After writing The Geography of Pluto, there were two projects vying for my attention.
One of the voices was for what would become The Family Way. It was louder and more insistent than the other, so it won me over easily. But the other voice remained. I could hear it at times; muffled, as if on the other side of a wall. All I knew was that it would be set at my old high school in the late 80s, and that it would also be inspired by my dad’s childhood.
My dad grew up Goose Village, which was a very small neighbourhood in Montreal. It was a collection of six streets located at the foot of Victoria Bridge, sandwiched between the Old Port and the CN rail lines. It’s all gone now. In its place is nothing but a Costco and a parking lot. The entire neighbourhood—which was largely made up of Italian labourers and other blue-collar immigrants who worked nearby—was razed in 1964. The city said it was dilapidated and unsanitary and needed to be torn down, but popular opinion was that Mayor Jean Drapeau thought it to be an eyesore and didn’t want it to be the first thing people saw when arriving in Montreal for Expo 67.
Goose Village is legendary in my family. My dad would often share stories with me and my brother about the mischief he’d get into (saving those tales for the book). Even though he grew up poor, he had a very happy childhood. This small neighbourhood was a wonderful playground for him and his siblings. But it was also tough. He learned a lot of hard lessons on its streets.
As I wait for The Family Way to be published, I’ve started to write the next book. The illusive voice is in the room with me now, loud and clear (I don’t think I could’ve started this project seven years ago—it needed time to germinate). I still don’t know all about the story, but that’s the fun part. Writing is like trying to solve a puzzle. You’ve got a lot of the pieces, but not sure how they all fit. But if you stare at them long enough, rolling them around in your mind, they begin to shift and change and fall into place.
Right now, I have a tentative title (Hard Feelings) and I have my characters. I roughly know what will happen, and when and where it is set. Goose Village and its destruction will play an important role in the book, so I’ve begun to compile my notes. Over the summer I interviewed my dad, mom and aunt to collect their memories of the neighbourhood. I also read a book of oral histories from others who lived there, and I continued my research online.
A few weeks ago, I found a couple of great videos online (here and here). I also came across this one woman’s Instagram account where she too is embarking on a project about her father who lived there. I even found the city report recommending the neighbourhood’s destruction. Finally, I discovered this site with over 1,600 photographs taken before Goose Village was torn down. I felt like I had hit the jackpot. With these images—along with the maps and stories I’ve read—I was able to finally visualize what it must have been like for my dad to grow up here. I even think I found the picture of the house he grew up in (well, at least we think it’s one of two).
Next comes the fun part. Dropping my character into its streets.