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Uncovering 375 hidden Montreal stories

Grad Kristian Gravenor’s new book celebrates the city’s untold history
May 31, 2017
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By Isaac Olson

Kristian Gravenor, MA (history) 91, has spent years collecting an eclectic mix of true stories for his soon-to-be-released nonfiction compilation, Montreal 375: Tales of Eating, Drinking, Living and Loving (Amazon.com 2017; 350 pages) — a book that promises to bring readers back in time to explore thrilling, amusing and sometimes bizarre tales of days gone by.

Montreal 375: Tales of Eating, Drinking, Living and Loving Montreal 375: Tales of Eating, Drinking, Living and Loving by Kristian Gravenor, MA 91

After earning his master’s degree, it wasn’t long before Gravenor gravitated toward journalism, landing himself a gig at the weekly Montreal Mirror. He wrote straight news, features and columns for nearly two decades. It was fun work, he says, but not lucrative. To compensate his income, he bought and began managing rental properties on the side.

“I’ve kind of been back and forth between journalism and killing mice in apartments ever since,” says Gravenor. His dry humour is on display in his popular blog, Coolopolis.blogspot.ca, which he does “just for the fun of it,” and in previous book, Montreal: The Unknown City (2002).

With Gravenor’s volume coming out in late spring, he’s been hard at work laying it out, proofreading and adding an index. He says he it will be sold at local retailers and on Amazon, both in print and ebook.

Here is a Q&A about his upcoming compilation.

What is this book all about?

Kristian Gravenor: “My book aims to be the greatest nostalgia book about Montreal ever written. Like City Unique: Montreal Days and Nights in the 1940s and ’50s [by William Weintraub, 1996], but way better.

I have been working on this material for decades and I’m sharpening it to a point where I get all the absolute best stories, old and new, to really make this thing explode.

This book has lots of jaw-dropping stories, humour, insanity and just stuff you wouldn’t believe. Yet it’s all true because I got it all from reputable sources.”

How did you find your stories?

KG: “My stories, basically, are from old newspapers. For a while, I was a freak for the old Gazette [Founded in 1778, The Gazette is predecessor to the current Montreal Gazette]. I spent hours a day reading them and now, lately, I have been going toward La Presse.

My eyes strain to jump on something of interest. I also do a lot of interviews with people like former cops or politicians. I have my own network that I have built over the years but, honestly, my preference is the written word because that carries more weight than people with failing memories.”

Can you share some examples of the tales you have collected?

KG: “I’ve written about 75 pages just on legendary bars from Montreal’s past. If I just randomly choose, there’s one called Neptune on de la Commune St. It was around since the 1800s. There were so many crazy stories from that place, like the guy who killed Martin Luther King drank there. The guy who killed Thomas D’Arcy McGee drank there. Louis Cyr, the famous strong man, was a cop who broke up fights there.

There’s just so much information and spicy stories to jam into one little space that I don’t think anybody is going to be bored at any time with this book.”

Kristian Gravenor Long-time Montreal journalist Kristian Gravenor’s new book presents forgotten stories from Montreal days gone by to commemorate the city’s 375th birthday.

What inspired you to put this together?

KG: “Absolute love and so much encouragement from so many awesome people who just appreciate the nonsense I write. They write to me every day and say, ‘keep going’ or ‘do more.’ I realized there’s a huge interest in colourful history.”

What makes you care so much for the city of Montreal?

KG: “My father was kind of ‘a man about town.’ He was an eccentric who would talk to people on the street. He was a little bit like me, a frustrated journalist who ended up doing property ownership and I think I caught the bug maybe through him.

Every new story I find just blows my mind and leads me to find the next one, and there are always new stories coming, which is how the interest keeps flowing. Montreal is just an absolutely magical, beautiful place and I love it, you know? Period.”

How did your Concordia history studies prepare you for this book?

KG: “I had a great urban history course with Professor [Walter] Van Nus, who gave me some hefty assignments. For those, I ended up doing loads of interviews and research, which I love doing, and that is the same thing that attracted me to journalism.

Professor Hubbard, who retired young soon after, was also a paragon of thoroughness who encouraged and influenced me plenty.”

#CUalumni

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