I am a Greek Canadian who was born, raised and has spent his entire adult life in Montreal.
My great uncle emigrated to Montreal in the 1880’s from the town of Kranidi in the Peleponese, Greece. At that time, the population of Montreal was 150,000 and the Greeks living in Montreal were fewer than 300. He founded the Geracimo Restaurant in 1887. In 1906, his brother, my paternal grandfather, died leaving my grandmother to raise 8 young children. My great uncle gradually brought his 4 nephews to Montreal starting with the eldest. Once all the nephews arrived he sent for his nieces starting with the eldest and, last but not least, his sister-in-law, my grandmother. There was a married niece and her husband who stayed in Greece. She and her husband died in an epidemic leaving two orphans. My great uncle brought his orphaned grandnephew and grandniece to Montreal as well. The nephews were put to work and expanded the family business. The eldest nephews had the best jobs and worked in the “front of the store” while the younger ones worked in the kitchen and the “back of the store”. My father being the youngest got to do the least appealing tasks. On the bright side, he became a great chef and taught all my aunts and my mom how to cook like him. The nieces didn’t have to work and the orphans were young enough to go to school.
Here’s a flyer for a theatrical production dating back to 1928. Scrolling down, there’s an ad for my father’s and uncles’ restaurant indicating 35 cents for 3 course meal!
My maternal grandfather left the Ionian island of Zante, Greece for a better life in America. He was turned back from Ellis Island for health reasons and ended up in London where he stayed with a relative for about one year. He then sailed to Halifax and made his way to Montreal. A year after he arrived, he sent for his wife and young son. They settled in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve area of Montreal which was a then a working class melting pot of immigrants of mostly European origin. His young family grew to 5 kids. My mother, being the eldest daughter, had to give up school at the age of 12 to help her mother with the family chores. In the meantime, there was a revolving door of guests that would come and go from my grandparents’ home: fellow Greek immigrants from Zante or neighboring islands would be put up until they could find work and get their feet on the ground.
My grandfather became as a grocer but that didn’t work out too well. He ended up in the 1920’s in the emerging cinema business. Along with three other Greek immigrants, United Amusement was formed. This company built, owned and operated a number of classic-era movie houses including the 1,600-seat Granada Theatre located on Saint Catherine Street east and is pictured below. The good news is that this beautiful late 1920’s art deco cinema was restored and renovated and is now known as the Théâtre Denise Pelletier.
Life in Canadian cities at the end of the 19th century and during the early 20th century was no joy ride. With no resources, no education and with no working knowledge of either French or English, meeting one’s basic needs was in itself a major accomplishment. These two families not only survived against daunting odds but prospered and were able to help their own and strangers from their homeland who faced similar challenges. Canada to them was a land of opportunity. An opportunity to escape from seemingly endless cycles of war, occupation, displacement, civil war and poverty.
What we enjoy today as Canadians should not be taken for granted. We are all lucky to be part of this great country. I’m sure my predecessors would agree.
George G – Triovest