Ode to Pierrefonds

The Chateau de Pierrefonds, Oise Department, France

My hometown is named after the castle in the photograph above; there is nothing even remotely as grand as this beautifully restored 13th-century chateau in all of Pierrefonds, that much I can guarantee you, but it’s certainly inspiring nonetheless. I could not possibly have asked to be raised in a more ideal suburb. Over a century ago, a local and somewhat infamous notary by the name of Joseph-Adolphe Chauret created the first incarnation of Pierrefonds as a village separate from the Town of Sainte-Genevieve. Pierrefonds, like the adjacent communities of Roxboro, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Ile-Bizard, all grew from the parish and village of Sainte-Genevieve, which itself was established in the early 18th century. Chauret had seen an engraving of the eponymous chateau, which itself is of particular historical importance given that it was an early example of philanthropic cultural heritage preservation projects we now associate with urbanism in Montréal in general. He had a thatched-roof ‘seigneurial’ residence built so as to emulate the engraving; his house was completed several years before he had a chance to vist the real thing. When he returned, the locals turned up to welcome him. Pierrefonds Québec, prior to the late 1950s, was rural, agricultural and predominantly composed of old-stock French Canadians. Gouin Boulevard runs the entire length of the community, itself traced upon the path laid out by 16th century colonial urban planners creating the ring road then known as the Chemin du Roy. Habitant Homes still dot the path, and the area still maintains a small collection of very early 20th and mid-late 19th century structures.

Construction during the pre-war years was focused on summer homes built near Rivieres des Prairies, easily accessible by the train station in Roxboro. But during the post-war residential construction boom, the prospect of regular commuter train service to the expanding downtown of Montréal led to rapid residential, low-density growth. Much of what constitutes the Pierrefonds of today was built between the mid-1950s and early-1970s. All the houses are roughly the same size occupying similarly sized lots. It’s verdant, with many parks, green-spaces, playgrounds and public pools. Many of the residential streets turn back in on themselves, minimizing thru-traffic. Today it forms the largest single component of the West Island in terms of population, estimated at just over 60,000. Given its history, it is probably also the most francophone West Island community on the island of Montréal.

It is a profoundly middle-class, multi-ethnic community, closely integrated with Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro and Ste-Genevieve. Unfortunately, it lacks its independence, though there is undoubtedly a local character, given that many residents are themselves first or second generation middle-class and it’s in many ways emblematic of both the independent West Island communities and City of Montréal bedroom suburbs. It is modern in design with plenty of rural stylistic influences – the choice to leave many streets unlit and the rather spacious lots (in comparison to the generally modest bungalows) are well-stocked and over-flowing with flora throughout the temperate months. From what I’ve experience having lived most of my life here, I can only conclude its an ideal, if not superior suburban community and a more-than-ideal place to raise a family.

Unfortunately, for a variety of factors, Pierrefonds has a bit of a bad reputation. The generally bored SPVM West Island detachments seem to believe all gangs operating West of Highway 13 emanate from one part of Pierrefonds or another, and the merger hasn’t done much for community spirit. There are parts that are run down, but they are in the minority compared to the large sectors of stable, happy and prosperous detached homes. The schools are good and crime is almost non-existant. There are many local small businesses and some important cultural and community centres serving a large and diverse population. Perhaps most importantly, Pierrefonds is exceptionally well-served via public transit, making it an attractive location for white-collar families. Downtown is a mere twenty-five minutes away.

Let me be the first to say, nothing of consequence may have ever happened in the place I grew up in, and like many other parts of North America, it exists as a community to the degree by which the community invests in it. If we are to be more than we currently are, we’ll do so collectively. If not, we’ll simply exist as another component of the expanding City of Montréal; no harm, no foul.

But it makes me wonder, in these times of transition and change, what was necessary to establish Pierrefonds as more than simply a place where one lived? What made it so balanced, so equal, so ideal for suburban family living?

It’s odd – I used to joke about Pierrefonds as being nothing particularly special, even going so far as to over-emphasizing it’s ‘street-cred’ as it was perceived to be a ‘rough’ part of the West Island. Horseshit in hindsight. It may be one of the most ideal communities to raise children on the whole island of Montréal.

Come see for yourself I suppose, we have the largest nature park on the island. Stop by Vivaldi for supper (a shockingly excellent Italian restaurant on Gouin West). I really have no idea how to end this article, nor where precisely I’m going with it. So I’m going to end it abruptly here.