If there is one place in particular that is associated with the history of the Montreal Jewish community, it is undoubtedly Saint Laurent Boulevard.
Also known as “the Main,” St. Laurent Boulevard has been one of the city’s most iconic arteries since the turn of the 18th century. For more than a hundred years, it has been the centre of immigrant populations, particularly the life of the Jewish community. Jews first started settling in this area quite early in Montreal history.
By the turn of the 20th century, numerous synagogues, community centres and kosher restaurants were cropping up along the Main, which prompted the opening of several Yiddish theatres and cinemas. Saint Laurent Boulevard was also the location of most garment factories – where many Jewish workers were employed – not to mention the home of the Montreal Yiddish newspaper Keneder Adler (Canadian Eagle). For almost a half a century, Yiddish was the most common language on Saint Laurent Boulevard, and the third most spoken language in Montreal, after French and English.
Several famous Jews were raised in this neighbourhood, or lived there during their careers, including writer Mordecai Richler, singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen, and union organizer Léa Roback. As time progressed, the Jewish population of Montreal moved towards the west of the city.
Few remnants of their history remain on Saint Laurent Boulevard today. Nonetheless, most people feel that the Main retains a distinctive Jewish character, probably because it is home to the city’s most famous smoked meat and bagels.