Happy 100 Birthday Park Ex (VIDEOS)

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What must surely be Quebec’s most colourful and diverse neighbourhood threw itself a birthday bash last Sunday; as Park Extension celebrated its centennial in a well-attended shindig.
This area’s 30,000 residents live on a densely-packed space of less than two square kilometers that has all the hallmarks of an immigrant landing-pad: a culture of tolerance, hard work and low-wages. 
Park Extension is home to many Canadian newcomers and is a spot where burqas, colourful saris, and other forms of exotic dress catch the eye. “That’s the beauty of Park Extension,” says borough mayor Annie Samson. “The colour, the clothes, everybody dresses as they want and it’s beautiful.”
The area is bounded by Highway 40, Beaumont, Park and the unwelcoming TMR wall on L’Acadie and has a historical society which has documented the district’s rich past, and it’s enjoying a golden era, according to one resident. “It’s not dangerous anymore,” said Shirley Laberge of the Park Extension Historical Society. “When people see people from other countries, they’re afraid but once they get to know them, they find that they’re very friendly.”
The neighbourhood’s many new immigrants – and there are about 70 ethnic communities represented in the area – are also happy to be there, according to a city councillor. “Back in their home countries, there’s infighting, civil wars and yet you see those same communities living side by side, being good neighbours and good friends, that’s what Montreal and Park Ex is all about,” said Mary Deros, longtime resident and city councillor for the area.
One contribution to the Sunday celebrations was a throwback collection of toys which residents grew up playing with. They included some unusual makeshift contraptions. “Growing up you had nothing else to do, you didn’t have computers, so you took old paint cans and you’d walk with them,” said one man who spent his youth in the area.
Park Ex By Night

Those who missed the celebrations can still learn more about the rich culture and history which has, and continues to be, its trademark. Park Extension is also featured in a historical and photographic display at the town hall, which lasts until December 12. The show takes place at 405 Ogilvy Avenue, which also happens to be the former longtime home of CTV Montreal.
For those who might question whether Park Extension has an illustrious past, actors were on hand to establish that fact. They played the roles of George Ball (an early 20th century wood merchant turned speculator who is credited with putting together the land which was first known as the Park Avenue Extension); and the Abbé Alexandre Lebeau (a Catholic priest who was the first pastor at the Église Saint-Roch).
Ball’s legacy lives on as a street in Park Extension, Ball Avenue, named after him. Historical society president Mary McCutcheon, who is largely responsible for planting the seeds which blossomed into the centennial celebration, said the group’s goal this year will be “to tell people about the fact that Park Extension actually has a beginning.”
The faces of Park Extension
From 1910 up until now, the face of Park Extension has changed a lot but what has remained unchanging over the years has been the willingness of the many communities who established themselves here to make themselves feel at home in an area where the living is good.
“This is what Park Ex is all about,” says Deros. “Every time there’s a celebration of any community, we all come out and celebrate together. A hundred and one different cultural communities. That’s the rich cultural diversity of Park Extension … This is just the beginning of our hundred years celebration. It will continue for a whole year.”
After drawing the attention of the actor playing George Ball, Laurier-Dorion Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos pointed out that his first home in Park Extension was at 560 Ball Ave. “We’re from everywhere in the world and today we celebrate all together,” he said, noting at the same time, as did many others, that part of the area’s history includes the fact that Athena Park is still known to older Park Exers as Greenshields Park.
Former MP and Senator for the area Marcel Prud’homme wore a Park Extension Youth Organization (PEYO) windbreaker that was given to him by the group more than four decades ago. Among the many former Park Exers who learned of the centennial celebration through announcements posted by organizers on the Internet and through various social media sites, was Bob Benedetti, the former mayor of Beaconsfield. Prior to that, Benedetti was a broadcast journalist at CFCF TV, which for many years was also located in Park Ex.
Park ExtensionArea near Metro
Since the mid-1940s when he was around five years old, Benedetti lived on Querbes, Wiseman and Ogilvy avenues. While he left Park Ex for good when he was 20 years old, Benedetti’s mother remained a resident into the 1990s on Ogilvy. He remembers Park Extension when it was a relatively new neighborhood of Montreal and there was no development north of Jarry.
After living in the area for so long, Benedetti spent a quarter-century working at the CFCF headquarters, which were at 405 Ogilvy Ave. from 1960 until 2003. After being vacant for the past six years or so, the building now houses several businesses and organizations, including the Villeray/St-Michel/Park Extension borough hall.



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