The old warehouses and factories on the Pointe St. Charles side of the Lachine Canal in Montreal have been experiencing a burst of gentrification over the last several years.
From dilapidated to trendy, the lofts and apartments have resurrected the former industrial buildings’ old brown brick.
The canal they look down on, as well, has gone from derelict and polluted to positively recreational.
There are still reminders, though, of the old days.
For example, this past summer torrential rains overloaded sewers and forced the dumping of raw sewage into the canal.
This closed the canal for several days to the tour boats, pleasure crafts and, needless to say, to swimming.
Similarly, you don’t have to wander too many blocks south from the bike and jogging path that runs along the canal to find the slums that made Pointe St. Charles notorious as one of the poorest areas in Canada.
Forty years ago, during Expo, I worked with a youth group called Project Christopher in Pointe St. Charles.
Our mandate was pretty simple — reach out to those in need everywhere our teams went.
That summer, we were just one of some 15 teams practical witnessing gospel values from Richibucto, New Brunswick to Burwash Landing.
We worked out of a United Church settlement house called St. Columba House for part of that summer.
It had been founded in 1925.
Across Canada, the early settlement house movement was energized largely by middle-class, university-educated Christians, who were appalled by the increasing class inequality and deteriorating living conditions of the poor they found in our country’s burgeoning slums.
The staff of St. Columba House in 1967 readily welcomed and guided our youthful energy.
Every morning we would set out for homes they had chosen.
Half our group would stay with mothers and generally set about house cleaning tasks.
Our remaining Christophers would gather the children of the house and others from the neighbourhood and head for a local park.
We set up a recreation program to keep the kids amused and occupied.
Scrounging complementary passes to Expo ‘67 and staging other outings we offered the youth a chance to experience more than life in Pointe St. Charles offered that summer.
At the end of the summer, we left amid hugs and smiles to go back to our homes and schools across the continent.
Did we end poverty there? The answer is clearly no.
We briefly helped ease the burden of some struggling families though.
And certainly we gave a few children some positive, life-affirming experiences.
But probably the most noteworthy gain from our summer came to us in the form of empathy and understanding.
We saw, smelt and felt the reality of poverty.
I am convinced that we were changed more than anyone else.
Next week the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition will be asking Yukoners to commit to one act to help end poverty here.
How about making a pot of soup for the CYO Hall weekend soup kitchen or buying a Habitat for Humanity raffle ticket?
Maybe take a bag of groceries to Maryhouse or the Salvation Army.
You could read a book like Welfare Brat by Mary Childers or Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed as a way to try to understand the reality of poverty.
Make Poverty History is asking us to take the ‘Stand Up Against Poverty’ pledge (email@example.com).
In part it reads — “Today, and everyday, we will stand up and speak out against poverty. We will continue to fight against poverty and inequality and to hold our leaders to their promises. We are asking not for charity but for justice. We are millions of voices standing in solidarity to say, no more excuses — make poverty history now.”
On the question of ending poverty we have to hold our leaders and ourselves to account.
We all have to mean what we say.
Poverty and Homelessness Action Week from October 15th to 21st co-ordinated by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (www.yapc.ca) invites your participation in its many activities and to make your own personal pledge to help end poverty in the Yukon.
Consult the announcement in this paper for more details.