Once a Sillery Boy, Always a Sillery Boy

Once a Sillery Boy, Always a Sillery Boy

Peter Stuart on life in Sillery and beyond. 


As Beau Dommage, the famous Québécois folk rock band from the 1970s sang, ‘né à Montréal d’une famille normale’. Yes indeed, I was ‘born in Montréal of a normal family’, but moved to Quebec City when I was four years old. I still have fond memories of 152 Prince Edward Ave. in Pointe-Claire, but they are sort of frozen in time: The various rooms of the house, the yard, the next door neighbour’s house and yard, various things that happened at our place and so on, but that’s about it.

As a young boy I never made it out of that secure cocoon of my parent’s house and the next door neighbour’s place, never went to school and as I recall, was too young to go to church, or perhaps too young to remember. As well, I never went anywhere else without being accompanied by my parents in the family Rambler, so life in Montréal was limited to two suburban houses and what I could see from out of the car window. 

All that changed when we moved to Quebec City. Or Sillery should I say, because the Quebec government’s now-infamous municipal merger bill was still not even a twinkle in the eye of the Premier of the day and would not materialize for another forty years or so. So when we got out of the car in June of 1968 at 1276 des Pins in Sillery, well, first of all, postal codes didn’t even exist, and we were referred to as ‘Québec 6’ on letters which arrived at our door, whatever that meant. 

Little was I to know that I was to live at that address, off and on, (mostly ‘on’) for the next forty years of my life and that even now that both of my parents are dead and buried, and the house sold in 2008, I still feel an irrepressible urge to return to Sillery, to hang out there, to stay in contact with the people in the old neighbourhood, to dine and shop in the restaurants and shops on Maguire street, and so on. 

I still have my prescriptions filled at the Sylvie Champagne Pharmacy on Sheppard. Why change? They know me and vice versa, and I get really good service, plus they’re on my way home from church on Sundays which is when I always pick up my prescriptions, something my parents did going all the way back to the 1970s. I still do my banking at the CIBC on Maguire. I’ve had an account there since my mother opened one for me ‘in trust’ in 1972 so that I could deposit my spare change and eventually my earnings from my paper route. Back then, they used to write my deposits and withdrawals into my account book by hand, no computers (and no service charges to pay for all the computers!) 

I’m a big believer in doing things long-term and developing long-term relationships with people, place and things as well as institutions. The longer the better. We live in a society of throw away everything, temporary, part time jobs, relationships, and so on, that it’s comforting to know that as a resident of Quebec City for the last forty four years, (minus eight when I was in Ottawa, but then, I always came home for the holidays, and kept my file open at the Sillery clinic so that once I moved back, I never had to shop around for a family doctor again, it was like I never left!), that I can truly say that I’ve grown roots here. 

Regardless of how cold it is in winter, I’ve grown accustomed to it and have learned to live with it. You have to make the most of winter and what it has to offer from the point of view of outdoor activities. I love a good brisk walk on a nice crisp cool, sunny winter day like today, or on an evening when there’s a nice snow falling and you can see the snow falling as it briefly passes through the light of the street lamps. 

No matter how difficult it has been to find work here, I’ve found some and it’s fine, I love my work at the Church and I make a little extra on the side teaching, guiding and writing. All in all, I can’t complain. Life is basically pretty good compared to how things used to be. I’ve made good friends here because I’ve gone out there and worked at it and have been able to distinguish who ‘my type’ of people are and who aren’t, and who I want to associate with and who I don’t, and vice versa. 

All part of the process of discernment that we go through on our journey of faith and our journey of life. But I still yearn to one day live in Sillery if I could. The problem is that it’s really beyond my means. My parents bought their home on Des Pins for $23,500 in 1968 and we sold it for $399,500 forty years later, and it needed at least $100,000 of work on it! That gives you an idea what kind of place it is.

A lot of people have made improvements to the old houses in the area I grew up in, and Maguire Street has only increased in prestige as the city of Sillery and later Québec, in league with the merchant’s association of the street, turned the place from a kind of dingy commercial street, to a trendy high street, rivalling Cartier avenue with its outdoor cafés and trendy boutiques, all of which drives up the cost of living around there. 

So before selling the house in 2008, I moved out for good and was faced with the unenviable situation of downward mobility. I’d always managed to maintain a certain air of dignity, despite my modest economic circumstances, because of my family’s position in the socio-economic pecking order in Sillery, situated somewhere well above the mostly working class area below the hill and to the east of us in Bergerville, yet still somewhat of a more modest bearing than those in Park Lemoine or Sillery Gardens. 

We were in a really sweet spot on Des Pins, or ‘Pine Ave’ as the old time Anglos always called it. It eventually got re-named ‘des Grans Pins’, much to my mother’s chagrin, but at least it kept the essential element of ‘pins’ in it. So I ended up in Duberger/Les Saules. Not a bad place, all things considered. Basically I live here because it’s what I can afford and it’s safe, with green space, relative quiet, trees, and apartments that are not too old and are well-maintained. 

But basically it’s pretty cold and soulless suburbia. It’s not Sillery, that’s for sure. I don’t have a nice little commercial street two blocks from my place with the freeway traffic far far away. In the summer with the windows open or out on the balcony, the freeway, which is not too far away, is enough of a bother, that it makes sitting out on the balcony not as pleasant as it could be, not to mention the constant intermittent flow of traffic off of Boulevard L’Ormière going up my street. There’s just enough through traffic to make sitting out on the balcony slightly annoying, not to mention the fact that I regularly have to wipe off my patio furniture before sitting on them because of all the soot that comes from the pollution generated from being so close to the freeway. 

So yes, I was ‘Né à Montréal d’une famille normale’, but now live in wonderful Quebec City. Not quite the silvery Sillery that I grew up with, but still better than I’ve had in years gone by. Quebec City is no longer referred to as ‘Québec 6’ now that we’ve adopted a modified version of the British postal code system.

One thing that has not changed is my attachment to the place where I grew up and still call home. The ‘Cité de Sillery’ may be gone from the map of Québec; it hasn’t been erased from the depths of my soul. Maybe one day I’ll move back. Like Mom always used to say: ‘We’ll see’.

About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance journalist and writer based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. He has a degree in Canadian Studies from the University of Ottawa.
He has written Op-Ed pieces for the last ten years for publications including: Le Soleil, La Presse, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph and Impact Campus.
Peter writes in both French and English, and and has published his first book, entitled ‘The Catholic Faith and the Social Construction of Religion: With Particular Attention to the Québec Experience’. 
You can read more of Peter’s work by visiting his blog.

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