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Sobol, John
Toronto, ECW Press, 1993. 100pp, paper, $14.95, ISBN 1-55022-159-0. CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Melanie Fogel

Volume 21 Number 6
1993 November

This is a slim volume; two of its one hundred pages are suggested further reading, nineteen are pictures, and the text itself begins on page 13. One can't be blamed for skepticism regarding a true "inside out" treatment.

In effect, this is little more than an over-long encyclopedia article. The chapters are even divided that way. "History," "Geography and Climate," "Industry and Transportation," "Trade and Commerce," "Neighbourhoods," "Education," "Culture and Lifestyle," "Landmarks and Special Places." There is no "slant" here: the volume is not directed at any particular interest group, and it's certainly not thorough or scholarly enough for use as a research tool. So why was it written? Perhaps a consideration of the "new view" of the subtitle will tell us.

There is nothing new in this view. Whatever contributions Montreal's English-speaking community has made to the city are paid grudging lip service, at best. Not the Allans, the Birks, the MacKays, not even the Redpaths or the Molsons are mentioned. There is the implication (granted, not the accusation) that the English domination of Montreal's money was a deliberate and concerted plot, and that the angles have always been a small minority.

Even more offensive is Sobol's use of the word "ethnic." If his name is any indication, he should know better. "Ethnic" does not refer to people descended from neither French nor British stock. Westmount and St. Henri are as "ethnic" as any Greek, Portuguese or Jewish area. Yorkshire pudding and tourtiere are as "ethnic" as spaghetti and pilaf.

The best chapters are the last two, where Sobol's love and enjoyment of Montreal come through in the writing. The facts about Montreal can be gained from almost any source, but the experience of the city is a difficult thing to communicate. Sobol does it very well. He should have built his book on that.

Melanie Fogel is a freelance writer in Ottawa, Ontario
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