Montreal Bagels and “The Main”

“Our Street was Paved with Gold”, is the title of a film about Montreal that is a charming and nostalgic piece produced by the NFB.

During the mass migration that began in the late 19th century, every city had a similar story when it came to the location of the immigrant neighbourhoods. As writers like Abraham Cahan often described: You got off a boat, or a train, and walked until you found someone who spoke your language.

In New York it was the Lower East Side.

In Winnipeg, it was Point Douglas and ultimately, the North End.

And in Montreal, it was St. Lawrence Boulevard, the long street known as “The Main” that ran down to the harbour. Mordecai Richler described the famous neighbourhood with these words in Son of a Smaller Hero:


“All day long, St. Lawrence Boulevard, or Main Street, is a frenzy of poor Jews, who gather there to buy groceries, furniture, clothing and meat. Most walls are plastered with fraying election bills, in Yiddish, French and English. The street reeks of garlic and quarrels and bill collectors: orange crates, stuffed full with garbage and decaying fruit, are piled slipshod in most alleys.”

Similar impressions are captured in this NFB film that takes us back to 1973, and the vibrant colours of the changing neighbourhood on St. Lawrence. Directed by Albert Kish, it is called Our Street was Paved with Gold.

Click here to see the film.

If your family history touches Montreal, and you remember the smell of sausage being smoked in the corner store, and the mouth watering sensation of sinking your teeth into a fresh warm bagel, you will enjoy this film.

How interesting and comforting, for those who love Montreal, to see that when it comes to making bagels, nothing much has changed in technique or atmosphere in all of these years. I think the equipment used today may well be the very same that we see in this film.

By the way, I am firmly of the opinion that once you have tasted a Montreal bagel you will be spoiled for life, and will have set a standard for bagel excellence that can not be equalled by any other bagel maker in any other city. Period.

About Sandi Krawchenko Altner

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