Remembering Montreal in the 1960s 

By Barbara Black

When Andrew Hunter was a boy in Hamilton, Ont., he read about the glamorous city of Montreal. He even visited it with his parents a few times. When he grew up, he became an artist and curator, and created an exhibit that used his somewhat distorted childhood idea of the city as its theme.

This is Montréal!, the current show at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, was an opportunity to show some of Concordia’s extensive collection from a seminal period. It includes paintings and sculptures by Louis Tousignant, Yves Gaucher, Guido Molinari and others, many of whom were also influential teachers in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Concordia’s collection was started in 1962 by Samuel Schecter, and soon led to a gallery. It was for many years in the Henry F. Hall Building; in 1992, it found a new name and new space in the library complex across the street.

As gallery director Michèle Thériault says in her introduction to the exhibition catalogue, “This is Montréal! led us to reconsider the evolution of the Gallery’s collecting and conservation practices.

Magnifying glass

“Some of the works that Hunter chose — a Plexiglas sculpture by Françoise Sullivan and metal sculptures by Walter Yarwood, Gordon Smith and Henry Saxe — have not been publicly shown for many years. Other works have resurfaced after more than 30 years of storage; this is the case for Nancy Herbert’s [large and striking] knotted fibre installation.

“Faced with incomplete documentation, which often provided neither instructions regarding the installation of the work nor photographs of its previous installations, we had to investigate, to search through the Gallery’s archives, and to track down former collaborators in an attempt to awaken knowledge long ago buried.

“In the process, we became aware of how much the curatorial and museological profession has changed over the last 20 years.”

The exhibition also includes items from Hunter’s own boyhood home combined with memorabilia of the era. There are pamphlets about Expo 67, some books about the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, a copy of a 1967 issue of the National Geographic with a feature on Montreal, photos of café life and new highways, and a continuous showing of La Lutte, a wonderful National Film Board documentary by Claude Jutra about professional wrestling, which was highly popular at the time.

Hunter’s image of Montreal was of an exciting, modern city. The world’s fair of 1967, which took place all summer on two islands in the St. Lawrence River, seemed to epitomize that image, and although he was too young to visit the fair, he followed its success from afar.

“I would eventually visit the grounds of Expo 67: Man and His World, but I was at least five years late, and the grounds were largely empty of people, a ghost town,” Hunter recalled.

That nostalgic, faintly whimsical mood pervades This is Montréal! Like the earnest Expo brochures that were created before Expo was actually built, the art and artifacts are a tribute to a time and place that seemed to exist as much in our imagination as in reality.

As Thériault concluded, “Meticulous documentation of each of the gallery’s projects — a common practice nowadays — is a means of guaranteeing a particular writing of its history, but it cannot govern the flux of ‘minor’ stories that constitute its everyday identity.”


Concordia University