Friday, May 29, 2009

Things You Didn't Know You Needed

I've lived this long without a temperature-gauging shower head but now I'm not sure I can manage another day without this über-geeky bit of technology. The LED light shows blue when the water is cold but turns red when the temperature hits 89 degrees Farenheit. Did I mention that it also serves as a water-flow regulator, reducing the water flow to 2.5 gallons per minute at a pressure of 80 psi? Nice!
And to think that for all this time we've been sticking our hands under the shower and saying "Yup, that's hot."
You can order one here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Were They Thinking, #3 in a Series.

Who is the bigger idiot, the owner who doesn't bother cleaning up the kitchen before letting the agent/photographer take pictures of the property, or the agent/photographer who thinks this image is going to help sell the property?
Maybe they were after that coveted sad clown demographic with those flaccid, deflated balloons.
Here are a few handy tips to make your home photograph better. Clear the counters, take the fridge magnets, photos and coupons off the refrigerator. Make the beds. Close the cupboard and closet doors. Put the toilet seat and lid down. Get the shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, make-up and stuff out of sight beforehand.
The aim is to create the illusion of space and order, even where neither exists. Believe it or not, people buying houses are trying to escape their own messes. They sure as shooting don't want to buy yours.
Resume what you were doing.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The sleek modernist Chicago area home featured in the '80s classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off has recently been put up for sale at a tidy $2.3 million U.S.
You remember the house. At the end of the film Bueller's friend Cameron accidentally sends his dad's prize 1961 Ferrari through a glass curtainwall and plunging into the ravine. Yup, that house.
You can see pictures and the listing here
Its connection to a cherished post-boomer comedy notwithstanding, the Highland Park property is plenty cool, if a little antiseptic, in it's own right.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Habitat in St. Henri

Habitat for Humanity is gearing up to build two more houses for low-income families in St. Henri this summer. They are looking for volunteers to help on the various committees leading up to the build as well as others to do the more usual hammering, sawing and toting of construction materials.
Sound like something you might like to do? There's an information session Saturday, May 30 at 10 am. The location is the Delta Hotel, 777 University St. (kitty corner to Place Bonaventure at St. Antoine)
If you have questions, you can email the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity at: or
You can visit the local Habitat for Humanity web site here.
The picture above was cribbed from HH's web site. It's from a home-raising in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve last summer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Local Housing : Lots of Choice Yet Prices Firm

La Presse had a good resumé of the current housing market in the Saturday Mon Toit section.
The headline read "À défaut d'aubaines, l'embarras du choix", or "In the Absence of Bargains, an Embarrassment of Choice".
The underlying theme was that while turmoil has struck other markets across North America, Montreal continues to chug along.
Buyers hoping to scoop up real estate at distressed prices have been disappointed. Prices are stable and even rising. What has changed is that properties are taking a little longer to sell. It took the typical home 65 days to sell during the first three months of last year. During the first quarter of 2009, that listing period was 80 days. There are more properties to choose from and buyers have more time to consider their purchase, but prices continue to increase.
You can read the article here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Living Large, Not.

The Los Angeles Times has a nice photo essay today on the movement to build "tiny" houses. Author Mimi Zeiger has just published a tiny art book on the topic. The movement is sparked by the laudable impulse to reduce the size of our carbon footprint and to pare homes down to the essential. Waste not, want not and all that. The houses featured are daring, beautiful and fanciful. I, for one, love the idea of living in a little cabin on stilts among the primeval treetops. Must check whether my neighborhood is zoned for that. . .
They aren't all practical, however. Horden Cherry Lee Architects' 76-square-foot micro-compact aluminum cube might have two double beds, a kitchen, bath and dining table, but who would want to live in it? It is the residential equivalent of a Smart car, cute as all get out, but really useless when there are three of you needing to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry.(Good luck if you blow a tire on the highway, btw. Smart cars don't come equipped with spare tires.) Tiny, when this small, is a parlor game.
Funny how tiny becomes chic when rich people and their architects adopt it. Tiny houses are just plain "too small" when poor people live in them. I'm still waiting for architects to devise beautiful. compact and architecturally daring small homes for the masses. Now that would be revolutionary.
But enough of my gassing on. Take a look at the LA Times' photo gallery here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Going Solar?

Have your ever wondered whether installing solar panels on your home was a viable energy alternative? Many people have, only to drop the idea because of the expense or daunting technical nature of such a project.
Energie Verte Benny Farm understands your reticence and offers a possible solution.
EVBF is a non-profit company that promotes alternative and renewable energy solutions. It has a program called Acces Energie that puts together buying groups to bring down the cost of solar-powered energy systems.
According to EVBF's web site, the typical solar hot-water system for a household of 4 costs about $5,000 installed. Subsidies and savings through the collective buying process could reduce that by as much as 50 per cent.
Accès Energie's consultants will help you figure out which system is best suited to your home and will send out tenders to contractors to get the best equipment and installation price. It will even walk you through the municipal permit procees.
All this to say that Energie Verte Benny Farm is planning at least two information sessions for those interested in learning more about installing a roof-top solar energy system.
The info sessions will be held at the Urban Ecology Centre, 3516 Park Ave. on May 27
and at Coop la Maison verte, 5785 Sherbrooke W., on June 10. Other sessions are being planned. Check the web site for more details.
UPDATE Sometimes, I'm too clever by half. After talking to Alex Hill, the engineer who coordinates the Accès Energie program, I now realize that the panels in my picture are photovoltaic and not the solar thermal panels that Accès Energie promotes. My bad.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Were They Thinking, #2 in a Series

The listing could just as easily have said "Unfinished basement, suitable for storage."

La Fontaine Park, Update

After reading the post on La Fontaine Park, my alert friend Karen sent along this photo of her five(?)-year-old self and the aforementioned whale aquarium. Looking good, Karen! I like the bangs.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Chowhound Weighs in on Verdun's Mysterious Mauritian Resto

Chowhound, the foodie web site, has a hilarious review of one of Verdun's best kept gustatory secrets. Délices de L'Ile Maurice gets an enthusiastic thumbs up here.

The Zoo at La Fontaine Park

This 1961 photo posted on the Histoire du Plateau blog took me right back to childhood. Anybody else remember the zoo in the north (Rachel St.) end of La Fontaine Park? It had a distinctly biblical theme, with an ark full of goats and sheep and a giant whale whose mouth you could walk into. Inside was an aquarium full of goldfish, as I recall. It seemed to me that the zoo was closed in the early 1980s, but Wikipedia assets that it remained open until 1989. Can that be right?
My friend Noni's parents lived in a triplex on Christophe-Colomb a little north of the park. She says you could hear the peacocks squawking at all hours of the day.
Of course today the zoo has serves as a playground for the offspring of the Plateau bourgeoisie.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dupuis Park Saved, For Now

Public outcry and a little media blitz seem to have done the job. The city has agreed to leave Dupuis Park and Rutherford Park open to the public for at least a year while it studies ways to improve the security of their water-treatment plants.
You can read The Gazette report here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

April Resales - Fewer Transactions, Prices Hold Steady

The Greater Montreal Real Estate Board confirmed what agents on the ground have been sensing, that April was a quiet month for Montreal resale market.
The board reports that residential resales declined by 6 per cent to 4,829 sales last month compared to the same month a year ago. April, 2008 was one of the busiest months on record, according to the GMREB.
As for prices, single-family values held steady last month, neither rising nor falling, while the average condo price crept up by 5 per cent. If you break out condo sales on the island of Montreal alone, prices rose by an average of 7 per cent. The average plex (two- to five nuts) edge up by 1 per cent.
Buyers are taking a little longer to make their choice, with the typical property staying on the market 80 days, compared to 67 days a year ago.
The number of active listings has increased by 10 per cent, year over year, to 28,322.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Home Renovation Tax Rebate Calculator

Both the Quebec and Canadian governments are offering home-renovation tax rebates this year as an economic stimulus measure. Now the Quebec government has an on-line calculator to help you figure out how much you could get back.
Cool tool, though I have to say the disclaimer at the bottom of the page is a bit of a buzz kill:

The calculator can be used to estimate the assistance you may be entitled to, based on certain assumptions designed to reflect the most common situations. The exact amounts will be determined by the responsible departments and organizations on the basis of the specific characteristics of each measure and depending on the specific situation of each household.

It kinda reminds me of those perscription ads on TV. "If you experience double vision after applying for the Quebec home-renovation tax credit, or persistent itching, should you grow hair on your tongue or develop a third eye in the middle of your forehead, consult a professional. The Quebec home-renovation tax credit may not be suitable for all users."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jane's Walk - Point St. Charles

It was a sunny if blustery day for Jane's Walkers in Point St. Charles today as three local volunteer guides led about 15 people on a walk through the old working class neighbohood. The talk was a little heavy on political skirmishes of the past and a little light on the kind of human-interest stories that bring neighbohoods alive. Still, I'm glad I went. A lively discussion broke out about which is the best Indian restaurant on the main drag, Centre St. Apparently four of them have opened in the last year.
I gleaned a few things during the walk. If you've ever biked the Lachine Canal bike path, you might have noticed the remains of the red brick factory and a blackened smokestack just east of the Charlevoix Bridge. (Left) It is all that remains of a 19th century rope-making factory, the Converse Co.. The factory was a narrow building that lined the canal from the Charlevoix St. to, wait for it, Ropery St. a long city block away. Now I know how Ropery St. got its name. Because the rope was wound around stanchion located at either end of the factory, they needed a long footprint, but not a lot of width.
St. Gabriel's Church on Centre St. in the Point was built by the sizable Irish community in 1895.(Right) It was the second church built on the site, replacing a wooden church built in 1875.
In 1954 the church was heavily damaged by fire, which explains why it has no steeple. By that time, many of the working-class Irish who had filled its pews had moved out of the neighborhood. The bell tower never was rebuilt.
According to our tour guides, the first Europeans settled in what is now Point St. Charles in 1654. It was mostly agricultural land. Today, 43 per cent of the neighborhood's rental stock is social housing.

Bike Paths in and Around Montreal

The Montreal Mirror, a newspaper with which I started my journalism career*, has a good piece on area bike trails.

* Actually, I started my journalism career at age 11, writing Girl Guide and Brownie news for my hometown St. Bruno Journal. The difference is that I didn't get paid for that column. The Mirror paid me with free LPs (!!!) and the occasional movie pass.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Save Dupuis Park

UPDATE The Gazette now reports that the city is also restricting access to Rutherford Park, the green space atop the McTavish reservoir just south of Pine Ave. at University. Could this have something to do with the fact that people keep documenting how easy it is to get into the filtration plants?

The Gazette reports that without a word of warning, much less public consultation, the city has decided to close Dupuis Park, a four-hectacre green space that sits atop the Atwater filtration plant's water reservoirs.
The city says the park, where locals run, fly kites and play soccer and other sports, was never officially a park. Funny, because it is listed among Verdun borough's parks on the city web site.
Area residents told The Gazette that the non-park's soccer nets and baseball diamonds were removed about 10 days ago.
The city has tried to dodge responsibility, with Verdun saying the green space actually lies within the borders of neighboring Sud-Ouest and Sud-Ouest saying Verdun has long agreed to maintain the park because its three public access points are on Verdun territory.
Now the story is that the green space is the private property of the water filtration plant. The plant will allow some controlled access by sporting associations, but the days of wandering into Dupuis Park for a jog, a picnic or to admire the city skyline are over.
Perhaps they thought no one would mind. They thought wrong. A citizens' group has started organizing to save the park. You can find out how to help and sign a petition at

Paul Beaupré, who looks like he has never flown a kite or picnicked in a park in his life, represents the Verdun district in which Dupuis Park is or isn't located. His number is 765-7010 His email is The next borough council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5. The address is 4555 Verdun Ave.

Michel Mérette
is the manager of the Atwater filtration plant. I can't seem to find a phone number for him.

If you don't get satisfcation from either of them, you can, as a last resort, file a complaint with Montreal's go-get-'em ombudsman, Johanne Savard at (514) 872-8999 or