Friday, April 24, 2015

The legend of Mike French, a killer biker from Westmount

    There are dark corners in the otherwise-sparkling and wealthy Montreal suburb of Westmount and one such place was at the Weredale House boys' home at the Souteastern corner of the city, which closed in 1977.
   That's where troubled boys were sent and that's where twisted and tragic Mike French, born in 1950, emerged.
   Mike French, according to the many legends, grew up at the boy's home because his family was poor.
   Poor parents would sometimes cast off boys into places and keep their girls, who tended to be much less trouble and better help around the house.
   French attended a small school in lower Westmount where he befriended Brian Chu, who is of Chinese heritage. The two would later become close friends and join the Satan's Choice biker together in St. Henri. Chu still lives in NDG around Sherbrooke and Melrose.
   Satan's Choice was a powerful force whose notoriety became known here in 1969 when 12 to 23 gang members raped a 15-year-old, while another woman was forced to beat on her in Ottawa.
   Soon those who knew French  developed misgivings about hanging around with him.
   An old friend of his tells me that once on a night out he returned to see somebody innocently sitting on his motorcycle on Crescent St. He pounced on the guy and proceeded to hurt him in a way that his friends found incredibly gratuitous and shocking.
   Another time French took four hits of LSD and didn't seem to be affected at all by the massive quantity of acid in his system.
  French, whose photo I have yet to find, was tall, thin and ungainly with buck teeth.
  "He had a Nazi look to him. Germanic. Over 6ft. Fair hair, clean cut. He looked in very good physical shape," said another.
   Another woman who knew French told Coolopolis that he became far more cruel after his four year old daughter died but details of that story remain unclear.
   French was eventually found murdered in November 1982 and his body was found in Kahnawake. Local legend has it that he boasted about killing young Sharron Prior seven years earlier in Point St. Charles.
   That murder has never been solved. Police named West End Gang hitman Jackie McLaughlin as a suspect in French murder.
   He supposedly killed French upon hearing that news of Prior's murder, as a sort of community service.
   According to an anonymous source who has posted about French on the internet, French during his time with Satan's Choice killed several Popeyes and thoroughly enjoyed attacking and torturing others for minor perceived slights. Apparently he quarreled with someone named Michel Cardinal and stepped on his neck and pulled his shoulder out of the poor man's socket.
   The Popeyes became the Hells Angels and supposedly 38 Satan's Choice members were killed (seems a bit doubtful) except French survived.
   Who killed Mike French? Well according to that 2006 version, it was neither McLaughlin or the Hells, but rather people still "operating in the West End." This version suggests that French was killed as punishment for raping the daughter of a Mafia boss.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bull Pub - run by Cock'n'Bull management - closes for good, blames Sergakis

Bull Pub closed Wed. evening. (Pic Esteban Vargas)
Commercial landlord Peter Sergakis has pulled the plug on a popular bar on St. Catherine just east of Atwater, as he has terminated an agreement with the Bull Pub, forcing its closure.
   It's the second bad encounter for the bar with Sergakis, as the Bull Pub management was also run out of its previous premises by the very same landlord. 
   The Bull Pub was run by the owners of the Cock'n'Bull Pub, which first opened in 1898 on Ste. Catherine.
   Management was forced to move from the original premises of the Cock'n'Bull Pub after those premises were taken over by the very same Peter Sergakis.
   Sergakis told Coolopolis that he shut the bar because they owe him over $20,000 in back rent. "The sign is up, someone else can run a bar there if they want," he said late Thursday afternoon.  
   Sergakis has kept the original premises of the Cock'n'Bull running but under a different spirit and identity.
   Sergakis started as a dishwasher and now owns dozens of local establishments, can't remember the figure he told me when we spoke about it a decade ago. They include the nearby Sports Station megacomplex on the north side of St. Catherine just west of Fort.
  His numbered company also owns the building where the new Cock'n'Bull was located.
  Bull Pub was owned by Ellen McCann and a statement was put online by Sloane Montgomery. 
  As a Montreal native I have watched Sergakis take over Ste. Catherine Street West from Atwater to Guy, all within the past 10 years; evicting dozens of stores, restaurants and bars along the way. Unfortunately the Sergakis monopoly has had it’s way yet again, and after today, the McCann family is devastated to announce that there will no longer be a Le Bull Pub.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dunkin' Donuts ordered to pay $11 million to former franchisees

  An appeals court has confirmed that Dunkin' Donuts will have to pay off franchisees for lack of support during the wipe-out years that saw the number of franchises dwindle from about 250 to 12 in Quebec.
 But the judges recalculated the original award downwards to $10.9 million.
   Bit o' history: 30 DD franchisees laid a $7 million lawsuit against the company in 2003 for a lack of support. Their demand rose to $17 million when the case went to trial.
  The plaintiffs were eventually rewarded $16.5 million after an exhausting 71 day court case.
  Some new calculations revised that sum downwards in the recent decision but it's still a major victory for those who saw their businesses go kaput.
  The money will be divided between the 30 former franchise owners
  The top benefactor will be Sylvain Charbonneau who owned six franchises, mostly in St. Eustache and Lachute. He will receive $2.6 million.
  The owners of the outlet at 7955 Decarie and another on Lacordaire - Ramond Masi and JohnCostini - get almost $1 million.
 A duo in St. George de Beauce gets $772,000 and the lowest amount goes to Claude St. Pierre and Lynda Viel of Riviere du Loup, who get $91,000
    The judgment might make franchisers skittish about locating in Quebec, which may or may not be a bad thing. I'm told that wrinkles in Quebec law already make franchising a bit of a challenge here, which is why such major U.S. chains as White Castle, Arbys and Taco Bell have little or no presence here.
   This judgment won't send them rushing in, probably a relief to mom'n'pop cafes and greasy spoons.
  (They could have rechristened Dunkin' Donuts as Terry Harper's, no? - Chimples)
 Tim Horton's, which now has about twice as many outlets as DD had at its peak in Quebec, was an unstoppable juggernaut upon its arrival and it's anybody's guess that anything could have been done to stop it in Quebec.
   I've theorized that the incessant mockery of Dunkin Donuts laid on by the popular comedy TV show Rock et Belles Oreilles - which frequently showed a police dog sitting on a counter stool - didn't help the brand here.
  That theory is supported by the fact that DD survived slightly longer in anglo parts of town, as the NDG branch two years ago and the one on Wellington in Verdun seems to be going strong.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Another neighbourhood peeler joint bites the dust, are such places on the way out?

  The Dice Club, a cozy neighbourhood peeler joint on Papineau near Beaubien, appears to have has died just days after turning 20.
  The bar had been ordered shut for 45 days on January 7 after an under aged dancer was found working in the club.
   The strip club could have opened back on Valentine's Day but I'm told that it stayed shut.*
   The club also had its license suspended  for 180 days for the same infraction in 2007 and 90 days in 1998.
   There was no other police evidence presented against the joint, no police reports of fights, drugs or insects in drinks, so it appears to have been otherwise competently operated.
  I wrote owner Giovanni Cotroni through Facebook to ask him about the demise of his establishment but received no reply.
  The club opened on November 5, 1994, a time when such establishments were rising in popularity. Back then such places attempted to draw crowds by hosting star performers, indeed the danger Tangerine Dream even shot a porno scene there.
  One discussion forum had both praise and derision for various dancers who have performed there over the years. A neighbour mentioned that dancers were known to stand out in front burning Js and being generally friendly and chatty.
   Some sort of sex hotel upstairs called Hotel Lust appears also to have closed.
   Another neighbourhood strip club called Chez Mado on Pie IX also closed last fall.
  It's possible that strip club are being supplanted by massage parlours, which are likely are far easier to manage, being unfettered by restrictions that come with selling booze. Or perhaps the whole commercial sex industry is taking a downturn due to the aging population and too much estrogen in the water supply, a situation the city vows to correct with a new filtration system within the next few years.
*The timeline might be off slightly, as the Club's FB page appears to indicate that it was open until late January, not clear how this could be given the suspension. 

Calvet House - one of Montreal's oldest buildings - on sale now for just $9.5 million

This house, one of the city's oldest, is now on sale in Olde Montreale for $9.5 million.
   This glorious fieldstone shack at 401 de Bonsecours - adjacent to Montreal's nicest vista -  is still standing after being built around 1725 and getting its name from its most famous owner Pierre du Calvet.
   Ogilvy's department store restored it in the mid 70s and it was long used for art exhibitions. 
   It's a hotel now charges about $350 a night, which is sort of justified as city taxes alone cost $90,000 a year.
   We know that four people were killed in a fire in a building across the street in 1946 but this joint seems a-ok.
   The 1725 construction date is only a guesstimate but other than its much-larger-than-average size, the house is typical of the times with the customary steep roof and twin chimneys joined in a gable. The small windows are in its original red but paint is now used rather than the ox blood that initially tinted the wood.
 Fur trader du Calvet - a French Protestant aka Huguenot, a rare species indeed in Quebec -  got the house in 1770 after arriving in about 1758 at the age of 23
   Protestant Pete Calvet wanted what became Canada to join the American Revolution and befriended American revolutionary General Richard Montgomery. Calvet was promoted to ensign due to his role as a supplier in the effort to bring Quebec into what would be the United States.
  In the spring of 1776 he held secret meetings between some Montreal Jesuits and their counterparts from south of the border. But the locals didn't bite on the pitch to join the Yanks.
  It's said that Benjamin Franklin stayed at the house in 1775 and the Montreal Gazette say its inception there apparently.
  Alas the Yanks were kicked out of Montreal in 1776.  Protestant Pete sent a messenger to the U.S. with an invoice for his services but the messanger was intercepted and a case for treason was made against Calvet.
   He was released and lobbied for payment of the services he rendered the Americans in London and Paris, impressing Ben Franklin, who wrote Congress urging them to pay their debt to the guy in 1783. "He appears an honest man and his case is a hard one. I have undertaken to forward his papers and I beg leave to recommend them to the speedy consideration of congress," wrote Franklin.
   Calvet pretended that he was not involved in the conspiracy in a pair of books he penned pleading his case. He was lost at sea in the Shelburne sinking of 1786.
   Gaetan Trottier is the current owner and he gave a tour of the premises to a site called Towertrip, whose excellent post can be seen here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Montreal entertainment trivia from the '30s and '40s

A common mondegreen from the 1930s involved Montreal.  The 1929 hit "I'm a dreamer aren't we all?" was commonly transformed into "I'm a Dreamer Montreal." The Marx Brothers used this quip in their film Animal Crackers and it was also put to use in the 70s by N. Irish playwright Stewart Parker a title. Groucho recalled it much later in his career while interviewing Montrealer Fifi D'Orsay on his little TV game/talk show.

Fifi D'Orsay was born Yvonne Lussier in Montreal in 1904, the daughter of a postal clerk and went on to become one of the best-known Montreal female entertainment exports until Megan Calvet. She was one of 12 children and moved to New York to do vaudeville and then appeared in a bunch of films, pushed as the French Bombshell. In fact she was neither bombshell nor French as she wasn't much of a looker and was quite open about being from Montreal and often boasted that she had never seen Paris. She died in Los Angeles in 1983.

Montreal was full of nightclubs in the 1940s as Christopher Plummer describes in this interview about his younger days in the city. He notes that Sinatra would drop in to watch Mabel Mercer, whose vocal techniques he is said to have emulated.

Plummer also describes one of the strangest things he's even seen in showbiz, watching an elderly bag lady enter a cabaret in Montreal and insist on singing. It turns out that it was Mistinguett, who impressed the posh room with a version of her tune Mon homme.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Woodshop class: still dangerous, as John Abbott student learns

 Aimee Boucher learned the dangers of using a big saw at John Abbott College where she mangled her right index finger in a blade.
    Boucher went to court against the school, asking for $326,000.
   A judge rendered a decision on March 30 - over seven years after the original injury suffered on September 26, 2007 - ordering the school to pay  her$76,500 and to hand her mother over about $4,440.
    The accident occurred when the the-18-year-old was in a wood shop class  called the 3-D Studio Foundation taught by Irwin Regler, along with technician Peter Irrgang.
    Boucher sliced her finger badly during the age-old Egg Project, which is to make an egg-shaped wood sculpture, which students had been doing for five years.
    A student has the option of turning off the saw if in trouble, but pulling out is not advised as it would break the blade.
   Boucher said that she tried to wiggle the cube to dislodge it. The teacher and supervisor were doing other tasks, so nobody was watching the two.
   Witness Erin Fisher explained that the project is a stressful thing but she did not fully corroborate every tiny detail of her friend's account.  
   Nonetheless teachers should have been watching, according to the judge
    "The College failed to take appropriate precautions concerning a reasonably foreseeable misuse of the bandsaw," ruled judge .. who said that 3/4 of the blame goes to the school.
  Boucher said she felt rejected and ended up moving on to the NSCAD in Nova Scotia.
  Boucher's hurt was compounded by some rude remarks she had to endure.
 She said that a variety of teachers and random people at John Abbott made mean remarks calling her:
“A whiny brat who can’t take criticism and plays the pity card because of her hand”
"I’m not giving you any help. Nobody else is getting any special treatment“.
“I redesigned this whole class around you and your handicaps”
“you are an angry person because of your accident and no one ever dealt with it and you should get over it and not be angry at all the teachers”.,
   One teacher liked to warn her about not cutting off another finger or not touching anything sharp. She testified that when she reacted angrily, teacher explained he meant this as a joke.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Secret shantytown in St. Henri?

   Coolopolis received a florid description of a possible shantytown in the heart of St. Henry's.
   Writing to see if you had any idea about the history or origins of this bizarre community based on St Philippe street, between St-Antoine and St-Jacques street?
    The community is situated on a private property that is fenced off along a tree lined section of the street.  The property consists of about 4-5 trailers, some Home Depot type pre-fabricated storage cabins and a bunch of homemade shelters strewn about approximately one half-acre of land.
  There is a high fence with some shrubbery around it that prevents you from seeing entirely into it, but the height of most of the trailers and cabins and makeshift shacks connected to it lead me to believe there could be as many as 15-20 people living there at any given time.  

      The community has been there at least 10 years but my guess is that its been there for much longer.  My friends and I first assumed it was some eccentric man's adult treehouse, but the amount of people lurking around there in the summertime leads most of us to believe there is a large group of people living there.
  I honestly don't know how the city hasn't shut them down or fined them or tried to condemn whatever it is they're living in at this point.  It smells TERRIBLE in the summertime and looks nothing like anything I've seen in a major Canadian city.  I can only assume that its low profile on a quiet St Henri street with not much gentrification has made it fly under the radar.
  Readers will recognize the block as the one that sits behind the famous narrow building of St. Hank, which is being transformed into condos.
  The oddball lot in question is the side lot of landlord Richard Belvolto, who is a chatty, sharp and likable real estate agent who gladly answered my questions about the strange happenings on his property.
   He said that a tenant has been living there about a decade and has arranged the side-yard, which he has the right to do as tenant.
   The landlord explained that his property is only a small slice of the larger space, which he believes belongs to the stores on St. J. He knows about the clutter but said that there's nothing otherwise unusual happening on the property as far as he knows.
   He said that the tenant may or may not have been previously contacted by the city about the dense collection of items in the yard.
   I rolled by later and noticed shed alongside the bizarre antenna with a ragged Quebec flag at the top. I couldn't see much beyond that so I can't confirm reports of an independent electricity supply.
   Two men were mucking about, apparently cleaning up the yard when I showed up. One of them gave me a solid stare. .
   I didn't have time (or balls- Chimples) to engage him in a chat about why the sheds were all about because I was late for another appointment. By the way, we have noted that shed living was happening a few feet away in 1945..

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

April photo news from Montreal

Demolition on Selby A beautiful greystone on Selby west of Greene has been demolished and the one pictured here will be going down too. Sam Roberts used to live there and a city councillor owned it. I've written about Selby street demolitions before here.
Expos cards vandalized An Internet sensation with a large Instagram following has an affinity for the Montreal Expos. Baseball card vandals has targeted the 'Pos countless times likely because the "ex" lends itself to re-spelling magic.
Crazy corner For some reason I don't fully understand, the corner of Rose de Lima and St. James has become known for high-spirited Inuit hijinks.

Benches come out Where do the city's park benches go in the winter? In a warehouse on Papineau south of Notre Dame. They were trucked out yesterday.

Iconic sign removed The Reitman's sign that long towered over the building at the northwest corner of Somerled and Cavendish was taken down yesterday. It had been there for as long

Superhospital was once soccer mecca. The Glen Yards, seen in this photo from the 1950s, was home to a soccer field that hosted competitive games between such local teams as Shell Oil, Ulster United, Montrela South, NDG, Workers Sport, Verdun Rangers. This lasted from about 1927 to 1937 or thereabouts, possibly longer.