a morning in St-Henri + thoughts on gentrification

My first three years as a Montréalaise were spent in St-Henri. At the time, it was ideally located between my work and Brad's, and when I went on maternity leave with our first, I was near my friends and close to our church. It was a great three years, and I still visit often. When I go back to The Hen now, I can't believe how much it's changed! Gentrification, baby.

There are a lot of benefits to gentrification, and it's no black and white issue. The streets are cleaner, there's more investment in the neighbourhood, the parks are safer, property value is higher. Honestly, I prefer St-Henri now than I did when I lived there 2008-2011. It's fun to discover the new locales and some of my favourite Montreal haunts are new to The Hen since we left (Léché, Buck 15, Café Saint-Henri, etc.)

But on the other hand, the type of people who flock to a newly gentrified 'hood are a unique blend, and their money doesn't always trickle down to promote holistic change in the neighbourhood, particularly where it's most needed. The new residents with kids often don't send their kids to the local schools, but opt for private school. So those with money enjoy the hip new restaurants and lower house prices, but don't really invest much in the actual neighbourhood, because where things aren't up to grade, they can and do go elsewhere, usually in the private sector. This doesn't improve the public schools, libraries, and activities for children, even with more money flowing in. You'll get a gourmet meal and perfected swan in your latte art, but the public schools will still struggle and those with less won't be able to afford any of the benefits that gentrification has brought to the neighbourhood they now can't afford to live in.

It's just not so simple. Should third wave cafes and gastro pub restaurants not move in? Should condos not spring forth from condemned, otherwise useless buildings? Of course not. Gentrification also cuts back on the sex and drug trades, which is extremely beneficial. St-Henri has cleaned up a lot in the past few years, and it's now one of the hippest 'hoods in Montreal. Many of my friends still live there, and I won't lie, I envy the house prices and proximity to the canal. It's a really ideal neighbourhood for so many reasons. But which way will the gentrification seesaw tip, and in favour of whom? This happens everywhere, especially in cities, and in my neighbourhood too, but it's still frustrating.

I spent the morning in St-Henri with my two old friends, Loni and Rachel, and they toured me around their much-changed neighbourhood. What I loved about every place we visited was that it was not shining with flashy new money, from some outsider investor. These were great local spots, run by local people. In rapidly gentrified locations, this is the sweet spot. Thanks for sharing the grass-roots beauty of The Hen with me, girls. I do so love that 'hood.

Marché La Pantry is a mix between a neighbourbood store (called dépanneurs here in Quebec), a cafe, a bakery, and a grocery store. It's your one-stop shop in St-Henri for local, curated food and ingredients.
4207 Notre-Dame O, Saint-Henri

Café Frida is honest to goodness INCREDIBLE tacos, made by hand in front of you, in a tiny shop that only takes cash, and is covered with portraits of Frida Kahlo. Spanish radio is blaring and there's not much seating, and it's glorious.
4412 Notre-Dame O, Saint-Henri


  1. I feel like I have walked by Cafe Frida a few times and Loni mentioned the tacos are really good! A MUST try when I visit again :D

  2. Great insights on a complex issue Em.