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Promenade parlante: episodes in a changing neighbourhood, 2018-19

Promenade parlante: Episodes in a Changing Neighbourhood was an intergenerational, co-creative project about urban change, located in the Shaughnessy Village neighbourhood of downtown Montreal. Grounded in oral history, Promenade parlante produced a series of audio-visual installations and performances that communicated senior Montrealers’ experiences and knowledge of urban transformation. This project was a collaboration between the founders of the Living History oral history project This project was a collaboration between the founders of the Living History oral history project (a group of five seniors: Wendy Allen, Ramsay Blair, Penelope Cumas, Lilian Harper, and Wanda Potrykus), Dr Cynthia Hammond (Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Concordia University), Dr Shauna Janssen (Director of Concordia University’s Institute for Urban Futures), and Eric Craven (Community Development Librarian and coordinator of the Atwater Library’s Digital Literacy Project). Our two urban walks, short film, and resulting archive were made possible through a Partnership Engage Grant, from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as funding from COHDS and Shauna’s Concordia University Research Chair in Performative Urbanism.

In fall 2018 our team created a version of this walk as part of the Oral History Association’s international conference, jointly hosted by Concordia University and COHDS. This 90-minute walk featured performative episodes and new media installations along six sites in Shaughnessy Village, starting at Concordia University and ending at the Atwater Library. The participating artists included senior Montrealers, Wendy Allen, Ramsay Blair, Lilian Harper, and Wanda Portrykus. Concordia students also participated as artists (Gabrielle Castonguay) and project assistants (Doug Dumais, Dani Eyer, Alessandra Tom, Jenn Townsend). Isha Levy, an intern at Atwater Library over the summer of 2018, also assisted.

A second version of the walk took place place on 13 April 2019. For this iteration of Promenade parlante, several new “episodes” were added. In addition to the episodes previously created, which were almost all restaged, we shifted roles this time, asking the seniors to be the mentors. Shauna, Eric, and myself all produced “episodes” for the walk (see “Lipstick Caryatids” for an in-depth description of my episode), and Wendy, Ramsay, Wanda and Lilian mentored us in our processes and choices, sharing pivotal information with us that we would not otherwise have been able to access. The second version of the public art walk thus foregrounded an additional layer of seniors’ knowledge of urban change. The second version of our walk had an audience of over 100 people, including representatives of the media, and local politicians. We are grateful to the Canadian Centre for Architecture  for giving us permission to use part of the CCA grounds for two of our episodes. And we are also grateful to some new student assistants who joined our team and helped make the second walk happen (Eduardo Della Foresta, Dorian Bell, Ona Bantjes-Ràfols, Chloé Houde, Naya Salamé, Melissa Tamporello, and Ella Williams).

Promenade parlante was also shared publicly via the Next Generation Cities event at Concordia’s 4th Space, which hosted an ongoing screening of our film, edited by Jason Levy, from October 24-November 29, 2019.

For more information about the project, please contact

All photos below © Lisa Graves.

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Project assistant Doug Dumais shows participant Leyla Vural how to use the mp3 player

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Ramsay Blair, “Promenade parlante / crazy walk”

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Participants watch Ramsay Blair’s animated video about Shaughnessy Village at Concordia University’s Welcome Centre

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Maisa Mrewal (far left) and Katherine Vaughan (far right), “Le chiffonier”

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Gabrielle Castonguay, “I want to cover the city with white berries”

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Wanda Portrykus, “La Fameuse”

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Participants with apples from Wanda Portrykus’ performance.

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Wendy Allen, “Cabot Square Project”

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Inuit throat singers, Niap Saunders and Lucina Gordon perform as part of Wendy Allen’s episode on the spatial politics of Cabot Square.


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Lilian Harper, “History of Atwater Library”

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Wanda Portrykus shares her urban research with a participant

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