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Home > McGill News > 2003 > Spring 2003 > Reviews


Montreal: The Unknown City, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002, $19.95, by Kristian Gravenor, BA'86, and John David Gravenor.

Not just another tourist guide, Montreal: The Unknown City lives up to its title, delivering an array of tips, facts, history, and even ghost stories about one of North America's great cities. Did you know the cross atop Mount Royal was paid for in the 1920s with cash raised by the St. Jean Baptiste Society enlisting 85,000 school kids to peddle stamps? That Ben's Deli was named for the Lithuanian immigrant who introduced Montreal to "smoked beef brisket" in his restaurant in 1908? That Thomas Edison shot a 1901 action flick in the city called Montreal Fire Department on Runners?

Tourists will get an insider's view of the city not found in your run-of-the-mill Fodor's and Michelin guides. Yes, there are the restaurant pointers to premium spots like Globe or Toqué!, but readers also get a recipe from Globe chef David McMillan for gourmet poutine (fries, duck gravy, Stilton and fresh chives), find out where to get the best souvlaki, and can consult a listing of some of the city's best ethnic restaurants when they get a hankering for a good vindaloo or pad thai. Plus they'll get fair warning that Montreal crosswalks are strictly decorative: expecting traffic to halt when one steps out onto the yellow stripes is a sure way to fit in a tour of backlogged hospital emergency rooms.

Montreal: The Unknown City is probably the only book where you'll find the address for the Park Avenue apartment where al-Qaeda terrorist Ahmad Ressam lived while in Montreal, or the building where some people believe Quebec premier and demagogue Maurice Duplessis died in the embrace of his mistress (and was quietly moved to a more discreet country location). For good measure and high entertainment, the Gravenor brothers throw in tales of Dean Martin and Vic Damone impregnating eager young female fans on their visits to the city, and much more like-minded gossip.

There is a fair amount of McGill content to the book, with citations on the Holmes Collection of Montreal-area plants at the McGill herbarium (A.F. Holmes was the University's first dean of medicine); the McGill-Harvard football game of 1874 that introduced the sport to Americans; Ilya Klvana, the McGill student who kayaked across the country in 1999; and the story of the McGill student who "killed" Houdini (Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead walloped Houdini in the stomach, possibly aggravating a case of appendicitis -- the magician later died of peritonitis from a burst appendix).

The most entertaining McGill tale involves Communication Studies professor Will Straw, who "bamboozled the world's best known newsgathering team during a great historic moment." A tourist in Berlin in 1989, Straw was witness to the fall of the Berlin Wall. As jubilant Germans took their hammers to the Cold War relic, Straw noticed a CNN news team was having difficulty finding locals who could speak English for an interview. "Straw -- whose German ethnicity runs about as deep as having a passing resemblance to Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes -- stepped up to oblige. Speaking in his best Benny Hill-style German accent, Straw waxed emotional about how the falling of the wall felt to Berliners -- a performance that was recorded for all the world to see."

The book also covers Montreal intrigue, crime and scandal like the Ponzi pyramid scheme (invented here by bank employee Charles Ponzi), UFO sightings, strip clubs, Montreal riots through history, and the exploits of the city's own Dirty Harry, Bob "Shotgun" Menard, a cop on the force from 1959 to 1985 who is estimated to have blown away up to 15 bank robbers.

A section on ghosts includes the spirit of furrier Simon McTavish, said to haunt the upper regions of McGill campus at McTavish Street and Pine Avenue. And the headless ghost of prostitute Mary Gallagher, who was decapitated by a rather jealous friend in 1879, is said to visit the corner of Murray and William Streets every seven years on the date of her death in search of her missing noggin, an event that attracts many spectators. Her next visit is scheduled for June 26, 2005.

While tourists will benefit from Montreal: the Unknown City, permanent denizens may reap even more rewards. Odds are that even the most seasoned Montrealers won't be familiar with half the material the book contains -- a funny and resourceful guide that can be highly recommended.

The Vice Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, HarperCollins, 2002, $19.95, by Suroosh Alvi, BA'91, Gavin MacInnes and Shane Smith.

Vile, disgusting, offensive and hilarious. This book will not be mistaken for a Miss Manners guide outlining which fork to use for oysters. It makes Eminem sound like he's reciting Emily Dickinson, and decent-minded people will find something to cringe at on almost every page. We couldn't even mention most of the chapter titles in this review without risking a deluge of indignant letters.

Vice started out as an independent rag in Montreal launched by McGill grad Suroosh Alvi in 1994 and has gone on to become one of the most popular youth culture magazines around the world (it is now published out of Brooklyn). It has also spawned stores, clothing lines, a TV production company and the popular website, If you're not sure what the youth culture of today is like, you don't want to start learning here without a nurse standing by.

Things we can mention from the Vice articles collected for this book: an interview with the two most stoned people in the world (American tourists found in Amsterdam walking the streets with their pants around their ankles); reviews of music no sane person would want to listen to (violent Norwegian black metal); the Vice guide to survival in prison; buying a dirty nuclear bomb in Bulgaria. You know, just like Martha Stewart Living.

There's something charming about the satirical, juvenile delinquency of all this. It's anarchism without the tedious youthful orthodoxy, it's never politically correct, at times subversively brilliant, and Vice will publish stuff you'll never see elsewhere (and we still won't mention here).

Parents reckless enough to open this book will wince at the disillusioned Ontario teacher who packs it in after 13 years and writes what he'd really put on those mealy-mouthed report cards. "Jack is stupid. The most difficult thing about this is that he doesn't realize it…. Orson has the amazing ability to do nothing all day long…" Plus, the street fashion do's and don'ts photo section is guaranteed to generate the cruel mirth that can only come from laughing at others' misfortune and bad taste. Flipping through the book is akin to stumbling across graphic documentary footage of liposuction on the Discovery Channel. You're horrified and mesmerized at the same time.

The Vice Guide has been called "superlative bathroom reading for modern malcontents." Indeed, some people will want to be very close to a bathroom. Others will laugh out loud.

Doug: The Doug Harvey Story, Véhicule Press, 2002, $18.95, by William Brown, BA'81.

Laid back, good-natured and mischievous, Doug Harvey was one of the greatest defencemen in NHL history. He was also stubborn, unpredictable and too fond of booze. He determinedly lived life on his own terms, with occasionally disastrous results.

William Brown's enjoyable and well-researched new book, Doug: The Doug Harvey Story, offers readers an engaging and often poignant look at one of the NHL's most colourful characters, a player whose remarkable skills helped fuel a Montreal Canadiens team that most hockey experts regard as the best squad ever assembled. The Habs won five consecutive Stanley Cups between 1956 and 1960 and ten members of that club, Harvey included, went on to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Canadiens performed with such razzle-dazzle flair, fans in other cities often ended up rooting for Montreal when the Habs arrived to play the home team. "I felt like cheering them myself," admitted defenceman Milt Schmidt from the rival Boston Bruins.

Brown, the author of previous books about the now-defunct Montreal Maroons hockey and Montreal Royals baseball teams, pens a sympathetic portrait of Harvey, but he doesn't ignore the less flattering aspects of his life.

Harvey loved the life of a hockey nomad and even during the off-season he was rarely home, leaping from one spur-of-the moment adventure to another -- everything from fishing trips with buddies to building a summer camp for disabled kids. "Oh, he calls when he's out of town," his wife once remarked, "but only if I'm having a baby or if I've just had one."

Harvey could be fearless in defending his teammates and friends. When angry fans stormed the ice during one game, enraged at referee Red Storey's officiating, Harvey quelled the riot-in-the-making by whacking one attacker with his stick, making it clear that in order to get to Storey, they would have to go through him. He risked his employers' wrath by trying to organize a players' association in an era when athletes had little bargaining power and earned a tiny fraction of today's bloated salaries. Harvey had few complaints about his own pay cheque, but he worried about how lesser talents were treated.

His pranks became the stuff of legend. On one memorable occasion, Harvey masqueraded as a wealthy Arab interested in buying a Quebec City hockey team. His performance was so authentic, the local newspaper reported on the mysterious foreigner. A natural teacher with tremendous insights into the game (Scotty Bowman was among his admirers), Harvey could have been a successful NHL coach or general manager once his playing days were over. But his drinking and his erratic behaviour -- both possibly related to a suspected case of bipolar disorder -- eventually soured all prospective employers.

Brown is careful to dispel the notion that Harvey died miserable and penniless. He struggled through some difficult times after his retirement, but his last years were happy ones, especially after the Canadiens welcomed him back into the organization.

While many saw Harvey as a tragic figure, Brown concludes the hockey great rarely viewed himself that way. As one friend told the author, "Doug had no desire to conquer his demons because Doug had no demons. Doug was Doug and he accepted himself the way he was."

Stikeman Elliott: The First Fifty Years, McGill-Queen's University Press, $60, by Richard W. Pound, BCom'62, BCL'67.

Over 50 years ago, Heward Stikeman, BA'35, BCL'38, LLD'86, and Fraser Elliott started a small Montreal tax boutique serving clients in tax and business law. Since that time, the business has grown into one of the best- known law firms in Canada, with many a McGill law graduate going on to work at Stikeman Elliott. Additionally, many of the lawyers at this prestigious firm have become judges and Supreme Court Justices, law professors, senators, cabinet ministers and prime minister of Canada. Now one of their own, Dick Pound, a well-known public figure in his own right for his work with the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the current Chancellor of McGill, has penned a detailed history of the firm and its growth from a small Montreal office to expansion across the country and internationally.

This substantial work (599 pages) covers all aspects of the firm and its lawyers: the breaking of the Bay Street mould, the complex world of corporate affairs, the adventurous ups and downs of the legal business, as well as some of the backroom shenanigans, internal brouhahas, and large personalities that have been associated with Stikeman Elliott over the decades. From their work in Montreal and London to Budapest and Toronto, Pound captures the spirit of the firm (often lacing the story with his well-known dry wit) of which he has been a part for 30 years. Legal eagles will want to pick this book up -- using both hands to do it -- and law students will likely consider it required reading.

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