Saturday, July 25, 2015

Montreal's Bonsecour Market - and food packaging



My Chère Albertine, a vignette by the National Film Board on YouTube using colourized postcards.

As I have often written on this blog, there are no silent films of Montreal that exist, even on YouTube, from the 1905-1910 era.

You can see Victorian England on YouTube, St Petersburg, Russia and San Francisco before and after the 1905 earthquake, but you can't see Montreal.

There exists one Edison short, very short, showing horses pulling a city firetruck through the snow and a brief bit of the parade during the 1910 Religious Congress held in the cty. And British Pathe has some footage of Royalty visiting Montreal, but no random street images.

Too bad.

All that exists are those Valentine and Sons postcards, often colourized.

But, thank goodness for that.

Valentine and Sons bought up nice photographs of the city and sold them as postcards. It was a purely commercial venture but it ended up being a vital part of the preservation of turn of the last century Montreal, Quebec and Canadian history.

Later, a non-commercial venture, the National Film Board of Canada created a fake movie, using these same postcards and the language of film, pans and zooms, etc, in a short vignette, Ma Chère Albertine, with the narrative being the voice of a young woman visiting Montreal for the first time and writing a letter back home to her friend.

The film starts with images of Bonsecours Market, across from the Port.




So, these are real images, but colourized. The very first scandal my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, got mixed up in had to do with the taking of bribes at Bonsecours. He was a City official and vendors needed a license to sell their wares at that market, and I guess the City took bribes.

Now, the genuine Victorian film footage available online is in black and white. That doesn't really matter, I don't think the clothes were that colourful.

They didn't have the dyes, despite the Empire... I just learned that the entire Chemical Industry was kick started by the desire of Victorian women to have brighter clothing!

Looking for dyes, other than the traditional ones used in India, was the start of it all, chemicals for drugs and cleaning products, plastics for tech toys and containers, alloys that allow for skyscapers and computer chips.

So women's vanity (or class vanity) led to the modern polymer era, where grocery stores like Provigo (Loblaw's) pretend to be just like an old fashioned markets, like Bonsecours, but they are really about selling as much cardboard and plastic as possible, around as little edible substance as possible, for as much moolah as possible.

When it comes to groceries these days, it's hard to tell where the food starts and the plastic ends - and that's been the case since the fifties. Cheez Whiz anyone?

My son, a chef, tells me pre-prepared meals in plastic containers (that seem healthier to customers than frozen meals that are known to be full of salt) is the fastest growing sector in the food industry. (And these ready made meals are taxed, so the governments like them, too.)

Yesterday, I went to Provigo because they do have nice Christmas products - and I was having a hard time finding mince pies.

 It is a beautiful store, indeed, but I still got mad when the cashier charged me 5 cents for those plastic bags.

When I pointed out that the plastic bags were the least of the problem considering the VAST amount of plastic enshrouded products in the store and in my order. I pointed out my six little mince tarts in a heavy flexible polymer container, she said "The money goes to a good cause, the environment."

"Nonsense," I said, like an crazy old non bag lady. "If I wanted to help the environment, I wouldn't shop here. I'd shop at Adonis, where they sell real food, mostly, and give away the plastic bags."

(I'm convinced that our villages recycling program is nonsense and a recent news report seemed to confirm my suspicions.

Why is it nonsense? Because we are allowed to put everything,unwashed, into one bag (a big plastic specially created for the purpose. Geesh.) Cat food cans with mayonnaise jars and slimy microwave dinner plates and empty bleach bottles. In Ontario, everything has to be washed and separated or 'it will have to be put it in a landfill.' (So they say in their instructions to homeowners.)Anyway, that same chemistry program said the only product worth recycling is aluminum - if conservation of energy is the goal. (This may have changed a bit over the years, but I doubt it.)


And I felt bad, because it isn't the cashier's fault that the corporation she works for sells water in plastic bottles and all the rest. It isn't her fault that the amount of plastic and cardboard sold in grocery stores has increased exponentially over the past two decades, ever since we've all started worrying about plastic mega-islands in the Pacific. Ever since we've all started recycling to save the planet. Seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it?

Or is this pay-for-plastic-bags business all a ruse to keep us consumers ignorant and obliging and feeling a bit in control of things that are entirely out of our hands.  (I know many people, including the Mayor of Montreal, don't agree. He wants plastic bags banned.)


"In the 50's," I told cashier, despite her downcast eyes, "they sent brochures around to all homes, ' In the case of Nuclear War, cover your eyes.' (I know, I've seen one such brochure sent to Quebec homes. 'Wait a while and then go outside to help put out fires. Eat only canned foods.'" It's not like the Powers That Be didn't know the HORRIBLE truth about radiation, after all.)

"This is the same kind of thing, I said. "In the case of planetary doom, don't use those evil (but much more sanitary) plastic bags. Just be sure not to feel guilty about filling  your grocery cart with loads and loads of pretty packaged goods, because that is good for business and whatever is good for business is morally and ethically 'good.'"

(PS. Plus over the past two years the packages and prices have stayed the same size, but the amount of chicken fingers or salmon fillets within has greatly dwindled. Marketing sleight of hand?)