Wake For a Pub; Godspeed Irish Embassy

Pub_before_After

I went to a wake last night. it wasn’t my intention, nor was it a typical wake. A traditional Irish wake takes place before a funeral – in the wake of the death  – and is an opportunity for mourners to reflect on the life of the departed. Once they were held in the home of the deceased with the body present. But with modern funeral homes, the ‘wake’ is more often called a reception and is held at the parlour after the ceremony. Take a room full of tired, emotional people, throw in some music and a significant amount of alcohol and frankly anything is possible.

What made last night’s wake unique was that while the departed rested across the road, its heart was present at the wake.

Needless to say, the deceased cannot attend the wake. Like funerals, wakes are for the living. What made last night’s wake unique was that while the departed rested across the road, its heart was present at the wake. You see the commiserating, the wake, was not for a person, but for a pub. The true soul of the pub, the staff, had gathered to share thoughts and comfort one another in the wake of a terrible occurrence.

With the five-alarm fire early on Saturday morning at the Irish Embassy Pub, Montréal’s rich history of Irish and English pubs is currently down one member. The building now a shambles of charred lumber and flooded rooms. The acrid odor of century-old burnt wood permeates the downtown air for blocks.

Yet another reason this was not your typical wake is that there was hope of a return.

Yet another reason this was not your typical wake is that there was hope of a return. The fire was contained to the upper floor. The actual pub only suffered smoke and water damage, albeit severe, giving one the thought that maybe, just maybe, like Phoenix the Embassy will soon rise from the ashes.

The building that was ravaged by flames was merely the bricks and mortar housing of the pub. The heart and soul of it are the staff members, many of whom gathered, along with several regular patrons, at another popular Irish pub. (I would be remiss if I did not mention that in a demonstration of class and I believe genuine empathy, Hurley’s Irish Pub made the displaced Embassy staff more than welcome for the evening.)

Tears were shed and hugs abounded, but all were quick to heave a sigh of relief that thankfully no one had been injured or worse. Bricks and mortar can be fixed.

Emotions ran high among the bartenders, wait staff, bussers and managers who gravitated to Hurley’s. The fire a bitter pill to swallow. Tears were shed and hugs abounded, but all were quick to heave a sigh of relief that thankfully no one had been injured or worse. Bricks and mortar can be fixed.

I’ve spent many a pleasant hour at the Irish Embassy. I’ve come to know many members of staff, management, and ownership. I consider several to be my friends.  It pains me to see them so touched by the fire. Perhaps it’s the upcoming Easter holiday but I also believe that these people are sincere in their vow to resurrect the pub. They are off to a good start by keeping the heart beating.

Godspeed.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Is It Safe To Come Out Now?

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Is it safe now? Can I come out from under the bed and get back to doing my usual things? Can I stop playing invisible?Is the mayhem that is St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Montreal finally over? It’s been a few days, but I want to be certain. There are two days a year that I would just as soon hide from than join in, they are New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.

If you read this blog with any regularity you know that I am fond of bars. Except when they are chock-full of amateur drinkers hell-bent on ingesting as much alcohol as possible in the name of an Irish saint. The saying that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day sure does apply when it comes to imbibing.

Except when they are chock-full of amateur drinkers hell-bent on ingesting as much alcohol as possible in the name of an Irish saint.

Most days I drop by a particular bar late in the afternoon for a few cold beers, a chuckle or two and a bit of conversation. On her way from work my wife picks me up and we go home for dinner. The bar is an Irish themed place that, as you can imagine, draws an exceptional number of people come St. Patrick’s Day.

The good folks at Guinness provide bars that sell their beers with a wide variety of decorations; banners, posters, plastic glasses, coasters and even T-shirts. So every March my usual watering hole undergoes a physical transformation. That’s not a big deal. Even the constant Irish music during the lead up to parade I can take for a week or so. The increased prices are all just common business practice as anyone who has ever bought an airline ticket during high-season understands. It’s all about supply and demand.

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No, the problem as is so often the case is the people. On the Sunday of the parade arrive in droves. Some before the parade, some after. A line soon forms outside, regardless of weather conditions. Should they be lucky enough to get in, they belly-up to the bar – all bar stools have long since been removed to allow more traffic – and order drinks that are served in plastic cups. For these drinks, they pay an inflated price in cash – no credit or debit cards on this day. No running of tabs either; payment is due upon receipt of drink.

It’s crowded, dancing is not a good idea, but tell that to the 250-pound guy wearing a long green wig and Guinness T-shirt over green jeans.

Ditties that are commonly called Irish drinking songs are played by various bands throughout the day often invoking those well into their cups to dance. It’s crowded, dancing is not a good idea, but tell that to the 250-pound guy wearing a long green wig and Guinness T-shirt over green jeans.

Many folks traditionally take off the Monday after the parade, so even though it’s a Sunday, the day and night are long allowing for maximal revelry. I feel sorry for these people who will pay the real price in the morning. I feel even sorrier for the staff who have to wade through this green sea of humanity with drinks and food. 

But now most of the decorations are gone, the bar stools are back, glass has replaced plastic for holding drinks while plastic has replaced cash when paying. Phew … only another 363 days to go until St. Patrick’s Day 2019!

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

 

Canadian Prime Minister Prefers a Pint

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau checks the quality of a selfie with an admirer.

From time to time I like to drop in for a pint or two at a downtown Iris pub here in Montreal. Rather than rotting my liver, I prefer to think of it as carrying out a civic duty since, as the photo above shows, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also likes to pop into the Irish Embassy Pub and Grill.

Although I was not present when the PM arrived unannounced, I have been told he stayed for a couple of pints, offered to pay but was told it was the pleasure of the house to have his company. He was approachable and open to a few selfies.

Had I been there I could have mentioned the time I was stuck in an elevator with his father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau. No doubt the former Prime Minister must have told that tale countless times at the dinner table as the kids were growing up. I like to think it makes up part of the Trudeau family lore. Mind you I also like to think there is an Easter Bunny. Oh well…

By the way, there was some very discreet security present, lest you think our PM sneaks out alone at night to quaff beer and chat up pretty women.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Beer Sales Down, But …

Ironically these two tweets appeared in order on my Twitter feed today.

 

Someone is trying to do his best to keep those beer sales up, come hell or terrorist attack!

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Rolling Rock©: The Official Beer of Easter Morning

Stone

Happy Easter!

 

 

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Montreal Bars of the Eighties

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During the late seventies and early eighties the Montreal Canadiens were still winning Stanley Cups, the Expos had some great teams, the preferred style was preppy, featuring button down shirts or polos with khakis, and the night air, and bar restrooms, was thick with the pungent aroma of Ralph Lauren’s Polo. One of the most popular posts on this blog is a piece I wrote a few years ago about Montreal’s long history of Anglo-Irish pubs. I thought I would give it another shot by writing about some of the bars that I frequented as a young man during the late seventies and eighties. Of course this is by no measure an exhaustive listing of Montreal’s many watering holes, but rather a bit of a trip down memory lane that might bring back some recollections, if not brain cells, of readers’ youth.

carb_matchesAs I did in my first listing of Montreal pubs, I will start from West and work my way east. Therefore the first stop on our journey is Alexis Nihon Plaza,  now Place Alexis Nihon, which was home to an establishment where many a young lad got his start. I am of course referring to Les Carabiniers, or as it was more commonly called, the Carb. One of the last bastions of male-only taverns, the Carb served cold beer and offered tavern fare at very reasonable prices. Students, retirees and everyone in between were welcome, just no ladies. Given the Carb’s proximity to the Forum, where the Montreal Canadiens played in those days before moving to the Molson/BELL Centre, it was not uncommon for players to drop in after practice.

Also located in Alexis Nihon was the Maidenhead Inn, an English pub and the Bali-Hi which, as the name suggests was a tropical-themed bar. The Bali-Hi’s claim to fame, aside from waitresses in grass skirts and fruity drinks with umbrellas, was an aquarium full of tropical fish that ran the full length of the bar.

 

Leaving Alexis Nihon and heading east along St. Catherine Street, past the Forum, on the north side was  Station 10. This bar was named for the infamous police station situated just a few blocks away. One of the owners was a former Canadian Football League player by the name of Barclay Allen. As high school students my friends and I spent many an hour in this place as they were not too picky about asking for ID! 

Barclay Allen

Barclay Allen

I recall the price of a bottle of beer being 80 cents. With a twenty cent tip added, both client and customer were happy with a dollar bill. Then the price went up to 85 cents and, as you might guess, tips went down to 15 cents! After a few weeks the price jumped to a buck, and a quarter tip was the norm.

piqueA few doors further along on the corner of Du Fort and St. Catherine was the Pique Assiette, an Indian restaurant with a very small bar at the back that was frequented by many British expats, many of whom were teachers, some of whom were my teachers! As a young boy I remember passing this corner when the place was called Danny’s Villa. It was a topless bar and the window was dannys_villa_68festoon with photos of girls wearing little more than pasties. Over the years it transformed from tasselled to tandoori tits. 

Strolling along we pass the Cock ‘N’ Bull on the south side of St. Catherine arriving next at a place best described as interesting: Café Diana. This was a long established hangout for some seedy if entertaining characters. No dim lighting in Diana’s, bright lights and tough staff made it a little safer. Not a regular haunt of mine, but one that was well worth the occasional visit. I recall meeting a man in there once who could do wonderful card tricks and micro-magic at people’s table for a beer or a buck or two.

Prior to the construction of Le Faubourg legendary Montreal Canadiens’ coach Toe Blake owned a tavern on St. Catherine just west of Guy Street. Toe’s hosted an older crowd who were often not too welcoming to younger louder imbibers. Fair enough, there was no shortage of places for us to go.

toe_blake

One block after crossing Guy Street was MacKay Street, home to Cheers! Actually named Bill Edwards’ Cheers! This bar was a very popular meeting place in the eighties for those in their twenties. The name was obviously ‘borrowed’ from the popular television series. 

Entrance to former Annex/Google Maps

Entrance to former Annex/Google Maps

Many buildings in downtown Montreal have, over the years, been bought by Sir George Williams now Concordia University. These satellites house many faculties and administrative offices. They were, and are still in many cases, called annexes. So it is not surprising that on the east side of Bishop Street just below deMaisonneuve there was for many years a bar called The Annex. Popular among students, the Annex was made up of several sections, one of which was much like a cave. The Annex was also known for often looking the other way when it came to underage drinkers as well as serving beer in the quart bottles that were more regularly a mainstay of taverns.

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At Darwin’s Leonard Cohen, Terry Mosher (Aislin) and co-owner Nancy Nelson.

Still on Bishop Street but south of St. Catherine was The Longest Yard, yet another example of borrowing a name, this time from a popular movie. It was owned by another former CFL player, Dickie Harris and Bill Edwards. During the summer of 1982 the Yard, as it was often shortened to, had a softball team. On a few occasions they played an opponent that wanted to play fastball instead of slow pitch. For these games I would pitch for the team. Following his parting of ways with the Montreal Expos, Bill Lee satisfied his baseball need by playing second base for the Yard.

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Woody’s was a huge place on Bishop that incorporated several adjacent establishments over the years. Lots of wood and brass, it was popular with Happy Hour – free snacks – suits as well as a later night younger crowd. It is now the home of the Irish Embassy Pub and Grill.

darwin_doorDown the street was Déjà Vu, another bar that grew as it became ever more popular. Unlike Woody’s this place expanded upward, and had a staircase that looked down on the stage. Never a good thing to try to navigate after a few too many!

The last building on the east side of Bishop Street was Darwin’s Gazebo. Before every bar and restaurant had a terrasse, some two, Darwin’s had a gazebo. It was essentially a backyard, but gazebo sounded so much better. It was a popular hangout for artists, journalists and writers, and many who fancied themselves artists, journalists and writers. The building was lost to fire.  

One block east brought you to Crescent Street, the Grand-daddy of Montreal’s bar scene. While popping in to and out of numerous bars on the street, primarily between St. Catherine and deMaisonneuve there were a couple that became second homes. The Seahorse was located downstairs from Les Halles; a fancy, snooty restaurant that suffered the constant annoyance from the younger clientele downstairs. The Seahorse was a long narrow place that was packed most weekends with university aged kids.

djsBy the time the Seahorse had run its course a new addition had appeared right across the street with the opening of DJ’s Pub. The original owners of the building thought that Crescent Street might be just the place to open a cinema. So they built a multi-storied venue. Le Flick,  that was supposed to draw revellers either before or after a night of drinking. Unfortunately the idea did not pan out and the building was soon empty. I must admit I did my part by seeing Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones there in about 1975!

DJ’s Pub was named for Derek Johnson, a former race car driver and well-known figure on the local bar scene. Lines of people in their twenties formed four nights a week at the door. The inside was packed with fairly well-heeled kids – did I mention Preppy? – and the drinks flowed. I recall a friend of mine who was a bartender explaining that while he enjoyed having people sit at his bar, he made his money serving the constantly changing line of drinkers who reached over the heads of those seated at the bar to get their drinks and pay.

The former site of DJ's Pub. Soon to reopen as a Hooters

The former site of DJ’s Pub. Soon to reopen as a Hooters

The drinks were primarily bottled beer, no on-tap draft, and shots. Shots tended to be bought in rounds after “flipping” to see who would pay. Those interested were given a quarter and all flipped the coin, the process of elimination whittled down the player until someone lost. The ideal situation was when the bartender lost and the round was free. Popular shots included B-52’s, melon balls, and Southern Comfort. For a little while it was in vogue to have your shot upside down, which entailed turning your back to the bar, leaning back and having the bartender mix the drink directly in your mouth!

Today Rainbow Bar & Grill is a Subway. But the seven steps remain!

Today The Rainbow Bar & Grill is a Subway. But the seven steps remain!

On Stanley Street just above St. Catherine was the Rainbow Bar and Grill. It was a long narrow place with a room with a bar and another adjacent room that was just tables and chairs. From time to time they would show movies in the back room and there was always a game of backgammon going. There were seven steps up to the front door from the sidewalk which explains why the bar had previously been known as The Seven Steps.

Again please keep in mind that this is but a few of the bars and in no way represents all the drinking establishments of the time.

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

 

 

#TBT Montreal’s taverns; relics of the past

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do

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Those words were made famous in the late 1960s by Beatles protégé Mary Hopkin, in fact the popular recorded version was produced by Paul McCartney. But for many Montrealers something just didn’t ring true with the song. The city was full of taverns, that wasn’t the problem, but they were beer halls that were off-limits to women. So having a woman sing about fun in a tavern was a wee bit odd to some.

At one time Montreal had many neighborhood taverns like the one pictured at right (the photos in this post come from the Montreal City Archives).  Perhaps not as many as the ubiquitous English pub, found all over the UK, but enough that they play a significant role in the city’s heritage. I’m not referring to large, downtown establishments, but local watering holes. Taverns were for men only, they only served beer, either draft or bottled. Some had simple but usually tasty (and always unhealthy) food, but many only offered  peanuts, chips and, of course, the traditional pickled eggs. They opened early, often around eight o’clock in the morning and, by law, had to close at midnight.

There were no bars in taverns, just chairs and tables. No entertainment, just a television. Imitation wood paneling was de rigueur in Montreal taverns. The chairs and tables were basic but comfortable and required a simple setting of an ashtray and a salt shaker for the pickled eggs, or to revive the head on your draft.  Taverns with air conditioning usually cranked it up to the maximum, but many used only floor fans to keep patrons cool. A single television, basic home-style, not a giant screen projection get-up,  was suspended on a bracket and used primarily for sports events.
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The beer served was local bottled or draft. As I’ve mentioned before, don’t confuse “draft” with “on-tap”. You can now have the finest beers in the world on-tap, as opposed to bottled. For instance, Guinness on-tap comes in kegs and is pulled fresh around the globe. Guinness in bottles and cans is a different animal. But the draft beer served in Montreal taverns was a special, some would say inferior,  product brewed by the main breweries and served ice-cold from taps. It was available in pitchers, steins or glasses. The glasses were ordered at least two at a time as they probably only held six or eight ounces. In my opinion these were the best way to drink draft beer.  The cash register in photo on the left shows a sale of 45 cents has been rung up. These photos were taken on July 15, 1963, significantly before I started drinking beer, draft or otherwise, but I’d guess the 45 cent sale was 9 glasses of draft at a nickel each.

Taverns were places where men could meet to have a few glasses and solve the problems of the world, or sit in peaceful solitude enjoying some cold ones while lost in thought. Many taverns were owned by Montreal Canadiens  players and therefore afforded an opportunity to talk hockey with a pro. Next to the beer, the atmosphere was the draw. Similar to the British pub, people frequented their local tavern, or maybe one close to their workplace, where they felt at home. Waiters seemed to stay working at the same place for years and would greet you by name or if you were new they’d refer to you as Boss or Chief or some other moniker.

It wasn’t all beer and skittles mind you;  occasionally a patron would over-indulge in the cheap beer and become rowdy. Fights often broke out over one thing or another. Card games and even arm-wrestling were not allowed in an attempt to keep a lid on well oiled, overly competitive drinkers.
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The Montreal tavern was pushed aside in the 1970s by establishments known as Brasseries (the French word for brewery, but also used to refer to a “fine” drinking establishment). These newfangled places were heavy on glass and chrome, served beer and wine, could stay open until 1:00 am,  and were open to both men and women.

Sadly both taverns and brasseries soon were things of the past as people moved out of the inner city neighborhoods in favor of the suburbs. The local tavern didn’t fit into that environment.

I guess I’m caught up in my subject because before posting I keep hitting the “draft” button, but no beer arrives…

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

Coors Light Box of Thirty Cans: Caveat emptor

Coors

Check closely for can size and price

Dear Molson Coors,

I have long been a consumer of your Coors Light product. I have been very satisfied with the quality of this beer. Recently, while entertaining guests from out of town,  I had cause to purchase a larger amount of beer than usual. I bought one 30 can box of Coors Light then a day or so later augmented that with another box of thirty.

I was very surprised when I got my second box home and opened it to find that the cans were not the usual 355 mL but smaller 296 mL. What really annoyed me was that I had paid the same price for both, but at different stores.

Unless side by side the two boxes look very much the same, making this a bit of a scam in my opinion. Is it usual business practice for MolsonCoors to trick its clients?

With the current hot Montreal summer I will no doubt continue to consume your product, even if I feel cheated.

The old saying – Caveat emptor – or let the buyer beware still holds true.

Cheers,

DCMontreal

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

A Tale of Two Restaurants

Buffalo’s Anchor Bar

After our recent marriage, with numerous new in-laws in town, my wife and I postponed any honeymoon to a later date. However we did hit the road with said in-laws in tow.

There we were, a small army of ten people ranging in age from four to 77, on our way in a two-car convoy from Montreal to southern Ontario.  Like any army, as the old saying goes, this one marched on its stomach.  Which brings me to the first oddity of our trek.

We arrived in Toronto in mid-afternoon. I have often found Canada’s largest city to be a paradox; they seem to spend more time telling you they are a ‘world class city’ then actually acting like one.  After getting our bearings, the search began for a suitable restaurant. I was meeting an old friend for dinner, so we needed a place that could accommodate nine diners. The first place we found that had a sufficiently varied menu – one member of the group being vegetarian – and appeared to have several free tables insisted they could not seat a party of nine. I found this strange that a half-empty restaurant would turn away nine paying customers rather than push together a couple of tables. Did they have a problem with the fact that Spanish was the language of this group?  Business must be much better than it appears. Fortunately the second establishment, Canteen, was  much more welcoming.

Toronto’s Canteen

The visitors had heard that Buffalo was, not surprisingly, the place for Buffalo wings. So the next day after viewing Niagara Falls we crossed the border into New York in search of wings. The border crossing took some time as several members of the entourage were in need of visas. But we all made it through and continued our quest.

A simple inquiry to Siri and we were directed to Anchor Bar, a place that claims to be the originator of the Buffalo Wing. I have a hunch there may be a few places laying claim to that, but this was fine with us. We arrived at about 8:30 pm and the place, in a pretty desolate part of Buffalo, was packed. Given our experience of the previous day, I was doubtful we would get in.

I strode up to the nice lady at the podium and asked about the possibility of a table for ten. Without batting an eyelash she apologized and told me we would have to wait for about twenty minutes. There was no problem with that, the bar served very cold pints of beer at the rock-bottom price of $4 each (a break from paying tourist prices – the fee to ascend the CN Tower is $35; I gave it a pass), and after about 15 minutes we were shown to our table. No reservation, no advance warning, kids and adults, Spanish and English all posed no problem. And the food and service were great.

I could not help but contrast this experience with the one in Toronto the day before.

 

DCS_Grad_2 DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+