Last week on the way to my brother’s apartment, I decided to take a little detour through my old stomping grounds. I grew up in the quiet Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire, in a complex of middle-class townhouses called Somervale Gardens.

When I arrived there, I could barely recognize the paradise of my youth. All I could see was the twenty years of deterioration and neglect. Although I was young at the time (I lived there between the ages of five and eighteen), I can still remember the landscape, the community and the people.

Somervale Gardens was built for new families with small children, but the place accommodated pretty much anyone. The complex contains about 150 townhouses and a few dozen apartments. It was an open, tight-knit community where all the kids knew each other and the parents did as well.

If you were a kid living there in the 1980s, you were one lucky adolescent. When my parents would tell my brother and I to go play outside, we didn’t have a backyard, we had our own world. And we were often left unsupervised given the safe nature of our community within a community.

The courtyards just outside our little patios provided enough space to go bike riding, skateboarding, even play a game of street hockey. The place was so huge to us, the only downside was that hide-and-seek was a nightmare.

There were also three separate parks for us to play in, all of which had their own nicknames. Each one had sand, monkey bars, slides, and two of them had swings. There were no shortages of play areas if you were a kid.

In the summer, the swimming pool area located at the center of the complex was also central to our social life. We used to have massive sleepovers, BBQ’s, contests, you name it. The lifeguards were always friendly and back in the day, some of them were even medical students.

My teen years there were just as fun. It was a refuge away from my socially inept high school. It was in Somervale that I met my best friends, kissed my first girl, got drunk for the first time and got into a whole lot of mischief. It was also the place that offered me my first employment. At the age of fifteen I was an assistant to the janitor and I got to see the inner workings of the complex.

Somervale Gardens before and after

But now, as I walk around what used to be my playground, I have to wonder if I’m just getting old or the place is really going to hell. I’ve never been to Detroit, so I don’t want to judge either too harshly, but it was the first place I thought of when I stepped foot inside one of the courtyards.

Many of the trees that grew have been uprooted, the grass that grew in some of the courtyards is either half dead or been replaced with concrete. The open once patios have all been fenced off and are falling apart.

Two of the parks we used to play in are completely gone. The only remnants that remain of the third are rusty old monkey bars surrounded by last year’s fallen foliage and potholes in the dirt.

As I walked past the swimming pool, I saw graffiti on the walls and I noticed a padlock on one of the gates was broken off. Any toddler could walk into the pool area and drown in the un-drained pool (when I went back a week later to take photos, the gate had been sealed shut using a thin wire.)

Somervale Gardens, burnt out homeMoving on, I noticed there’s now a large dumpster in every driveway, the fences are dilapidated (some are being held up by 2X4’s leaning into them). The lamp posts that lit up the night in the courtyards are gone. But, the thing that upset me the most, was seeing the townhouse where I shared that first kiss. It’s now completely burnt out and boarded up.

Along with the obvious things, you could tell the owners of the complex didn’t want to invest in the place. There were no more flower pots, bushes were growing wild around the pool area, and the paint was wearing off the façade of the townhouses. It was a terrible sight for me. I’ll admit I didn’t get a chance to look inside any of the homes, but after seeing the outside, I didn’t care too.

Somervale Gardens Group (after researching them on the internet, I can’t tell you if they are a subsidiary of a larger corporation) rents their townhouses for $1250 a month for a three bedroom place. On par or a little less than a mortgage on a middle-class home of the same size.

Back in the mid-nineties when I left, my dad was paying about $800/month which was actually higher than a mortgage at the time. It’s clear that over the last twenty years, Somervale has been milking their inhabitants for every penny they can get without putting much back into the infrastructure. I wouldn’t go so far to say they’re slumlords in the traditional sense, but they are slumlords of the middle class and they are getting worse with time.

As the housing market continues to rise across the country, fewer people of intermediate means are able to afford the large down payments and/or mortgages necessary to buy their own home. So, they have to settle for places like Somervale Gardens.

Whether this place is an indication on where our middle class is headed or just another case of greedy landlords, we’re in trouble. Our standards should not be lowered by the greed of others, whoever they may be.

 

16 COMMENTS

  1. So I moved here a couple years ago. And let me tell you, the day we moved in, it did not feel “new” or anything. They did NO fixing up on the place before I moved in. It felt like the people before literally just took their stuff out and I brought my stuff in hours later. I had to have someone constantly come to fix problems for the next while. But I have cracks in my floors that were there before I moved in. Part of the outside wall looks like its sinking. Clearly the places they have no renovated NEED to be fixed up big time….big time. I also agree that they do not try to upkeep of the surrounding environment outside (aside from grass cutting and hedge clipping). The price I pay for the size of my place seems to be unbeatable though… which is good though.

    In the end… I had no idea it used to be so beautiful as you mentioned. I wish I could have seen it like that.

  2. I agree, people should take responsibility and pride in where they live. Perhaps, if we all cleaned up after ourselves and did not live like pigs and hoarders, the world would be a better and cleaner place.

  3. Oh wow, this is just a sad sight. 🙁 I lived in Somervale Gardens in the early 80’s during grade 2-3 at #78 Segefield in this complex and remember it as one of the best places our family got to live it at that time, especially after living in the Atwater and St. Henri areas of downtown Montreal. Exactly as you remembered, I also remember the courtyards, playgrounds and the pool as terrific places to get lost in fun with friends, and I remember inner tube Sundays at the pool.

    The people living there were pretty good as I remember it, and if the quality of people is the same as back then they certainly deserve better from how the current landlord’s treating them. I do hope there’s some massive renovation undertaken to justify the rents being charged to these people! Thanks for this article! It’s a real walk down memory lane for me, though the better ones are just that, memories. A shame the complex has been allowed to fall in such disrepair. 🙁

  4. Wow, my family is looking to move within Pointe-Claire in 2015 and what you’ve written has struck this place off my list. Holy crap.

  5. I still live there, next door to where you lived, which burned on Easter Monday, April 21st. I live in the end unit, and am still out of our home.. we have been living in a hotel since and are moving into an interim unit this week. THere is a light however, there is a 5 year plan to install new siding on all units, new windows and doors, and a massive landscaping undertaking over this time period.. we still pay less than $1,000 a month for a 3 story, 3 bedroom town house, with heated garage and our own laundry room. It is all about the location.. the Jewish owners are not very easy to convince when it comes to our needs, but if you pay your rent on time, it does get done.. eventually.. Marvelous article, all true.. but improving, as I write this! Have a great day.

    • Thanks for the inside perspective. I didn’t live in the burned out apartment, but I knew people who did (25 Years ago). I grew up in 290 #8.

      I hope you’re right about things improving. I’ll believe it when I see it

      • The improvements have already started.. The new siding is completed on the St John’s Road section… makes a big difference already.. now we wait to see what else happens.. I will keep you posted. Have a great day~

      • Hey Mike, it’s Alex from Somervale. This story literally brought tears to my eyes. If only people could see how amazing it really was. I lived in 270 #2 between ’81 and ’92. And was best friends with Mike’s brother. I really feel that we had the greatest youth anybody could ask for and it was because of that complex and everyone who was in that community during that time. From the huge Willows to the underground maze to the sauna, pool, parks, and friends. When the ice cream man would ring his bell and a village of kids would come running. I had all my firsts there as well…Being a kid in the 80’s. it was amazing. It was like a world closed off from reality. We should all share our pictures to try to give a glimpse of what it used to be. Such a shame.

  6. Good story, Mike. Reminds me of a place where I grew up just outside St Louis. 20 years ago, it was a decent area, and now houses are abandoned and boarded up in the area

  7. It was bought by VERY greedy jews in Cote des Neiges. They do fuck all to keep it up o date. I was paying 900$ for my townhouse there, which at the time was a great deal for what we got. Its gone to slum now. Sad.

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