Sunday, December 14, 2008

Overdale: the final years before demolition

1450 Kinkora, a small street in the now-demolished
Overdale block
1450 Kinkora Avenue, now demolished. Great building. The cul de sac was eliminated from the map after the buildings were knocked down during the Overdale tragedy. The entire Overdale neighbourhood in downtown Montreal was full of students and artists. It was, with some bitter irony, demolished by a high end art dealer named Robert Landau.
   My coming-of-age street is part of the parking lot now. Apartment 1 (bottom right) housed a guy named John Killoran, a shy student with a massive long hippie beard who told me he wanted to become a business journalist. He had a girlfriend who screamed so loud that cops once came and asked me if I was torturing a girl.
   I was in apartment two where I paid $125 all included from summer 1981 and it eventually went up to $135. It had a living room, a bedroom, bathroom and kitch, a Dutch toilet (with a little ledge in the bowl and an overhead tank with chain), a gas stove and some occasional cockroach issues. I had never met my predecessor, a skinny Anarchist named John who wore an enormous leather coat and had a chunky girlfriend named Carole. He was apparently a cutting edge fan of Joy Division but he also left a dorky pen-drawn replica of a Boz Scaggs album cover on the wall when he moved out. Apt 3 housed Mike Lynes, (aka Mick Lynes) a good friend and scenester and wannabe rockstar who did music quite seriously, in a band most notably with Ava Rave. He moved to England around 1985 possibly to pursue his Brian Jones fetish. Fellow guitar strummer Barry Henderson inherited his place and also became a close friend until he moved to New Brunswick in 
2006. I snatched the pink-painted wood fireplace from that unit just before demolition, stripped it and still have it in my living room today. In apartment 4 lived the soft spoken Ethiopian Solomon Tesfamarian. He knocked out a few bricks and put in a window without anybody noticing. He spoke to me of the spirit of all the people who lived there and how it would survive the demolition. Second floor included an introvert named John from Ottawa in apartment 5. He became a taxi driver and then died of a heroin overdose. He introduced me to Eddie Cochran records which became an obsession to me. A bossy chick named Carole Burgess, whose sister Marilyn was a single-mother living in the area, moved in after the walls were washed of blood. In apartment 8 lived Tom Knuth, a brash student from West Germany who had a sweet girlfriend of Polish descent named Nancy Kwok who - legend has it - was soon after shot dead in the USA. Knuth always wore a brown leather bomber jacket which earned him the nickname Tom Brown. Knuth's cousin was his apartment predecessor who introduced me to some German pop stars like Joachim Witt. Clyde Klotz lived up there although I only met him once. He later went on to marry and divorce actress Gillian Anderson. Old Finnish Miss Ronni was a kind woman of laughter with a great Baltic accent. She would knit stuff for other tenants from her top floor apartment 8. I helped her Lutheran minister move her to an old age home. He kept cajoling her to pay me more for the work. I appreciated that.
   Frank Hannibal lived around the corner, he was a studly brown-skinned Westmount High grad working as a mover and male model. He was always bugging me to let him know when an apartment opened up. I forgot. He was disappointed and then moved to New York. A chatty hippie-turned punk rocker from London named Eddy - who was about 10 years older than myself - and made a sudden transformation from meditation to Mohawks lived downstairs before moving off to LA. He was replaced by flamboyant young gays who were understandably annoyed at my habit of blasting Alien Sex Fiend records at maximum volume. One of them, a black actor named Alex would traipse around in a skirt. He came over and comfortably sat among a bunch of us beer-swilling male slobs clad in full megapansy garb.
   French Quebecois musician Pierre Flynn shot a video featuring 1450 Kinkora as a backdrop just prior to its demolition. (Of the building, not his career.)
   The other side of the building sat on the north side of Overdale and mirrored the eight-unit building on Kinkora. It housed the wistful academic Robert Craig whose documentary about the demise of the neighbourhood aired on the Vision Network. The smiling Spanish horn-rimmed janitor Marcelino Oruna lived in apartment four and was succeeded by a small red haired guy with a similarly tiny girlfriend. That tiny duo broke up as soon as they had a tiny kid, which was the fashion back then. My window had a view on an identical apartment, only a few feet away, it was the nest of a friendly blonde chorus line dancer from the Yukon. I'd peer into her window to see if she was walking around in her panties or less but the leggy beauty was onto me pretty fast, my efforts were always futile. Her apartmental predecessor was one of the duo from the craptastic Deja Voodoo, I never really saw him or spoke to him though. Also living in that beehive mirroring my building was a well-liked Moroccan guy, a talented photographer who would always smile but never speak. The timid lad eventually hung himself. There was also the hilariously acerbic gay Newfie Norman Welsh who'd invite us over for John Waters films. I almost forgot this guitarist named Steven Parks. He sported big glasses that made him look more like an accountant than an axeman. I didn't know him well though. Marilyn Burgess eventually went on to get a PhD and work at Telefilm.
   The greystones on Mackay housed, among others, Fred McSherry, the janitor from Hamilton, who was also a clever concept artist. I think he got a grant for an artwork made of a book tossed into a blender and reglued together. Fred had a fellow Hamiltonian friend named Gregory Shea living around there who wrote songs did art school at Concorida and played an organ. One of his catchy lounge-style numbers, "Nicar-ag-ua... Sand-inista..." had people humming it around Overdale for some time. Shea now performs piano in Vancouver hotel bars and the song, he tells me, is called Let's All Go to Utopia.   Nearby was old-school Byron Chichester, who seemed very old at the time, possibly even 40. Byron was a melancholy son of the black St. Antoine scene and friend to a buncha West End Gang guys, including Doonie Ryan. He didn't own a record player so he'd bring his Sunnyland Slim album to my place and close his eyes and sing along soulfully and without any inhibitation to Declaration Day. In discussing the Expos, Byron taught me that there are two types of people in this world. When mentioning good players, he'd say: "pay the man!" unworthy players were: "what's he done?"
   One summer a moustacheod Gino named Frank moved to that building on Mackay. He was from Boston. He perched out on the stairs at the corner of Kinkora. He'd buttonhole anybody who'd walk by so he could babble on about rawk shows he had allegedly attended. It was unclear why this needy young soul had moved to Montreal. He eventually horned in to a few dinners around the neighbourhood but succeeded in irritating everybody enough to make a pact to avoid him. One day cops brought him back to the States to face the justice system he had been fleeing, apparently due to something about selling cocaine.
   Then there was Michel, an effusive astrology freak who'd launch into long 
incomprehensible speeches about the planets and what they do. He eventually worked as a courier and married a girl from Germany. He'd brag about his proficiency at sneaking into big empty houses and just live there for free. There was a method to his squatting madness. Never turn on the lights. Don't let anybody see you enter. Michel was obsessed with the Trudeau mansion but never managed to get in. He told me that he squatted in a big house and when he was caught red handed the owner, rather than being angry, put him to work fixing stuff up. How much is true, who knows? Like John, the taxi driver from Ottawa, Michel had a crush on a tall, thin skanky punk junkie stripper named Cathy W. who had allegedly spent some time in jail. She lived with Marla the dog groomer somewhere on Overdale. Cathy wasn't shy. She drove me to the lookout one day in a car she'd borrowed. Nobody drove on Overdale so her ride was a great novelty. I wasn't keen on Cathy but I canoodled with her dog groomer friend a few times until her jealous Doberman pooped on my old white carpet, brazenly staring at me while doing it.
   I've surely mentioned that I went out with a girl named Elaine Reade who also lived in that building on Mackay in a big ramshackle place eventually entirely overrun by roaches. She was run over by a car at about 4:30 a.m. February 22, 1985 on Mackay and Dorchester coming back from Foufounes Electriques with a friend. Her body flew very far apparently and the story made the front cover of the Journal de Montreal. That was a massive buzzkill.
   One summer an old Scot named Walter started perching on the narrow wood staircase in front of the Kinkora Avenue rooming house across the street (pictured left). Great accent. He'd greet me, "Hey there laddie." Just hearing that beautiful voice would make my day. He'd talk about the horses or how shockingly wicked John Delorean was. One day he asked me what I thought he should do about this pain he had in his leg. I suggested the hospital. Next thing I know, he was dead of gangrene and guys in white full-body suits and facemasks were spookily cleaning up his apartment. His kitchsy old suitscases were tossed in the garbage. It was a saddening, pathetic sight.
   The view from Mackay street, just south of Dorchester then (around 86)
and now. Mostly old people lived there. You'd see them waiting on
 the sidewalk on welfare day.
The last remaining structure, the Lafontaine mansion, two years ago and today, you'll notice the metal fire escape thingy has been removed from in front. I only went inside once, when a blonde guy with a moustache tried to sell me his freeweights.
   Others who lived in that area on and off during that time in adjacent buildings that were not demolished included Claire, a fashion designer who had one of Bashr Shbib's rapid-fire-succession children, a bald-shaven headed black flamboyant black gay guy who moved to San Francisco, Robert Betanzos who worked in theatre and witnessed a fight on a balcony on Overdale where a janitor fell off and died, Ray Condo, a popular rockabilly singer who died of a heroin overdose in Vancouver in 2006, Tony Albano who eventually also died of heroin (explains why Overdale was known as OD Avenue). Norman Nowrocki who did a lot of socially-conscious spoken word and music and now teaches at Concordia.
   I lived on the Overdale block from age 18 to 25, from 1981 to 1988 or so. Everybody I mentioned above (except Oruna, Ronni, Chichester and the old Scottish guy) was also in their 20s at the time.

11 comments:

Guillaume said...

This is so terrible. I cant help thinking about the absurdity every time I drive by there. Thank you Kristian for reminding us

Robin Edgar said...

"Frank Hannibal lived around the corner, he was a nice looking black guy. . ."

You mean like Barack Obama Kristian? ;-)

Dare I ask if Frank Hannibal was "articulate and bright and clean" too?

leebossa said...

i remember going to a party in one of those buildings, circa 1986. It may have been the one you described, but i can't remember!

ChrisErb said...

Is it true that the Lafontaine mansion was a squat with the permission of the city for years? What's the story on it?

Kristian said...

The Lafontaine mansion was the site of a political protest organized by FRAPRU, the communist housing activists. This was during that period when apartments were hard to get. It got a lot of media attention and many punks were walking around the building for a few days. I never heard of any other long term squatting that took place there, so I doubt if there was much, if any, squatting done there beyond that.

BTW, I've rewritten this section several times, so if you're bored feel free to give it another look over.

Jean Naimard said...

Kinkora Avenue. This sounds exotic*. From your description, was it parallel to Dorchester? (Yeah, I call it “Dorchester” too, even though I’m a separatist).


* But with my luck, it’s probably some obscure welsh or english family name…

Anonymous said...

I came over this while i was researching my grandfather who passed away a few years ago. His name was Marcelino Oruna Gutierrez. He worked as a janitor. I don't know if what you wrote is true or if it's just made up but it's interesting to just see it....made me smile

Kristian said...

Marcelino was very friendly guy. Horn rimmed glasses, always smiling. His son(s?) seemed like sullen assholes though, my apologies if one of them was your father. One of them threatened me with a screwdriver because I climbed up on the roof. I didn't like that much. But Oruna was cool, once I broke my freezer in a clumsy attempt to remove the ice and he pretended to believe that I didn't cause the puncture, found another fridge in the basement. I was sad when they moved away. I think maybe they were Chileans.

Anonymous said...

I knew Cathy well , she did spend time in prison , took the rap for her mouse of a boyfriend Rick . She lived there with Rick for a few years , know the place well , was there often .

John McFetridge said...

Interesting stuff. I lived at 1388 Overdale from '85 to '88.

Kenneth Cameron said...

You don't have the whole Kinkora story. I built the window in Apartment #4. Lived there until 1983 with wife, Anne, until second child. Had three apartments in the building, linked together. Was a janitor, "Mister Ken." But started out on Overdale in 1975, until the furnace broke. Then moved to Kinkora. Have the pictures to prove it.