Both Leonard and I were more or less typical products of the Jewish Diaspora. The streets of Montreal, where we were both born, were not quite paved with gold, but, for newcomers, the city was a North American destination of choice. Part of the explanation was its volatile blend of French and Scottish settlers, a chemistry that helped to shape Canada’s most culturally diverse, creative and exciting community. Sadly, it was also Canada’s most belligerent and adversarial community. Montreal had always been deeply conflicted at multiple levels of race and ethnicity, with consequences for those whose antecedents had escaped the singular ordeals of European life. That something of that particular history awaited our immigrant families in the “bright and shining new world” was inconceivable to them. And yet it did.
Westmount’s Jews were a close-knit and socially prominent minority in a wealthy English Protestant neighbourhood. The latter was itself a minority, albeit a powerful one, in a city and province overwhelmingly Catholic French: themselves a minority in Canada. “Everybody felt like some kind of outsider”, Leonard lamented. “Everybody felt like they belonged to something important. It was a romantic, conspiratorial, mental environment, a place of blood, soil, and destiny.”
So long, Montreal: Leonard Cohen’s classmate on McGill and the musician by Kenneth Asch (Times Higher Education: November 30, 2017) is a well written discussion of the cultural and ethnic environment of Leonard Cohen’s Montreal (and Quebec) and his reaction to it. The full article is available at the link.
Photo by Paul Lowry – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia Commons
Explore Leonard Cohen’s deep ties to his hometown through photos, videos, and text descriptions at Montreal’s Leonard Cohen comes home by Elysha Enos (CBC: 29 November 2017)