Sounding Griffintown

Well that was unlike anything I have ever experienced! Yet, it began with confusion and frustration… This was quickly remedied however when I realized that my iPod was on shuffle, which accounted for the complete lack of continuity in the first 10 minutes of this sound walk! After this moment confusion, I promptly returned to Peel at Notre Dame and, for the second time, began the Griffintown Soundwalk.

Now firstly, the recordings alone were fascinating in their own right. Just listening to the sound track at home was compelling and I initially expected to find at least the remnants of an actual neighbourhood, even an abandoned one. What I encountered however was little more than a collection of landmarks, known to only a few individuals. The dominant feeling in Griffintown today is that of a quiet industrial corner of a large city with only the faintest reminiscence of community. Without the prior knowledge of the Sounding Griffintown project, and the accompanying audio tracks, I do not think I would have noticed Griffintown whatsoever, even walking right through it. But, with the help of Lisa Gasior, I was ushered into the eerie, but heart-warming world of bygone Griffintown.

The dialogue I found rather brilliant, not just in its quality of recording, but also in the way in which the clips were arranged. Characters would seem to answer each other and would pan right and left at just the right moments. Colouring this was the vivid soundscape presented to us underneath the dialogue and footsteps.  The clop of hooves, the trill of a steam whistle, the moaning organ, people’s voices… all added a well-thought out depth to the experience. The forty-nine second clip (part three) was particularly rich in its melange of voice and relational sound. The interviewee’s statements blend seamlessly and there is a world of meaning in the brevity.

I must remark on the story of the plane crash. Sitting on that corner, listening to the recreation of those events of 1944 that resulted in the loss of fifteen lives and an obviously intense trauma to the town – I was awed. The combination of storytelling, sound effects, and my own imagination almost allowed me to experience the whole disaster. One can imagine how wrenching that must have been, especially in such a tightly woven little community. I did a little background research on this particular event and found some amazing photographs of the catastrophe. It is actually quite remarkable that so few people died, given the size of the aircraft and the site of the crash.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this soundwalk experience was the utter juxtaposition apparent between the audio and visual stimuli. This relates to what I mentioned earlier regarding the state of Griffintown as is appears today. Without the guidance and information provided by Lisa, one could walk through the area entirely unaware of what once it was. To listen with eyes closed is to immerse oneself in a bygone era, to see with ears mute is to witness nothing more than a few old streets of Montreal. The contrast comes alive however, as the listener is bombarded by the two stimuli simultaneously and they battle for control in the mind. Trying to envision (as prompted by voices in your ears) a busy schoolyard, for example, where there appears only a drab gravel parking lot is a strange exercise.

I suppose this blog would be incomplete without mention of Mary Gallagher… I had in fact heard this story before, even though I am new to Montreal, and yet not from so many perspectives. Incidentally, I did this soundwalk at sunset and darkness fell more or less as I approached the corner of Murray and Williams. As such, the ghost story of Mary Gallagher was all the more potent and eerie. Upon inquiring into the true nature of the incident, I discovered that a friend of Mary’s named Susan Kennedy was convicted of the murder and another man, who was present at the crime, was found not guilty; this man’s name was Michael Flannagan and I discovered this little excerpt concerning his mysterious demise:

“Michael Flannagan, acquitted of the charge of complicity in the murder of Mary Gallagher, was accidentally drowned on the 6th instant, in the new canal at Point St. Charles, Canada. It is remarked that the hour and day on which Flannagan was drowned are the same as appointed for the execution of Susan Kennedy, whose sentence has been commuted to imprisonment in the penitentiary for life.”

Author not stated (1879, December 13). Stevens Point Journal. Retrieved fromhttp://mysterialaneresearch.blogspot.com/

 

Further, I appreciated the inclusion of hard domestic reality in the depiction of Griffintown, which rendered the whole story more holistic and believable. We are cautioned to remember that all was not rosy and sweet in fair Griffintown, as it was still an impoverished, working-class neighbourhood with real humans and real social issues. This does not mar its image, but rather makes the town easier to relate to. It is during this second to last audio part that we are told of the decline of the Griffintown community and the dispersal of its inhabitants.

 

 

There is a marked fall in the mood of the narrative at this point, which culminates in the climactic mass delivered as we listen from the park benches. I would never have given the rubble stones a second thought but once seated, I almost felt the walls rise around me as the poem was read. There was a profound sadness and sense of loss in the area where the “heart” of Griffintown once beat. In some ways, the demolition of St. Anne’s church must have signified the symbolic death of Griffintown, and, obliquely, the end of a remarkable work of audio history (Sounding Griffintown). With the exception of the speed of the footsteps (which I would have preferred to commence at a more natural eighty or ninety beats per minute) there is nothing I would change and I might even bring someone down to try out the soundwalk some other day. What great trip.

 

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