Sunday, August 7, 2016

Griffontown Remembered

HAPPY FURLONG'S LIFE was saved by a quart of beer. When the elderly carriage driver left his rooming house at the corner of Shannon and Ottawa streets in Montreal's Griffintown shortly after 10 a.m., to buy his favourite ale at the local corner store, he had no idea that an RAF Liberator was about to take off from a supply base in Dorval.

That 25-ton bomber, on a classified mission to Europe on that drizzly spring morning of April 25, 1944, would develop engine trouble as it approached Mount Royal. My uncle, Frank Doyle, then an 11-year-old student in St. Ann's Boys' School, a block from Furlong's flat, remembers how the plane swooped over the school as the pilot made a desperate attempt to reach the river. "We were just coming in after recess," he says. "We heard this big noise, zoom, it shook the place. Brother Edward, our teacher, said, 'Stay here and pray.' " God saved the schoolchildren. The plane missed the school and crashed into the block where Furlong lived. Nine of his neighbours, a beat constable, and the plane's five crew members died.

So the luck of the Irish goes only so far. The plane crash is the worst of many calamities to hit Griffintown. The storied neighbourhood - home to Irish immigrants who fled the potato famines in the 1800s and to several generations of their descendants - has endured floods, fires, riots and strikes. It's a colourful past that has won Griffintown a small, if unhappy, place in the literary imagination…more

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