to the left — into your passing lane — because they don’t realize you’re coming up behind them and wanting to pass. Or you’re worried they’ll realize at the last second that there’s a bicycle behind them and try to jump out of the way, to the left, right in front of you.

Don’t laugh. Every single time I come up behind a pedestrian in my lane on a bicycle path who is not facing me, I suffer those worries. That means dozens of times a week.

Now think about what happens when you do it the way I suggest. A pedestrian is on the path, facing oncoming bicycle traffic. Both parties can tell from a hundred feet away that they are aware of each other. The pedestrian has ample opportunity to step off of the path for a moment while the bicycle passes, or if for some reason they can’t, the cyclist simply changes lanes and passes by without any worry that the pedestrian will suddenly jump or move.

It’s as simple as that. Walk facing the oncoming bicycle traffic because it is safer and better for everyone.

Afterword

I know a lot of people will completely ignore everything I just said because they can’t get past the initial argument of whether or not people should walk or run on a bicycle path. I don’t plan on engaging in that discussion because it’s one of those issues, like religion, where the more vocal people are, the more blinkered they tend to be, so there’s no point in even talking to them.

However, I suspect some people might be curious about cases (or more precisely, places) where I don’t really object to people walking or running on a bicycle path. Here are two of them:

Case # 1: South Shore, along the river

On the south shore of Montreal (which is actually east, but Montreal has a strange relationship with geography) there’s a long and reasonably well kept bicycle path that runs along the Saint Lawrence river from Boucherville to Brossard. The stretch that runs for a couple of kilometres south of the Jacques Cartier bridge is quite isolated, and there is no pedestrian path. To the east is a bit of grass, then a fence, then a major highway. To the west is a bit of grass, then a rough slope down to the water.

It’s a great place to go for a run, walk, or bicycle ride, and I do not begrudge anyone from using that path for any of those purposes. You can see the path somewhat in Google Streetview, if you look on the left.

Case # 2: Lachine Canal

There are a few stretches of the Lachine Canal bicycle path that do not have a corresponding pedestrian path, such as the area around the McAusalan brewery. There’s lots of grass, and it’s quite spacious, but I can’t blame people who are travelling on foot for stepping onto the path. I did that myself one day last summer when I was walking along there. At first I thought I’d be all “correct” and walk in the grass, but when you’re hoofing it for more than a few feet, walking in the grass can get annoying. (I’m not talking about idyllic strolls with your sweetie, I mean when you want to get from point A to point B). So I walked on the path, facing traffic, and I stepped off the path whenever a bicycle approached.

You can see it in this photo from Google Maps (give it a few seconds for the photo to load).

Afterword 2

Walking through Parc Lafontaine yesterday, I spotted this sad scene. Pedestrians on the bicycle path (not so unusual) and a bicycle on the pedestrian path.

pedestrians on bike path, bikes on pedestrian path